No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0) vs. Arizona State (5-1, 3-0)
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. PST / 9:00 p.m. EST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Point Spread: Oregon by 9.5
TV / Radio: ESPN / 620 AM
Weather Forecast: Mid 80s, clear
ASU Uniforms: Blackout!
Series History: This is the 33rd all-time meeting, with the series an even 16-16. Oregon has been on a roll for most of the last decade, winning seven straight including last year's 41-27 win in Eugene.
Oregon Last Week: The Ducks are coming off a bye week and were last in action on October 6th when they hosted then No. 23 Washington. Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half as the Ducks raced to a 35-7 halftime lead and never looked back en route to a 52-12 win.
ASU on Offense: Through the first half of the season, the Sun Devil offense has exceeded all expectations. At the forefront of that is the nation's third-highest rated quarterback in Taylor Kelly. He's been sensational during Pac-12 play, throwing 11 touchdowns without a turnover, and will enter this game on-fire, after a five-touchdown effort last week.
He'll face a very aggressive Oregon defense that will attack him from all angles. The Ducks have moved to a 3-4 scheme, but will use multiple looks throughout the game to maximize their pressure. Oregon's defense is smaller than many, but compensate with great unit speed. ASU will be under pressure all game long.
The Sun Devil offensive line has been very solid throughout this year, but will be sternly tested by the Duck attack. Dion Jordan was an All-Pac-12 defensive end last season, but this year has played both as an end or a standup pass rushing linebacker. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, he can beat blocks with speed, strength or his massive wingspan. Taylor Hart leads the team with four sacks, and can attack both from his standard tackle spot, or slide out to end.
ASU will look to control the ground game with their three-headed backfield. Cameron Marshall had a season-best 98 yards last week, but lost another fumble, and seems to be behind D.J. Foster and Marion Grice in terms of the coach's trust. Foster's speed and versatility make him a major threat, and should see his greatest workload of the season.
The Ducks' linebackers are very quick to the ball and are sound tacklers. Kiko Alonso leads the team with 36 tackles and seven tackles-for-loss from his middle linebacker spot. Michael Clay is Oregon's version of Brandon Magee, attacking from the weakside with his sideline-to-sideline ability.
Foster and Grice stole the show as the top pass catchers a week ago, and may be once again as Oregon has a very talented secondary, even without free safety John Boyett, who was lost for the year after the opener. Cornerbacks Terrence Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are very good, and will give ASU's Rashad Ross and Kevin Ozier fits. Behind Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu are a pair of young corners, which could play into the favor other Sun Devils like Rick Smith or Jamal Miles. Tight end Chris Coyle could be in line for a big game if the Ducks are able to keep the Sun Devils in check on the outside.
- TE Chris Coyle vs. SS Brian Jackson: Fresh off his inclusion on the Mackey Award watch list, Coyle could be in line for a big game. Oregon has a very good set of corners, and with the Oregon pass rush, Kelly may be looking for Coyle along the seams and underneath. Jackson has been very good in coverage from his safety spot, but gives up five inches to Coyle.
- ASU Offensive Line vs. DE/OLB Dion Jordan and DT Taylor Hart: As mentioned earlier, Oregon brings the heat, and two of best are Jordan and Hart. Each is able to play on either side of the center, and can utilize a variety of techniques to get to the quarterback. The Sun Devils' offensive line has been good so far this year and repelled many other solid defenses, and to have a chance at an upset, will need to do so once again.
- RB D.J. Foster vs. LB Michael Clay: Over the last few weeks, Foster has emerged as the Sun Devils' best offensive weapon. Either on the ground or through the air, the true freshman has been dynamic. Countering him will be Clay, Oregon's weakside linebacker whose great athleticism allows him to cover a lot of ground and close onto the ballcarrier very effectively.
ASU on Defense: Ding ding ding. And in tonight's main event...
You think of Oregon, you think of their offense, running their spread option attack to near perfection. It's no coincidence that the Ducks are annually among the nation's top five offenses, which their great execution and speed upon speed upon speed.
If there has been one weakness to the Duck offense, it was shown in their match-ups against the big and fast defensive lines of the SEC. Those lines were able to shoot the gaps and get enough penetration into Oregon's backfield to keep the Ducks from getting their offense rolling.
ASU is equipped with the same types of tools to do the same on Thursday. Led by the dominant Will Sutton and flanked by Carl Bradford and Junior Onyeali, the front of the Sun Devil defense will have a chance to get through a struggling Oregon offensive line that lost key guard Carson York earlier in the year. Consistent pressure in the Duck backfield will be a massive advantage for ASU...should they be able to get there.
That pressure will also help to disrupt Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The redshirt freshman has been very good in his first six games as the starter. He's an effective runner, as all Oregon quarterbacks are, but his passing has also been very good. That ability adds yet another layer to Oregon's attack. However, he will be facing his first true road test in Tempe, and it remains to be seem how he responds to a legitimately hostile environment.
Mariota will have no shortage of weapons. The Oregon backfield is of course loaded. Kenjon Barner already has 727 yards and nine touchdowns on the year, and De'Anthony Thomas is perhaps the nation's most explosive player. Each can take it to the house on any play with their speed, and ASU's linebackers will be hard-pressed to stop them. Brandon Magee, Chris Young and company will need to stay with their assignments, take sound angles, not over-pursue and make sure they take them down when they get there, or else the Ducks can take it the distance.
The proficiency of Mariota has given the Ducks a well-balanced offense. They use many wide receivers and don't have a "go-to" guy, but are all dangerous. Thomas actually leads the team in receptions, and often lines up in the slot. Over the last few games, tight end Colt Lyerla has become one of the team's top targets. He has amazing tools with a 6-foot-5 frame and great speed and will present a great threat to the Sun Devil secondary.
- SPUR Chris Young vs. RB De'Anthony Thomas: On a list of the most dangerous players in the nation, Thomas may very well top them all. He needs just a slight open space, and he's off to the races, and no one is catching him. Chris Young has been a pigskin-seeking missile for ASU so far, and will be counted on to use his great range and closing speed from allowing Thomas to get to the open field.
- DT Will Sutton vs. Oregon Offensive Line: There may be no defender in the nation playing at a higher level than Sutton. He has a chance to build upon his already growing honors with a great game against Oregon. The Duck offensive line has had their struggles this year and lost Carson York for the year, and if Sutton can manage the same penetration against them as he has all year, it could go a long way into derailing the Oregon offense.
- S Keelan Johnson vs. TE Colt Lyerla: Oregon spreads the ball around through the air, but ultra-talented sophomore Colt Lyerla has emerged in recent weeks. Similar to Chris Coyle, Lyerla lines up all over the field, and presents match-up problems at 6-foot-5 with great speed. Keelan Johnson has had a very good season, and will play a big role in keeping Colt in the stable.
- ASU Pass Rush vs. QB Marcus Mariota: Make no mistake, redshirt freshman Mariota has been excellent so far in his first six starts, with 15 touchdown passes. However, he has shown some of the expected growing pains, and has yet to face a true road game. He's also not been under fire from a pass rush like ASU's, and should Sutton, Carl Bradford and Junior Onyeali be able to get to him often, Mariota can be forced into mistakes.
Special Teams: For the Sun Devils, special teams continue to be a mixed bag.
On one hand, punter Josh Hubner continues to be excellent, showing a strong leg when needed and the precision to pin team's deep when called upon. Rashad Ross is the reigning Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week after he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.
Now, the bad. Ross got his chance after Jamal Miles had another lost fumble, which also lost him his job. The Sun Devil kicking game is still uncertain. After Alex Garoutte lost his job to Jon Mora, Mora struggled against Colorado and now, it appears it's back to Garoutte. Whether it's Garoutte or Mora, uncertainty reigns when ASU lines up for a kick.
Oregon's kicking hasn't been much better. Kicker Rob Beard is just four for seven on the year, but has made all 40 of his extra points. Practice makes perfect. Punter Jackson Rice was second-team All-Pac-12 last season, and is adept at forcing fair catches.
De'Anthony Thomas handles the returns for the Ducks, and opponents learned their lesson from last season, when he has two touchdown returns. They simply don't kick to him, nor should they.
ASU's To Do List:
- Commit zero mistakes. There's no room for error.
- Limit Oregon's big plays.
- Attack, attack, attack on defense.
- Force Mariota into some mistakes.
- Start fast and don't fall behind by more than one score
What It All Means: For the last few years, ASU has had the talent to beat Oregon, but not the discipline. In addition to fighting the Ducks, the Sun Devils were also battling their own self-destructive tendencies. But no more. These two teams will line up and each has several reasons why they can emerge victorious. ASU's defense is capable of disrupting the Ducks enough to throw them off, and the offense may be able to score enough to keep pace. It will ultimately come down to mistakes: if ASU can avoid them while forcing Oregon into three or four big ones, the Sun Devils have a good chance.
Prediction: Oregon wins 38-31