The Arizona State Sun Devils’ comeback effort fell short in a girtty 54-35 loss to the Oregon Ducks on the road at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday.
In a battle of true freshmen quarterbacks, Oregon’s Justin Herbert (31 of 42, 489 yards, 4 touchdowns) outdueled Arizona State’s Dillon Sterling-Cole (21 of 38, one touchdown, three interceptions).
Sterling-Cole started in place of redshirt-sophomore Manny Wilkins, who has been nursing a high ankle sprain and was also removed from ASU’s loss against Washington State last week after suffering a stinger. He was declared a game-time decision, but ultimately was held out of the contest, making way for the Sun Devils to insert their third different player under center this season.
Wilkins wasn’t the only key absence for the Sun Devils (5-4, 2-4 in Pac-12), however. Listed starters running back Demario Richard, cornerback Kareem Orr, safety Armand Perry, linebacker Salamo Fiso, and left guard Sam Jones each missed Saturday’s game. Starting receiver Tim White was limited to kick-return duty, and didn’t log any offensive snaps.
Receiver Cameron Smith and starting center AJ McCollum (who was a late scratch ahead of ASU’s loss last week) each dressed but didn’t play.
During the game, the team’s injury woes continued to be put on full display.
Starting left guard Stephon McCray was removed after suffering an injury during the Sun Devils’ first offensive possession. Linebacker Koron Crump (10 total tackles, five solo, one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss) was briefly removed from action after recording his ninth sack of the year during the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Herbert—making his third career start amidst Oregon’s five-game losing streak—took advantage of ASU’s defensive losses. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder’s impressive night started when he threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pharaoh Brown on Oregon’s third play from scrimmage. It gave the Ducks an early 7-0 lead.
Kalen Ballage’s 12-yard run tied the game before Herbert found a soaring Charles Nelson from 31 yards out, reclaiming a 14-7 advantage for Oregon. Ducks kicker Aidan Schneider pushed their lead to 17-7 before the ASU offense engineered an eight-play, 70-yard drive which resulted in a one-yard rush by Sterling-Cole, bringing the Sun Devils within three at the end of the first quarter.
Two more field goals from Schneider and a four-yard pass to Brown (seven catches, 129 yards, two touchdowns) just before the half gave the Ducks what seemed to be a commanding 30-14 lead at the break, but the Sun Devils managed to rally.
With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, Ballage (18 rushes, 62 yards, two touchdowns; six catches, 105 yards; 2 of 2, 27 yards, one touchdown) found the end zone once again on a 15-yard run, making the score 30-22 following a successful two-point conversion try.
A 23-yard field goal by Schneider gave Oregon an 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Sterling-Cole directed an eight-play, 73-yard drive which ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry, bringing ASU within five with 12 minutes remaining. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they couldn’t catch the Ducks, who seemed to score almost at will.
Herbert hit Johnny Mundt for a 53-yard score, which ASU answered with a three-yard pass from Ballage to tight end Kody Kohl out of the Sparky formation. Running back Tony Brooks-James broke loose for a 58-yard run to give the Ducks a 47-35 lead, forcing ASU to counter.
Sterling-Cole completed six of his first seven pass attempts on the ensuing drive, pitting the ASU offense inside of the Oregon 10. However, the scoring threat was quelled when Sterling-Cole was intercepted by Ducks defensive back Tyree Robinson, who returned the ball 84 yards to the ASU 15.
Royce Freeman ran the ball in from 10 yards out to give the Ducks a 54-35 lead with 2:36 left in the game.
Sterling-Cole was intercepted by Brenden Schooler on the following series, closing out the game and securing the win for the Ducks.
It was tough sledding once again defensively for the Sun Devils, as they conceded 734 yards of total offense, including 245 rushing yards and 489 passing yards. The Ducks offense also averaged 8.3 yards per play, including 11.4 in the fourth quarter.
Next week, the Sun Devils are idle with a much-needed bye week arriving ahead of their Thursday night bout with the Utah Utes on Nov. 10 in Sun Devil Stadium.