Coming off of similar style wins against inferior opponents, #18 Arizona State will travel to Eugene, Oregon this week to take on the #9 Ducks in a match-up of Pac-12 elites.
Last week both teams struggled to put away lesser opponents. The Sun Devils had their hands full on the road with Utah and Oregon was down 15-14 at halftime to California at home. However, both teams flexed their muscles in the second halves of their contests and walked away with easy victories.
Though both teams come into the game with top-20 rankings and momentum, they are both fighting key injuries.
Last week Oregon’s star running back LaMichael James dislocated his elbow, an injury that looked so gruesome on replays that even the ever-cheerful Duck mascot appeared to be deeply concerned. James was able to replace his elbow on the field and is in good spirits this week, but do not expect him to play this week against Arizona State.
The Sun Devils are dealing with a depleted secondary, which in the pass-happy Pac-12 could hurt them.
Although the secondary will come limping into Autzen Stadium for the ESPN game of the week, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and the rest of the Sun Devil defense will still give the high powered Duck offense plenty to deal with.
Burfict may be the most athletic player in the conference and is considered by many to be a potential All-American. He is a freakish athlete that intimidates opponents with his combination of hard hitting ability and surprising speed.
No one can question the physical abilities of Burfict, but an issue with him in the past has been his lack of control on the field mentally. With a player as aggressive and dominant as Burfict, some opposing offenses have taken advantage of his mentality and used play action to beat him in pass coverage.
This year Burfict has improved in coverage, just ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who seemingly dug his own grave by calling out Burfict in the media before the game.
From James’ point of view it is probably better to sit this game out because Burfict is not above hitting that injured elbow every chance he gets, any great defensive player would do the same. It’s not dirty; it’s football. James is a warrior, but he will be in street clothes if he wants to recover quickly. He has even mentioned finding a visor and coaching the running backs during the game. He is clearly a player after Chip Kelly’s heart.
The Ducks will likely have to replace the nation’s leading rusher in James, who had run for 3 straight 200-yard games. However, there is not another team in the country that is more capable of replacing a star running back than Oregon.
Running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas would be stars on any other team in the country and have each proven they can produce when their time comes.
De. Thomas has been used mainly as a wide receiver this season since the true freshman is just too talented to keep off the field in Kelly’s rapid offense. He is the team’s leading pass catcher this season and with James out expect De. Thomas’ touches to become more frequent.
Quarterback Darron Thomas will need to pass the ball quickly and accurately on Saturday night, especially with Burfict pressuring him.
For that reason look for Oregon tight end David Paulson to have a breakout game for the Ducks. He was expected to be the most prolific pass catcher this season for the Ducks because he was one of the few returning starters, but D. Thomas has not looked too him often thus far.
The biggest match-up in the game will be Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler against the Oregon secondary.
Osweiler, who at 6’8 could act as a stand-in crane on construction sites in the offseason if he wanted to, has a good set of receivers and a cannon for an arm. His decision making is questionable at times, but he is a weapon for Arizona State.
On defense Oregon plans to get a boost with the return of linebacker Michael Clay, who is regarded as their best defensive player but was injured early in the season. Clay will play a key role on Saturday.
The Ducks bend-but-don’t-break style of defense will need to force turnovers if they want to keep the Sun Devils from driving the ball down the field through the air.
After having a fantastic turnover margin last season, Oregon has managed only 4 turnovers on the season and none since week 2 against Nevada. Conversely Arizona State has forced 17 in the past 4 games alone.
Turnovers and mistakes will dictate the final score of this game. Both teams start off slow and come out after halftime with guns blazing. Whoever can establish an offensive rhythm will have an advantage.
The home crowd and the talent of Oregon should be able to overcome the Sun Devil experience and aggressiveness.
Arizona State: 24 Oregon: 45
These 2 teams will meet again in the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 2nd in Eugene.
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.