Undoubtedly the dynamics of Oregon's offense emanates from its backfield, where an evolving quarterback and deadly stable of running backs keeps opposing defenses guessing.
If Oregon's offseason was a rollercoaster, its quarterback situation seemed to be Space Mountain as after presumed Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team, the Ducks' quarterback battle lasted through fall camp and to the final days of preseason preparation.
Ultimately, Darron Thomas defeated the more experienced but injury-ridden Nate Costa, and through three games though his statistics are not eye-popping (562 passing yards, 84 rushing yards, 53.4-percent passing, eight touchdowns and two interceptions), he has certainly guided the Duck offense to astronomic outcomes.
After serving a one-game suspension to open the season, sophomore LaMichael James has roared back in the two contests he's played, totaling 361 yards on 30 carries (12.0 avg.) with three touchdowns. Though he technically isn't currently eligible to lead the conference in rushing since he has not appeared in 75-percent of his team's games, James has accumulated the most rushing yards in the Pac-10 thus far.
As evidenced by a spectacular week one effort versus New Mexico, the well doesn't run dry for the Ducks when their All-America candidate is off the field, as reserves Remene Alston (209 yards, two touchdowns) and Kenjon Barner (201 yards, four touchdowns) are both playing as well as any Pac-10 back right now.
With Barner having been limited recently, Andres Reed has earned a greater role, having totaled 125 yards on 18 carries.
Additionally, redshirt freshman Daryle Hawkins has provided a "slash" role to the offense, accumulating 93 yards on 18 carries, 22 yards on two receptions with two total touchdowns while also serving as the third-string quarterback behind Thomas and Costa. Senior Jeff Maehl, one of the better receivers in the Pac-10, has grossly outperformed his position mates as he has totaled 13 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns, more than double the output of the team's next best receiver.
Tight end David Paulson has done a formidable job of filling the void left by Ed Dickson as he has hauled in six passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while junior college transfer Brandon Williams has two receptions for 48 yards.
In all, outside of Maehl the Ducks' pass game has been a collaborative effort as though only three players have caught six or more passes, a grand total of 16 athletes have registered at least one reception.
The Ducks' excellent line has certainly been an integral piece of Oregon's high-octane offense and this season is no exception, as a highly experienced unit returned for duty in Eugene.
Center Jordan Holmes and right tackle Mark Asper and tackle/guard Bo Thran have starter all three games, while guard Carson York, guard C.E. Kaiser and tackle Darrion Weems have each started two of the team's first three games.
With Oregon's offensive line, the proof is in the pudding as the ridiculous offensive performances through three games certainly testify on behalf of the line's collective effort.
Different from last week versus Wisconsin when ASU faced one of the country's more prominent power run teams, Oregon brings as quick and speedy an offense as can be found in all of college football.
The numbers speak for themselves and are very well known – the nearly inhuman offensive efforts are undoubtedly giving defensive coordinators in the Pac-10 night terrors.
From ASU's defensive perspective, the attack point of the Oregon offense needs to be quarterback Darron Thomas. If the Devils can pressure but contain him and force him into challenging pass situations, momentum can shift to Sparky's side. However, in that effort the defense can ill-afford to over-pursue, as Thomas can make teams pay with his feet.
A blend of discipline and tenacity will be required for ASU to use its cheat codes on Oregon's Playstation offense, as the entire Sun Devil defense will need to be assignment-sound and prevent the Duck's backs from kicking up dirt on Frank Kush Field.
Preseason expectations were high, but no one would have predicted this.
Though it is not a shocking that Oregon's offense has dominated, for the Duck defense to be as powerful as it has through three games has to be considered a surprise.
More of team dominance than all-star individual play, Oregon features consistent, dynamic athletes across the defensive board and from front to back the Ducks have become the Pac's most accomplished defense.
Up front, senior Kenny Rowe (seven tackles, one sack), one of the Pac-10's most feared pass rushers, and Terrell Turner (three tackles) form a formidable combination of ends, while Brandon Bair (12 tackles, 6.5 TFL, two sacks) and Zac Clark (nine tackles, 3.5 TFL, two sacks) – neither of which began his collegiate career at tackle – fill the front gaps and have done so to tremendous reviews.
Perhaps the greatest star power of the Duck defense is found at linebacker where Casey Matthews (10 tackles)—the latest in one of football's most illustrious lineages—mans the middle and standout Spencer Paysinger (seven tackles) patrols the weak side. Junior Josh Kaddu (nine tackles), a first-year starter, has lined up at starting strong side ‘backer for all three games this season.
At cornerback, the experienced pair of Anthony Gildon (six tackles) and Talmadge Jackson III (11 tackles) combines to form the first team, while Scott Grady (five tackles), Chad Peppars (three tackles) and Cliff Harris (five tackles, one interception) are steady reserves.
Oregon boasts a very strong group of safeties as free safety John Boyett (14 tackles) is one of the conference's finest young defensive backs, while transplanted linebacker Eddie Pleasant (14 tackles) combines speed and power at the rover position. Veterans Javes Lewis (eight tackles, one interception) and Marvin Johnson (seven tackles) are the first off the bench at free safety and rover, respectively.
The downside for the Devils is that when ASU is able to get the Ducks' offense off the field, that doesn't provide ample breathing room as Oregon's defense is equally difficult to face.
With athletes and depth at every position, the windows of opportunity likely will not be abundant when Steven Threet and company take the field.
Efficiency and execution will be key terms for the Sun Devils on Saturday as the squad can ill-afford to continue to lose focus and succumb to dropped passes, offensive line penalties and other predominately mental errors.
Special Teams Preview
After serving a brief suspension for an offseason incident, kicker Rob Beard has made all four field goal attempts this season, including kicks of 41 and 42 yards, while connecting on all 15 extra point attempts.
While Beard was sidelined for the first game, true freshman Eric Solis made three-of-four attempts and connected on nine extra points.
Through three games, sophomore Jackson Rice has averaged 39.4 yards on seven punts – a statistic that is made more impressive when noting that five of the seven have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
Oregon's punt return game has been nothing short of spectacular, as the team already has three touchdowns to its credit, as Cliff Harris averages 28.1 yards on seven returns with two scores and Kenjon Barner averages 22.8 yards on four returns with one touchdown.
Barner has also served as Oregon's primary kickoff return specialist, averaging 23.5 yards on six returns.
Though last week's surprise effort at Wisconsin gives ASU followers hope for an improved season, Oregon is as challenging a rebound game as the Devils could have on their schedule at this point.
With the exception of USC, no team has had the Sun Devils' number as of late more than the Ducks, as no member of the ASU roster or staff has ever participated in a win over Oregon, with the Devils' last victory occurring in 2004.
Based on the first three weeks, Oregon has shown every ability to offensively thrash opponents and suffocate them defensively, more than giving the Devils a full plate of challenges this Saturday.
An ASU win would unquestionably be the biggest for the Sun Devils under Dennis Erickson (just as last week's likely would have been) and would provide an exponential boost through the final two-thirds of the schedule.
However, Oregon has steamrolled through ASU in many of its recent meetings, and unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the Ducks currently are offensively peaking in previously unseen fashion.
Injury Updates and Roster Notes
Five Questions: ASU vs. Oregon
• How will ASU respond after a heartbreaking loss at Wisconsin a week ago?
• Will ASU's defense be able to slow Oregon's offense?
• How will ASU's offense fare against Oregon's defense?
• How will ASU's crowd factor into the game's outcome?
• How will ASU kicker Thomas Weber rebound from a rough outing at Wisconsin?
• ASU wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad previously played at Oregon (2007-08)
• ASU defensive lineman Bo Moos' father, Bill, previously served as Oregon's Athletic Director.
• Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Anthony Gildon and Casey Matthews and ASU's Tyler Sulka all attended Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
• Oregon's Dion Jordan and ASU's Taylor Walstad both attended Chandler (Ariz.) High School.
• Oregon's Terrell Turner and ASU's Clint Floyd both attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
• Oregon's Isaac Remington hails from Queen Creek and attended Valley Christian High School and Phoenix College.
• Oregon's Nick Rowland hails from Peoria and attended Centennial High School.