CU Buffs opponent preview: After host of changes, ASU hopes to stay on winning track

·7 min read

Jul. 3—For several years, Arizona State has produced similar results on the gridiron.

The Sun Devils are typically a solid team that's capable of beating anyone on the schedule, but not a great team. In their last four full seasons (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign), ASU has gone 8-5, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6.

This year, the Sun Devils aren't easy to project after an NCAA investigation has changed the coaching staff and the transfer portal has changed the roster.

This summer, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado's opponents for the 2022 season and in this installment, we look at Arizona State.

Following the 2017 season, ASU fired head coach Todd Graham and hired Herm Edwards with the intention of elevating the program.

Through four seasons, Edwards has a winning percentage of .581 (25-18). In six seasons, Graham had a winning percentage of .590 (46-32).

Edwards was seemingly on the right track after two seasons, but COVID-19 impacted the Sun Devils considerably and slowed the progress. They went 2-2 in 2020.

Then, last summer it was revealed that the NCAA was investigating the program for recruiting violations during the pandemic.

ASU managed to weather that storm and go 8-5 with another bowl appearance in 2021, but the impact of the investigation, which is ongoing, has hit the Sun Devils this offseason.

Amid the investigation, offensive coordinator Zak Hill resigned in late January. Less than a week later, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce resigned. Three other assistants were put on administrative leave last fall and officially let go in late January.

Shortly after Hill's resignation, three-year starting quarterback Jayden Daniels put his name in the transfer portal and eventually wound up at LSU. He is one of several significant contributors to leave the program.

How the Sun Devils are impacted on the field remains to be seen. Edwards is still the head coach, so his program and expectations are in place, even if a large number of faces have changed.

Despite heavy losses in the transfer portal, ASU did load up with transfers. Nearly half of the 22 starters on offense and defense could be transfers, including quarterback Emory Jones (from Florida).

Under Edwards, ASU has had a good defense and a solid running game. Even with the turnover on the staff and roster, the tools are in place to replicate that formula and win enough games to get to the postseason once again.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Head coach: Herm Edwards, 5th season (25-18)

2021 season: 8-5, 6-3 Pac-12

Series with CU: Sun Devils lead 9-3

The Game

Who: Arizona State Sun Devils at Colorado Buffaloes

When: Saturday, Oct. 29, time TBA

Where: Folsom Field in Boulder

5 Guys to Watch

* QB Emory Jones: A 12-game starter at Florida last year, he's a dual threat much like ASU's former quarterback, Jayden Daniels. Last year, Jones completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while rushing for 759 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

* LB Merlin Robertson: A sixth-year senior, he posted 64 tackles, and three interceptions a year ago. In his career, he's piled up 237 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and five passes deflected.

* DL Nesta Jade Silvera: He was a two-year starter at Miami before transferring this offseason. In 11 games last year, he had 38 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. In four years with the Hurricanes, he had 105 tackles and 16 tackles for loss.

* LB Kyle Soelle: Another sixth-year senior, he led ASU with 88 tackles last season. He also had eight tackles for loss, one sack and four pass breakups. Entering his third year as a starter, he's one of the team leaders.

* RB Xazavian Valladay: Transfer from Wyoming was first-team All-Mountain West in 2019 and 2020 and second team last year. He posted two 1,000-yard seasons at Wyoming (2019, 2021) and racked up 3,281 yards and 19 touchdowns in his four seasons with the Cowboys. He also caught 51 passes.

Good to know

* Donnie Henderson takes over as defensive coordinator. His 40-year career includes a previous stint as a defensive backs coach at ASU, from 1992-97. He worked with current CU head coach Karl Dorrell in 1994. Originally hired as a consultant last year, he wound up serving as the interim defensive backs coach before being promoted to coordinator after Pierce resigned.

* Glenn Thomas was hired as the new offensive coordinator. The 44-year-old has been coaching for more than 20 years, most recently as the offensive coordinator at UNLV the past two seasons. UNLV averaged just 17.3 points per game in 2020 and 20.8 last year. He's also been a co-coordinator at Baylor (2017-19) and coordinator at Temple (2016). At each of those stops, he also coached quarterbacks. Thomas' career also includes seven seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons (2008-14), first as an offensive assistant and then three seasons as quarterbacks coach.

* ASU led the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.8 points per game) and total defense (386.0 yards per game) last year. They also led the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2020 (23.3).

* Former Colorado receiver/cornerback Tarik Luckett joined ASU as a junior college transfer in the offseason. Luckett played two seasons at CU, shifting from receiver to cornerback (where he made two starts) as a true freshman in 2019. He spent last year at Cisco Community College in Texas.

* Left guard LaDarius Henderson is one of only two returning starters on the offensive line, but he's one of the best in the Pac-12. The other returner is Ben Scott, a two-year starter at right tackle who spent the spring playing center.

* Sophomore D.J. Taylor is one of the best returners in the Pac-12. He averaged 21.0 yards on kickoff returns last year and 13.6 yards on punt returns.

* Redshirt sophomore Daniyel Ngata will challenge Valladay for the starting spot at running back. If both are healthy, the Sun Devils should have a good 1-2 punch. He was the third back last year and gained 309 yards and four TDs on only 56 attempts (5.5 average).

* Since 2011, the first season of the Pac-12, ASU has a turnover margin of plus-76, second in the conference to Oregon (plus-86). In that time, the Sun Devils have had negative margin just once, in 2016. Last year they were even.

* After losing its first seven meetings with ASU, CU has won three of the last five, including the last two in Boulder (2016, 2018).

Portal movement

If there's team in the Pac-12 that could challenge Colorado for the most tumultuous offseason in the portal, it's ASU. The Sun Devils lost 20 players, including three-year starting quarterback Jayden Daniels (LSU); three starting wide receivers in Ricky Pearsall (Florida), LV Bunkley-Shelton (Oklahoma) and Johnny Wilson (Florida State); their top returning running back, DeaMonte Trayanum (Ohio State to play linebacker); starting linebacker Eric Gentry (Southern California); and one of the best defensive tackles in the Pac-12, Jermayne Lole (Louisville). Several quality depth players left, as well. The Sun Devils did, however, add 13 players, including Jones, Silvera and Valladay — who are all expected to make an immediate impact. In addition, offensive linemen Des Holmes (Penn State), Chris Martinez (San Diego State) and Joey Ramos (Iowa State) are expected to compete for starting jobs, as is tight end Messiah Swinson (Missouri). Receiver Cam Johnson caught 120 passes in the last three years at Vanderbilt and will fight for a starting spot, as well. Defensively, safeties Khoury Bethley (Hawaii) and Chris Edmonds (Samford) are projected as starters.