The 5th ranked Ducks may have gotten away with a 42-31 victory in Tempe, but it was no easy task. The normally dominant Oregon Duck offense was in large part ineffective Saturday night against an inspired Arizona State defense. On the other side of the ball the Ducks defense performed the self-imposed “bend but don’t break” mantra that has come to characterize their unit. At times Arizona State seemed in complete control with quarterback Steven Threet leading the offense through an Oregon defense that was trying to avoid the big plays. Guess that didn’t really work out, since the Sun Devils racked up 597 yards of total offense in the game. But in the end Arizona State was their own worst enemy, turning the ball over 7 times to an aggressive defense that took 2 of those turnovers back for touchdowns. The Ducks defense gave up a lot of yards and points, so anyone just looking at the box score would think they played a terrible game. The true story is that the Oregon defense was the only reason the Ducks won to begin with.
Heading into the game everyone knew the Ducks would have to adapt as the game went on. In a game that was 98 degrees at kickoff the key for the Ducks was to stifle the Arizona State offense so quarterback Darron Thomas could put points on the board for the Oregon offense. Well someone forgot to tell the Ducks about that strategy. Well-traveled Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet, who has played for the same number of college programs as Brett Favre has post-retirement seasons in the NFL (3), seemed in complete control at times Saturday night. He took advantage of the defense playing far off his receivers at the line of scrimmage, throwing for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns in the game. But the Oregon defense played far better than the numbers would indicate. Threet may have put up All-American like numbers, but he was constantly under the ruthless pressure of defensive linemen Kenny Rowe and Brandon Bair. The defense made their first statement quickly when sophomore safety John Boyett stepped in front of a lifeless Threet pass and took it 39 yards for an Oregon touchdown. The play was largely in part of pressure placed on Threet by Rowe, who could have pitched a tent and made a campfire in the Arizona State backfield Saturday with all of the time he spent there. But that was just the beginning for the Ducks, who added interceptions from Talmadge Jackson III, Casey Matthews, and Cliff Harris. In addition to that the Ducks forced 3 Sun Devil fumbles, even though only one can really be considered forced. One fumble occurred on a backwards pass from Threet to the running back Deandre Lewis, who dropped the ball behind the line of scrimmage allowing redshirt freshman linebacker Boseko Lokombo to pounce on the ball and sprint to the end zone. The other fumble that was not necessarily forced was on a play where Lewis was running and had his leg get caught in the turf, causing his leg to appear like rubber through the magic of slow motion (must have looked awesome in 3D). When Lewis reached for his leg in agony the ball came loose and Matthews recovered it. The play was blown dead at the time because the referees believed the runner was down prior to the ball coming out, but after review the ball was awarded to the Ducks. Arizona State turned over the ball a total of 7 times, but 5 were in Duck territory and twice they were inside the Oregon 10 yard line. Bend but don’t break indeed.
On offense the Oregon offensive line, which is usually a strength for the squad considering the level of experience and athleticism they have, was thoroughly dominated on Saturday night by a faster and more active unit on the Arizona State defense. The Duck offense usually considers its run game unstoppable with LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner providing a pair of dynamic weapons at running back. With Barner still nursing a hip injury the defense was able to focus in on James. The Sun Devil run defense flat out dominated the Oregon offensive line, stuffing James and Thomas at the line on nearly all rushing attempts. The only electrifying play for the running game was a James 40 yard scamper that was courtesy of a terrific D.J Davis block from the wide receiver position. The Arizona State defense was led by Vontaze Burfict, a sophomore linebacker that showed his athletic ability as well as attitude. The entire defensive line played solid, but Burfict and his fellow linebackers flew all over the field and allowed nothing in the run game. The one play that stands out in my mind is when Thomas dropped back to throw and Burfict came right up the middle on a blitz. LaMichael James had the blocking assignment, but the Arizona State stud has about 100 pounds on Oregon’s running back. So James, after possibly dampening himself, tried to take Burfict out at the legs (a tactic often used by smaller players). Vontaze probably could have just bowled over James, but that would have been too simple. So he hurdles James with several inches to spare, lands in stride and smashes into Thomas for an assist on the sack. It was one of those “did he really just do that?” plays that Burfict has the ability to do routinely and has him on NFL scouts lists already. So with the run game not performing at top gear, Thomas was going to have to throw Oregon to a victory. While the sophomore did attempt (33) and complete (19) more passes than he ever has before, he did miss a few big play opportunities. His main target, wide receiver Jeff Maehl, struggled in the game with a few uncharacteristic drops early. Maehl later redeemed himself by making a great diving catch in the endzone for a touchdown from Thomas. However the entire night the tandem never really got in rhythm, with Thomas overthrowing Maehl twice on deep passes that would have most likely been scores. Thomas did eventually find a groove, completing deep balls to David Paulson and D.J Davis that set up Oregon scores. Thomas finished the game with 260 yards and 3 touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing).
It was not a great night for the Duck offense to say the least, but they escaped with a win. For now they head back to the much more friendly weather of the Pacific Northwest (trust me, that does not get said very often) to face the 16th ranked Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium. I would expect an abundance of jokes at the Stanford mascot’s expense this week; it’s just too darn easy sometimes.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.