I just texted my friends asking who is down for our usual Thursday night movie? Few responded. I wonder why.
Jokes aside, this ASU-Oregon clash has been highly anticipated throughout Sun Devil Nation. Breaking down Puddles and company is tough, showing few if any weaknesses.
At number two in the country, Oregon is determined to earn a spot in the national championship. Conversely, ASU is playing dark horse and attempting to shock many by winning the Pac-12 South. Oregon has prospered under the tutelage of Chip Kelly, consistently earning BCS bowl bids. Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham is searching to create similar history between the Buttes.
Every week, ASU's doubters say the team needs to prove their legitimacy by winning against a top team. Because of ASU's soft early schedule, they are difficult to evaluate. The Sun Devils will accept nothing short of victory, yet fans should be pleased with a competitive outing.
After channeling my inner Ron Jaworski, I realized ASU is essentially a poor man's version of Oregon. Both squads feature high octane/up-tempo offenses. Despite ASU lighting up scoreboards, their offense is still a work in progress. However, Oregon's system is basically unstoppable, averaging 52.3 points per game.
The matchup on paper clearly favors Oregon, but ASU can win if they play mistake free and practically perfect football. Normally I go with three keys per week, but Oregon's immense talent creates extra items on ASU's to do list.
1. Limiting Oregon's Rushing Attack
Oregon football is defined by one word: speed! The Ducks' 302.3 rushing yards-per-contest seems like video game-type numbers. Through six weeks, nobody has held the ground attack of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas under 200 yards.
Barner already sports 727 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns, while Thomas could easily be the nation's fastest player and legitimate Heisman candidate nominee.
Nobody in college football, including Alabama, completely shuts down Oregon's backfield. In order to beat the Ducks, limiting ground success should always be a high priority.
ASU's rush defense is mediocre, but the statistics are slightly skewed. Most of the previous Sun Devil opponents own average quarterbacks, at best. Therefore, teams have been forced to run excessively.
Oregon's game plan seems to always be, run early and run often. ASU gave up 231 rushing yards in Week 2 against the Illini, setting precedent on how to exploit the Devils aggressive front. ASU must fix those mistakes, otherwise Oregon will dominate.
Sun Devil defensive coordinator Paul Randolph's ideal night would be allowing 200 rushing yards at most.
2. Make Quarterback Marcus Mariota Win
Freshman Oregon signal caller Marcus Mariota has garnered tons of deserving praise. Although I agree, this is a good old case of picking your poison.
Mariota's 1,301 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions should not be overlooked. His upside appears to be higher than previous quarterback Darron Thomas. Some readers must now wonder, why am I challenging Mariota?
My rebuttal is simple: he is the lesser of two evils. Coaches hate losing because of star players, preferring role members to exceed expectations. Crazily enough, Mariota is Oregon's secondary option.
In spite of Mariota's hot start, this will be his toughest test so far. ASU's four plus sacks-per-game ranks second nationally, and could rattle Mariota. Let alone, this will only be Mariota's first "real" road start in his young career.
Against Washington State—a game played in Seattle—Martiota was vulnerable, tossing the pigskin for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. News flash: ASU's defense is way better than WSU's. The Sun Devils own the conference's premier D, giving up a mere 14.2 points per game.
Mariota could potentially make this strategy appear idiotic, yet is ASU's best shot to pull off the upset.
3. Control Time of Possession
ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell wants the ball snapped before the play clock hits 25 seconds. The quick snapping approach is working, but won't against Oregon.
To be clear, the following idea was made by coaches far smarter than myself. The concept is not complicating, opposing offense wont score on the sidelines. Get what I am hinting at?
NFL teams apply this approach when facing elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. ASU needs Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster to bring their respective A-games.
If ASU controls time of possession heavily, the Oregon offense may sputter due to a lack of fluidity and opportunities.
4. Will Sutton's Continued Dominance
According to Sportsillustrated.com, Will Sutton has earned midseason first-team All-American status. Sutton's 8.5 sacks are second in college football, and rare for an interior lineman.
A couple years ago, defensive tackle Ndamukang Suh garnered Heisman nominations. Sutton is on pace to surpass Suh's tremendous season, displaying game-changing ability.
Oregon's offensive line experienced issues in the title game two years ago against Auburn's Nick Fairley. Sutton may be smaller in stature, but features comparable production.
Beyond Sutton's dominance, he positively affects the entire ASU defensive line. Solid end rusher Junior Onyeali never sees double coverage, creating matchup problems.
5. Crowd Noise Advice: Be Loud & Wear Black
Fill in the blank, the toughest thing in college football is ___________________________. The common census for the correct answer is winning on the road.
Getting victories away from home is never easy, but hostile environments present even larger headaches. A brief side note. ASU fans must remember to wear black! The student section at ASU is fired up and rightfully so. Some mischievous kids are even ditching classes to assure an on time arrival or front row seats.
When the going gets tough, do not back down. Oregon is capable of coming out on a 14-0 run, silencing ASU's fan base. However, the predicted sold out crowd needs to continue being obnoxious.
Unfortunately, Oregon is well equipped for Sun Devil stadium, regularly using hand signals to avoid miss-communication. The Ducks play great football away from Autzen, supporters of the Maroon and Gold can change the trend. ASU fans won't score touchdowns but will be relied upon heavily.
Prediction Time: Oregon over ASU 38-31