Eugene, OR – A pair of ranked Pac-12 Conference squads will battle under the lights in Eugene on Saturday night, as No. 9 Oregon plays host to No. 18 Arizona State.
Dennis Erickson has guided ASU to a 5-1 start, as the only loss to date came against Illinois on the road by a 17-14 final. The Sun Devils have rallied for three consecutive wins since that setback, including a 35-14 romp over new conference foe Utah last weekend. Arizona State is now 3-0 in league play.
"I think we passed with flying colors," said ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler of his team's challenge to win on the road at Utah. "Obviously there are things we'll do better. But the biggest thing is we just won a football game on the road against a very good quality opponent. It means a lot to this team. We need to learn how to do this week in and week out."
Oregon began the season with a loss to now top-ranked LSU, and fans seemed to write the Ducks off as national contenders. All Chip Kelly's club has done since that setback has been destroy four consecutive opponents by a combined score of 224-73. The Ducks were most recently in action last Thursday when they crushed California by a 43-15 final to begin Pac-12 action.
"We're fortunate that we have an extra day to prepare for them," said coach Kelly of Arizona State. "They're another explosive offense and can throw the heck out of the ball so it's going to be another challenge for our defense. And obviously they have a really, really talented defense that can really play. So it's going to be a battle."
Arizona State owns a 16-15 series lead over Oregon, but the Ducks have won the last six meetings, including a 42-31 decision last season.
Last week against Utah, Arizona State ran for only 74 yards on 38 attempts, an average of fewer than two yards per carry. Fortunately, Osweiler picked up the slack with a big performance through the air, as the signal caller connected on 25-of-41 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Mike Willie was on the receiving end of two scores, while Gerell Robinson paced the receivers with 101 yards on seven catches.
Through six outings, ASU is racking up 35.3 ppg to go along with 421.3 total ypg. The offense has already scored 25 touchdowns, 13 of which have been thrown by Osweiler. The quarterback has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,677 yards, and all of the positives effectively overshadow six interceptions. Robinson has 403 receiving yards and three scores to his credit, one of several solid receivers on the roster. As for the ground attack, Cameron Marshall has already gotten to the end zone eight times.
The Arizona State defense deserves plenty of credit for limiting Utah to 14 points in its own stadium last week. The Sun Devils permitted 320 yards in the affair, but they did allow the Utes just 4-of-13 success on third-down conversion attempts and forced five turnovers, including three interceptions.
"They're a bunch of resilient guys," ASU defensive coordinator Craig Bray said of his defenders. "We actually looked pretty ugly at times, but we're coming up with turnovers."
There are a few defensive players to watch for ASU, including Vontaze Burfict, who has already posted four sacks. Alden Darby has notched three interceptions for the Sun Devils, who have come up with a staggering total of 18 takeaways already. They are allowing just 19.5 ppg along with 349.0 total ypg, numbers that will be tough to maintain this weekend against an explosive Oregon offense.
Last week against Cal, Oregon slashed its way to 563 total yards, 26 first downs and 43 points, more than half of which came in the game's third quarter. Oregon ran for a staggering 365 yards on 51 attempts, and All-American tailback LaMichael James led the charge as usual with 239 yards and a score on 30 carries. Unfortunately, James suffered an elbow injury and is likely out for at least one week. Quarterback Darron Thomas, who threw three touchdown passes against Cal, needs to pick up the slack in the absence of James, as do the team's backup RBs.
"I'm very confident in Kenjon Barner and Tra Carson," said Thomas, discussing James' all but certain absence this weekend. "Tra is a great practice player and can step in at anytime. If he doesn't play then it will put more pressure on the offense to practice hard."
While there is enough talent in place to weather the big injury, there is no doubt that James is most responsible for the fact that the Ducks average 50.2 ppg and 539.6 total ypg. The club is rushing for 312.6 ypg and has already scored 33 offensive touchdowns in 20 quarters of football. James is having a Heisman-worthy season, having rushed for 852 yards and eight scores while averaging nine yards per attempt. As for Thomas, he has thrown 15 touchdowns against only two interceptions and spreads the ball around to several receivers.
The Oregon defense allowed Cal to amass 465 total yards last week. Sure, the Golden Bears threw for 321 yards in the affair, but they completed fewer than half of their 60 attempts. The Ducks permitted only 5-of-17 third-down conversion attempts to be successful.
Opponents are scoring 22.6 ppg against the Ducks, who are yielding 404.6 total ypg. Only four takeaways have been notched, but Oregon has posted 11 sacks and has clearly bounced back strong from the physical whipping in the opener.