EUGENE, Ore. – While Oregon's offense has grabbed most of the attention, the Ducks' defense has methodically shut opponents down in preparation for the Pac-10 season.
Don't think Arizona State's Dennis Erickson hasn't noticed.
"Because of what they do offensively and the successes, people overlook their defense a little bit," Erickson said. "Their defense is extremely good. And they get the ball back all the time, that makes a difference, too."
The No. 5 Ducks visit the Sun Devils on Saturday night in Tempe, the conference opener for both teams. Oregon opened the season with a 72-0 rout of New Mexico, then beat Tennessee 43-13 on the road in the SEC before returning home to beat lower-tier Portland State 69-0.
With the visit to the desert, the Ducks' season takes on a new tone.
"We've had three good games but now we know we're going to be facing some different competition," running back Kenjon Barner said. "There's some great teams in the Pac-10 and we want to go in and execute and come out with the same result."
It will certainly be tougher to maintain the kind of numbers the Ducks have been putting up.
Doing the math, Oregon has scored a jaw-dropping 189 points in 180 minutes. They're averaging 63 points per game.
The Ducks lead the nation in total defense, with opponents averaging just 193.3 yards. And they're also tops in scoring defense, allowing only 4.3 points per game.
Oregon hasn't blanked two teams in a season since 1964.
Linebacker Josh Kaddu's assessment?
"Pretty good," he said. "We got a vision and goal where we want to be. We know how to keep our heads out of the clouds."
Oh, and their offense is good too.
Oregon leads the nation in total offense, averaging a stunning 611.67 yards, and that 63-point average is also the country's best.
After serving a one-game suspension for offseason trouble, LaMichael James has run for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Darron Thomas has thrown for 562 yards and eight TDs.
It's the whole package that makes the Ducks particularly dangerous, in Erickson's estimation.
"To me they may be the best football team in the country," he said. "When you look at them on both sides of the football and their kicking game. They are so balanced. You cannot decide what their strengths are."
The Sun Devils are 2-1 to start the season, with wins against the FCS Big Sky Conference's Portland State and Northern Arizona before a close 20-19 loss to No. 11 Wisconsin. Arizona State kept the Badgers' defense off balance for much of the day with their up-tempo spread offense, but couldn't turn drives into points. Then Jay Valai swatted the Sun Devils' attempt at a tying extra point.
The stakes — and the competition — are raised starting this week in Pac-10 play. Oregon is the defending Pac-10 champion and expected to repeat.
The Ducks are keenly aware that other conference teams will consider them the season's ultimate upset.
"I'd be lying if I said no," said defensive lineman Brandon Bair when asked if Oregon has a target on its back. "But I think it's less that we're defending champs and more of how we've played the last the games."
(This version CORRECTS Replaces fourth paragraph to correct to New Mexico instead of Oregon State and correct score of Portland State game to 69-0.)