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ASU is a strong underdog to No. 2 Oregon, but here are five reasons why an upset can happen.
Thursday's match-up between Arizona State and Oregon is quickly approaching. Even though the second-ranked Ducks come into this key Pac-12 battle as a 9.5-point favorite, the Sun Devils are no slouches as the current leaders of the South division.
While many feel that an Oregon victory is forthcoming, here are five reasons why ASU can pull off the big time upset. (We'll be back later today with five reasons that the Sun Devils will fall short)
A Fast Defensive Line
The names change but the success does not for the Oregon offense. Year after year, the Ducks continue to be among the nation's most lethal attacks, running their spread option scheme to near-perfection. Few teams have an answer for it.
But those that do have something in common: aggressive and quick defensive lines.
Being able to quickly shoot gaps and disrupt the Ducks before they can get into space is essential, and ASU should be able to give Oregon some fight in this area. Will Sutton is playing like an All-American, Carl Bradford and Junior Onyeali are having strong starts thanks to their blend of size, strength and quickness.
Factor in a Oregon offensive line, and this is an area that may become a Sun Devil advantage.
Home Field Advantage
It's no secret that ASU is a much better team at home than on the road. The friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium will be at an even greater fever pitch this Thursday, with a (likely) sold out crowd enjoying the energy of a nationally televised game...and of course, the Blackout.
In a scheduling quirk, Oregon has yet to play a true road game this season. They've had five games in Eugene, and their one game away from Autzen was in Seattle for a battle against Washington State. Their starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a redshirt freshman who, while having a strong debut season, has yet to experience a hostile environment. The Ducks have taken this factor into account, and have been practicing to "over communicate" to help stay on the same page.
We've seen Sun Devil Nation make a difference in the past. If they rise to the occasion once again, it should help the cause.
The Poise of Taylor Kelly
Through his first six games as a starter, Taylor Kelly has answered just about every question as to his viability as the Sun Devils' quarterback. He has taken his game to an even higher level during his three Pac-12 games, throwing for 11 touchdowns without a turnover.
Even more impressive is his cool and poised demeanor. Kelly has shown that he does not get rattled when facing adversity, and he'll likely be facing that in great amounts on Thursday. He will have no margin for error against a tough Oregon defense, and will need to ensure that the Sun Devils score at every opportunity to keep up with the Ducks.
Seeing how he has risen to the occasion all season long should give Sun Devil fans confidence on Thursday.
Yet there he is, leading the team in rushing (269 yards) and second in receiving (296), and has shown a dynamic playmaking ability. Whether it's from the backfield or in the slot, Foster brings a speedy and explosive element that can change a game in an instant. Oregon's defense has been stout and quick, but they'll have their hands more than full with Foster.
In 2010, ASU fell to Oregon 42-31. The fact that the margin was only 11 points is mind-blowing, considering the Sun Devils had seven turnovers and nine penalties for 90 yards. Last season, ASU squandered a third quarter lead as they were again ravaged by costly penalties and turnovers.
The way the Sun Devils play on the field is nearly unrecognizable from a year ago. This team plays hard, plays smart, and plays disciplined. Attention to detail and strong mental focus will be absolutely invaluable assets as ASU goes for the upset, and for the first time in years, they will have that on their side. They're no longer their own worst enemy, and can bring 100% of their energy on Speaking Victory.