Better lucky than good right? A four-hour ordeal that included some of the most exciting football that #Pac12AfterDark has ever produced came down to a toe in the end zone for the Oregon Ducks and a sluggishly-run route by Tim White for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Those were the plays in the third overtime that ended up as the deciding factors in Oregon's 61-55 win, and now ASU is left reeling with a victory in the Territorial Cup and win in a mid-level bowl standing as the Sun Devils' sole attainable goals at this point in the season, dropping out of the Pac-12 South race with a third conference loss.
The end result was a defeat, but there's pride to be held in the gusto of the Sun Devils. Let's break it down position by position.
Mike Bercovici's season has been defined by its lows more than its highs, and that rings true again for No. 2 as his 53rd attempt of the night was pulled in by an Oregon defensive back, erasing all the good that Bercovici's first 52 attempts had done for the Sun Devils. Bercovici's ball has never lacked its zip, but on Thursday he was anticipating receivers' breaks with impressive accuracy, leading to more chances for yards after the catch and more chunk gains for the Sun Devils. He hit Gary Chambers perfectly in stride on a 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown and showed better command of the read option than two weeks ago against Utah, shaking an Oregon defender for ASU's touchdown in the second overtime.
But then the third overtime came, and while it's clear that TIm White stopped his route short and didn't make himself an available target, Bercovici should've seen that and sailed the pass out of the end zone. Criticize the play-calling all you want for putting him in that position, but a senior quarterback can't make that throw.
Running Backs: A
How sweet was it to have Demario Richard back. His absence against Utah was tangible come game time, and combined with Kalen Ballage, "Thunder" and "Lightning" had themselves a night. Mike Norvell put ASU in good positions to pound the rock, and the tough running style that both Ballage and Richard excel at was put into use very well. Oregon's defensive athletes look overmatched physically, struggling to bring down Ballage and Richard without multiple Ducks piling on top of the ASU running backs. Richard and Ballage only combined for 31 rushing attempts as the course of the game gave way to an aerial assault, but they made the most of them with 262 yards between them. With the success they were having all night in bouncing off the first defender and fighting for extra yardage, ASU's true downfall was deciding to not give chances from outside the 3-yard line to its running backs.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B-
Gary Chambers was good for his one meaningful catch of the game as per the usual, Devin Lucien provided a consistent presence as a possession receiver and Tim White made a couple of athletic plays that show why he's become the darling of ASU's new arrivals. Still, the quick-strike offense that Bercovici runs masterfully when he's on fire wasn't there most of the night, rather opting for a short passing-oriented attack mixed in with the bruising rushing attack. That is to be commended however, as Mike Norvell's realized that there aren't going to be a ton of deep ball opportunities so the high-percentage passing game is where he resorted to. Doesn't allow for the receivers to do much besides run their short route trees and hope Bercovici puts it in a place they can get yards after the catch from, limiting an already-limited group.
Offensive Line: A
The line consistently gave Bercovici ample time to throw in the pocket, and even though he hit the ground more than you'd like to see your quarterback get sacked, many of them came due to great coverage from the Oregon secondary that you can't blame the offensive line for. When ASU ran the ball, the push upfront was significant, and rarely did an ASU rusher embrace first contact in the backfield. Richard averaged 7.1 yards per carry while Ballage cranked out 10.6 per, much of that comes from the initial push the line gave them. Solid work.
Defensive Line: C+
ASU was tasked with controlling an elusive quarterback while containing an explosive running back, and while Vernon Adams Jr. and Royce Freeman definitely got theirs, ASU got theirs as well. ASU swarmed to the ball carrier in droves, and when they were able to actually tackle that worked great. Unfortunately the Ducks were able to slip through some arms and that's where most of their big plays occurred, with a scramble from Adams opening up a passing lane on multiple occasions or the long touchdown runs of Freeman and Kani Benoit. ASU also wilted up front at the end of regulation and in overtime, struggling to get pressure in the backfield and when they did, couldn't bring Adams down. ASU prides itself on gang-tackling, but when the whole gang can't tackle.....
Maybe it was the Tillman jerseys, but it sure looked like Antonio Longino and Laiu Moeakiola disappeared into the crowd, rarely surfacing for impact plays against the Ducks. The two combined for seven tackles and probably missed more than that trying to chase down Adams the entire night. Salamo Fiso led the group with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup, but outside of his performance the linebacking corps were average at best.
When you're playing a team like Oregon, containing its vertical speed is the key that's hammered into the heads of teams headed into their preparation for the Ducks. Don't let them beat you deep, simple enough. Well, turns out the Oregon offense, especially with Adams under center, can beat teams in the short game just as well as it can sling it downfield. Adams wasn't able to connect with burner Devon Allen more than once on the night, but Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford stepped up in his place. Stanford's contributions were the most frustrating for ASU, catching the tying touchdown on fourth down at the end of the regulation and opening the overtimes with a touchdown catch. ASU played valiantly and true freshman Kareem Orr is developing into a star, but Oregon picked the Sun Devils apart Thursday.
Special Teams: D
The only thing keeping this grade from being a straight 'F' is the flattening of an Oregon defender that Kalen Ballage laid on a kickoff return. Besides that, ASU was abysmal, struggling to get solid field position on their return opportunities and giving up way too much when Oregon brought the ball back. The kickoff return from Charles Nelson that spanned 100 yards erased a long touchdown drive from ASU and gave the momentum right back to the Ducks. That, and Zane's terrible night makes for a forgettable night for ASU special teams.