Perspective is difficult to maintain when dealing with irrational passion. In the days preceding Oregon vs. ASU, my anticipation grew and I was overwhelmed with excitement for the biggest game of the season in the Pac-12. Undefeated Oregon against South division contender Arizona State! It got the best of me.
Last night, however, was a wake up call. Two plays into the game, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota fumbled the ball after knee-on-knee contact with Will Sutton. The Sun Devils recovered and scored on their first offensive play. The Devils were in business, right? Wrong.
Defensively, the entire game plan was thrown into the fire after our best player was injured. There is no replacing one of the best defensive tackles in the country, and Todd Graham was powerless to make huge adjustments on the fly against such a talented offense.
I'll be clear: ASU is better than 43-7 at halftime. There is absolutely no doubt of that. When it comes to changing how you plan to attack an offense, you need days of solid preparation and coaching. You can't make a switch less than five minutes after everything changes and expect good results.
Without Will Sutton in the middle of the defensive line, Mariota had endless options on offense. The plan was to drive up the middle and force Mariota out into the sides, where the contain of Junior Onyeali, Davon Coleman and Carl Bradford would eat up the running game (theoretically) for negative yardage.
Instead, the defense panicked. defensive ends overcompensated for the loss of Sutton by pushing into the middle, leaving wide open swaths of Frank Kush Field available for the speedy Ducks to trample over. Kenjon Barner was unstoppable - he is an NFL-quality running back whose moves remind me of LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Long story short, I am not 'standing on the ledge' after this game. Oregon is simply one of the best teams in the country, and ASU is not. We should be much more concerned with how Graham prepares the team both mentally and schematically for next Saturday against UCLA.
ASU impressed with their effort in the second half. Oregon did not score in the second half, and the Sun Devils put forth a strong effort to score 14 points without looking defeated. I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff for rallying the troops in an impossible situation, but all of the impact came from the players on the field, who should be commended for representing Arizona State with both class and pride.
The offensive line needs work. Dion Jordan made ASU's offensive line look silly, racking up two sacks and five tackles. Taylor Kelly was forced out of the pocket quickly on most plays - while we know that some QB roll outs are by design, you knew that Kelly was well aware of the pressure surrounding him with hurried throws and questionable decisions.
Was good to get Michael Eubank some meaningful reps. In the second half, Eubank played quite a bit, completing 10 of 19 passes for 123 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. While the stat line is not impressive, it was necessary for the young quarterback to see live action against a talented team. He has long been considered the heir apparent to the quarterback throne in Tempe, but he can't improve if he doesn't play.
Recalibrate expectations. I don't know if anyone thought ASU was going to the Rose Bowl this year, but that is out of the question. The season should be viewed as a weekly development, and the only thought on the mind of both Arizona State and its fans should be the UCLA Bruins, Noel Mazzone's offensive wizardry and bouncing back after a tough loss.