Know Your Foe: Oregon

Another week another road trip where ASU will face an opponent without its biggest offensive star. How can Oregon compensate for the loss of running back LaMichael James? What challenges do the Ducks still pose for ASU? Devils Digest invited Publisher Steve Summers to answer those questions and others by ASU fans on the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Q: Sitting at a 4-1 record is this record what the Oregon fans expected at this juncture, or is there a sense of disappointment?

A: I believe most Duck fans felt that the first game of the year against LSU was going to be a huge game and while the loss was disappointing particularly because of the errors (penalties and turnovers) the last four games have proved that this is a very good football team. Most of our readers believe there is still plenty of season left and that if the Ducks control their own destiny there should be a very good bowl game at the end of all this.

Q: How do you feel this team stacks up compared to the 2010 squad or even the 2007 team that probably could have won a national championship if not for QB Dennis Dixon's ACL injury?

A: Offensively this team seems to be right on par with last year's squad and the best of the 2007 team. The Ducks are the conference leaders in total offense and points scored. The running game is very good and now the only question is what will it be like if LaMichael James in not available for ASU. Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson are very capable backs, but James is something special.

Defensively, the squad has been getting progressively better and considering some of the big contributors from last year have been sideline (Cliff Harris anyone?) but if there is any question by fans it would be on the defensive side, particularly the defensive line. Interestingly, some of the key defensive stats are very similar to last year despite graduating three guys off the defensive line. Tackles for loss are nearly the same for the first five games of this year compared to last year and sacks are actually up this year.

So far the Ducks have played two conference opponents. Last year against Arizona the Ducks had seven TFLs including one sack in a 48-29 win. This year the Ducks beat the Wildcats 56-31 and the defense again recorded seven TFLs but this year had five sacks. In 2010, Oregon squeaked by the Cal Bears, 15-13. This year the Bears got two more points on the score board but lost 43-15. The Duck defenders had four TFLs including one sack last year in Berkeley and this year in Eugene, the Ducks notched six TFLs and two sacks.

Q: Do you feel it's a foregone conclusion that LaMichael James will miss the ASU contest and if so what kind of impact will this have on the running game and the offense as a whole?

A: There is a lot of hope that he'll be able to play, mainly because he was so upbeat after the Cal game. However, I think most people feel he'll miss the ASU game.

Will the country's leading rusher averaging 170.4 ypg and eight touchdowns, last week's national player of the week and last year's Doak Walker Award winner be be missed? Well, yes of course it will impact things. Just how much though is the $64 million question.

Kenjon Barner has started once in place of LaMichael James and in that game against New Mexico, Barner rushed for 147 yards and four touchdowns. De'Anthony Thomas was last year's top player out of high school and so far this season has been spectacular once he got over the dropsies (two fumbles against LSU).

Many feel De'Anthony Thomas is a very special player in his own right but is he ready to take the spotlight just yet? We'll see on Saturday. Tra Carson is from the same high school as James and rewrote all of James' records. So it will be interesting to see if Chip Kelly's offense can hold up with out LaMichael James.

Q: Have you been pleased so far with the play of QB Darron Thomas and the Oregon wide receivers?

A: When the Ducks have gone to the air they've had success. De'Anthony Thomas is living up to expectations and had 114 yards of receiving from six catches and two touchdowns and another rushing touchdown against Cal. Thomas is averaging 208 yards of passing this year but has fifteen touchdowns and only two interceptions giving him an efficiency rating of 159.3. He also has only been sacked twice.

Q: ASU in general has the speed on defense to possibly stay with the offense the Oregon has. What does ASU need to do to otherwise to shut down the Ducks' offense?

A: It's not likely the Oregon offense will be shut down. ASU will have to play a very good game and not make mistakes that will allow Oregon's offense to get back onto the field. Autzen Stadium is a very tough place for visitors to play in and Oregon is very confident in what they do. There isn't really any weakness in the Ducks, especially at home and that is probably why the spread is at 14.5 points.

Q: The Oregon defense normally gets overshadowed by the offense. What are the strengths and weakness of the defense?

A: I've probably answered a lot of this above, but the strengths of the Duck defense is the speed and aggressiveness. If there was ever a time for Cliff Harris to come out of Chip Kelly's doghouse for off-field infractions, this would be it.

Q: The ASU defense prides itself on turnovers but that aspect has been lacking from Oregon's unit. Is that a concern?

A: One of the most noticeable stats is that Oregon only has three interceptions this year. Maybe this because Harris has been on the sidelines, or maybe it is a new group of defensive linemen learning the ropes and the number of turnovers will increase significantly as the season continues. One sign that might be true is that last game, while there were no interceptions there were 15 pass break ups which was most sure interceptions that were dropped by the defender.

Q: What do you think concerns the Oregon coaches about ASU on either side of the ball?

A: The coaches no doubt believe that Sun Devils are well coached and have the ability to score points. What will mostly concern Oregon coaches is that their players not make mistakes. No false starts or stupid penalties. Ball security is going to be paramount against a team that prides itself in takeaways.

Q: What are Oregon fans thoughts on this year's Sun Devils?

A: Duck fans are generally impressed with the Sun Devils play so far this year. Last year ASU gave the Ducks a tough game before falling by 11 points, 42-31.

Q: Could the fact that Oregon is a two-touchdown plus favorite put more pressure on the Ducks than usual?

A: No. The Ducks have been favored by big spreads for nearly every game over the last two years. This is nothing new.

Q: Does Oregon see this game as possible pitfall just like the Stanford game later in the season?

A: The Stanford game is a bit different since it is a Northern Division team and so that extent the Stanford game will be very important, if Oregon should beat ASU this Saturday.

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