Arizona State, now ranked 24th in the nation, will host No. 2 Oregon on Thursday night in a huge Pac-12 showdown. To get you ready for what the always lethal Ducks bring to the table, we talked with Oregon insider David Piper, editor of the outstanding website AddictedToQuack.com.
What is your evaluation of the first half of Oregon's season?
The first half of Oregon's season was what we expected. The only opponents of any kind of note were Arizona and Washington, but the Ducks trashed both of them with ease. Oregon has gotten some answers out of those games, namely that Marcus Mariota is the real deal at quarterback, and that the defense appears to be everything that was advertised in the offseason. However, there are questions as well. The offensive line has been injured and inconsistent. This team has yet to be tested in a true road environment, with five home games, and a "road" game against Washington State in Seattle. At the very least, the Arizona State game should give us an idea of how Mariota will cope with a road environment, and he did look shaky at times against WSU.
Marcus Mariota has seemed to give the team an efficient passing threat at quarterback, with 15 touchdowns already. How would you evaluate his play thus far?
Obviously, he's looked really good thus far. He has a poise and a moxie about him, and never gets too up or too down. That said, he is a freshman, and was somewhat inconsistent in that WSU game, which makes for the questions headed into his first true road game. The kid makes all the throws, he can run, and he can keep plays alive. But he's also made freshman mistakes of throwing balls back over the middle in crowds or taking unnecessary sacks. Those mistakes haven't hurt Oregon against very subpar competition, but the schedule ramps up in the second half with ASU, USC, Stanford, and Oregon State.
How does a team hope to slow down the Oregon offense?
Its a tough assignment, obviously. You have to be extremely disciplined and play assignment football. You have to be flawless with making tackles in space. You have to be able to control the line of scrimmage, and get a push on their offensive line. You have to be mentally prepared to defend four downs. You can't beat yourself with stupid penalties. And you have to be in good enough shape to do it for four quarters against Oregon's pace and not wear down. Its difficult, but Arizona State is more equipped than any opponent the Ducks have faced yet this season. As our own dvieira put it, discipline is the key to stopping Oregon, and ASU has improved dramatically in that department this season.
Overshadowed by the explosive offense, the Duck defense has been pretty good. What can ASU expect to see defensively from Oregon?
Oregon runs a hybrid 3-4, with a drop end who is equally comfortable rushing the passer or dropping into coverage. The defense has been elite this season, ranking 14th in the nation in yards per play despite walk-ons seeing the field for most of the second halves on the non-conference schedule. Oregon DC Nick Aliotti, is very aggressive about disguising blitzes, and brings a lot of pressure. The Ducks have two lockdown type corners in Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who they aren't afraid to put on an island, and a deep, stout defensive line that gives up 3.5 yards per carry on the season. Its a group that's been everything expected this season.
This Thursday would seem to be Oregon's first "real" road game of the year. What impact, if any, do you think heading into a raucous and likely sold out Sun Devil Stadium have on the Ducks?
That's the big question, and the answer is that we don't know. We'll find out right along with you. I will say this, with a Chip Kelly coached team, and especially one coming off a bye, we have no reason to believe that there will be a big problem, but we are exercising proper levels of PANIC! anyway.
What is your prediction for Thursday night?
The most likely outcome is an Oregon win, though I've been saying for a couple of weeks that this game scares me moreso than any other on Oregon's schedule. Arizona State has always had talent, but they now seem to have the coaching and discipline to go with it. The Sun Devils have looked the real deal on both sides of the ball, and will be chomping at the bit to prove that they are ready to be one of the big boys in the Pac-12. Given Oregon's Thursday night road history, part of me fears an ambush. While the numbers, as well as the rational part of my brain, say that such a result is unlikely, I will remain in PANIC mode until either Oregon has a three-touchdown lead, or the game clock says 0:00 in Tempe.