Head Coach: Chip Kelly (26-5 at Oregon/19-1 in Pac-10/12 play)
Conference: Pac-12 (North Division)
Current Head-to-Head Streak: Six by Oregon (Last ASU win: 28-13 on Oct. 2, 2004 in Eugene)
Last Meeting: Oregon 42, ASU 31 (Sept. 25, 2010)
After the No. 5 Ducks left Tempe last September, they survived what would be their greatest test until January's National Championship game against Auburn, as a turnover prone Sun Devil team gave away what would have been a milestone victory for head coach Dennis Erickson.
ASU jumped out to a 7-0 lead by way of a 53-yard Deantre Lewis touchdown run in the first quarter, and the teams would remain neck-and-neck in the first half until an Omar Bolden interception off of Darron Thomas was quickly followed by a 28-yard touchdown from Steven Threet to Kerry Taylor, placing ASU ahead, 24-14.
From that point, Oregon marched to two touchdown drives to close out the first half with a 28-24 lead and the Sun Devils made multiple drives that appeared to be viable scoring opportunities but six second half turnovers kept Oregon ahead for good.
Statistically, Lewis had a game-high 127 rushing yards, while ASU's Cameron Marshall added 79. Oregon's LaMichael James, who would end up as the nation's leading rusher, posted only 94 yards on 28 carries—40 of which came on his longest run of the game—which stood as James' third-lowest output of the year. Oregon's Darron Thomas threw for 260 yards and two scores and one interception, while ASU's Steven Threet racked up 387 yards and three touchdowns but also four devastating interceptions.
Gerell Robinson had a game-high 94 yards on seven catches, while Mike Willie had five receptions for 74 yards and two touchdowns and for Oregon, D.J. Davis led the way with five receptions for 54 yards.
ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict had a stellar night with 10 tackles including 2.5 for loss, while safety John Boyett recorded 11 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception returned 39 yards for a touchdown for the Ducks.
Sept. 3 LSU*( L, 27-40)
Sept. 10 Nevada (W, 69-20)
Sept. 17 Missouri State (W, 56-7)
Sept. 24 at Arizona (W, 56-31)
Oct. 6 California (W, 43-15)
Oct. 15 Arizona State
Oct. 22 at Colorado
Oct. 29 Washington State
Nov. 5 at Washington
Nov. 12 at Stanford
Nov. 19 USC
Nov. 26 Oregon State
*-Game played in Arlington, Texas
Anyone with any college football awareness knows that Oregon football begins, stays and wins by way of a fast-action run game that leaves most opponents in the dust. Between a mobile quarterback, deep running backs stable and a blocking scheme formatted to protect the run, the Ducks accelerate beyond opponents in ways that few college teams can mimic.
The Ducks are one of few teams that have the necessary faculty to replace an All-American with relative seamlessness—and that seems to be exactly what they'll have to do with reigning Doak Walker Award winner LaMichael James likely shelved for the game due to injury.
With James likely out, second-year starting quarterback Darron Thomas' role likely will not have to change substantially, as the versatile passer still has multiple options to call upon. After helping lead Oregon to a BCS National Championship Game appearance, he has continued to play solid football in 2011, having completed 59.4-percent of his passes for 1,040 yards with a sensational ratio of 15 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Also the owner of 100 net rushing yards and two touchdowns, though Thomas isn't the runner former Duck quarterbacks Dennis Dixon or Jeremiah Masoli were, he can gain yardage with his feet and is a player the Sun Devil defense must control for ASU to succeed.
In James' absence, the primary running duties likely fall to Kenjon Barner, significantly talented in his own right, while freshman phenom De'Anthony Thomas, the odds-on favorite for Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and the team's leading receiver and second-leading rusher, will be heavily involved in multiple capacities of the Duck offense.
So far in 2011, Barner has rushed for 167 yards with three touchdowns in only three games, while Thomas has rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns while pacing the squad with 17 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns. Specifically in the run game, Barner and Thomas are devastating both individually and collectively, as the two combine for a 6.9 yards-per-carry average.
True freshman Tra Carson is an intriguing option to complement Barner and Thomas, as the 6-0, 227-pounder evokes (the positive) memories of LeGarrette Blount as a forceful option to integrate in with Oregon's speed backs.
At wide receiver, Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff guide an otherwise green group, with Tuinei tying Thomas for the team-high of 17 receptions, adding up to 190 yards and four touchdowns. Huff has missed two games due to injury but has collected nine receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown in the three games he has played.
Junior college transfer Rashaan Vaughn has made an impact in his first year wearing green and gold (and black and silver and white…) with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Elsewhere at wide receiver, Justin Hoffman, Eric Dungy, Will Murphy, Brian Butterfield and Daryle Hawkins have registered in the score books and add depth.
Tight end David Paulson has had a very quiet 2011 season after an All-Pac-10 effort last year, posting only 48 yards on seven catches with a touchdown despite appearing in all five games. True freshman Colt Lyerla, with limitless athletic potential, backs up Paulson and has caught three passes—all touchdowns—totaling 53 yards in the young stages of his college career.
Along the offensive line, Carson York and Mark Asper, at left and right guard, respectively, lead a starting unit that also includes left tackle Darrion Weems, center Hroniss Grasu and right tackle Nick Cody. Behind the typical starters stand left tackle Ryan Clanton, left guard Mana Greig, center Karrington Armstrong, right guard Everett Benyard III and right tackle Jake Fisher as reserves.
Oregon Offense in a Nutshell
Statistically, Oregon's offense ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (50.2 ppg.), first in total offense (539.6 ypg.), first in rushing offense (312.6 ypg.), first in third-down conversions (50%), second in red zone offense (91.7%), second in sacks allowed (three), fifth in pass efficiency (159.9) and 10th in pass offense (227.0 ypg.).
From a strategic perspective, it is theoretically simple: ASU needs to find a way to slow Oregon down. This concept is most certainly much easier said than done; otherwise the Ducks wouldn't have sped through the league over the course of the past several years.
Last season, ASU did an excellent job bottling LaMichael James and if the Devils can repeat that type of effort, things could get interesting for ASU. Oregon's pace and tempo are as striking as it gets across the college football nation, so the Devils have to hone in perfectly on every snap to avoid being bypassed toward chunks of yardage and touchdowns for the Ducks.
On defense, ASU will need to continue its recent trend of forcing hordes of opponent turnovers but at the same time, the Sun Devils can't afford to gamble on every play to try and force interceptions or fumbles at inopportune times and allow Oregon to progress further.
A key aspect for the Sun Devil defense undoubtedly will be its discipline; if ASU comes unglued on defense—especially early—it'll be a long day for the Devils.
Throughout the Duck defense there are many new names compared to what Sun Devil fans are used to from Oregon, as well as a mystifying absence from one of the team's most notable players.
Last season, Cliff Harris created a résumé consisting of sensational playmaking abilities both as a cornerback and punt returner, but incidents off the field have kept him buried in the depth chart and firmly in the coaches' dog house, with only five tackles and five pass deflections to his name in four games.
With Harris being used in a very limited role and multi-year starters such as Kenny Rowe, Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger gone from last season, the Duck defense has many new faces in 2011 but remains very dangerous.
Up front, three first-year starters exist in end Dion Jordan (19 tackles, team-high 6.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and tackles Taylor Hart (14 tackles) and Wade Keliikipi (nine tackles) join returning starting end Terrell Turner (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks). Jordan, a Chandler native, has come on strong as of late after beginning his career as a tight end.
Behind the typical starters, Brandon Hanna (17 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) brings senior experience behind Jordan, while redshirt freshman Tony Washington (11 tackles, 1.0 sack) is Turner's top reserve. Arizona native Isaac Remington (11 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and huge, high-potential sophomore Ricky Heimuli (five tackles) are the top backups at defensive tackle.
Middle linebacker Dewitt Stuckey (28 tackles), weak side linebacker Michael Clay (21 tackles, two TFL) and strong side linebacker Josh Kaddu (15 tackles, team-high 2.0 sacks) comprise the starting trio for the Ducks, with Kiko Alonso (23 tackles, 0.5 TFL), Derrick Malone (eight tackles) and Boseko Lokombo (14 tackles, 1.5 TFL) respectively fill out the reserve unit.
The secondary is guided by Oregon's excellent safeties pair consisting of John Boyett (team-high 29 tackles, four pass breakups, 2.0 TFL) and Eddie Pleasant (27 tackles, three pass breakups). Boyett and Pleasant created the starting duo on last year's Pac-10 Champion squad and both players returned for this season to give Oregon leadership among a defense that featured numerous new parts. Avery Patterson (23 tackles) and Brian Jackson (20 tackles) are tabbed as the primary reserves at safety behind Boyett and Pleasant.
At cornerback, with Harris earning minimal playing time, senior Anthony Gildon (14 tackles, three pass breakups) is called upon not only as a starter but a mentor to a generally young position group—fellow starter Terrance Mitchell (16 tackles, four pass breakups, 2.0 TFL) is a redshirt freshmen and the top two listed reserves are redshirt freshman Troy Hill (10 tackles, two pass breakups, one INT) and true freshman Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (11 tackles, three pass breakups).
Oregon Defense in a Nutshell
Statistically, Oregon's defense ranks first in the Pac-12 Conference in pass efficiency defense (110.7 ), third in red zone defense (76.2%), fourth in scoring defense (22.6 ppg.), fourth in pass defense (230.8 ypg.), fourth in third-down defense (35.7%), fifth in sacks (five), ninth in total defense (404.6 ypg.), 10th in rush defense (173.8 ypg.) and 11th in interceptions (three).
Oregon's team speed is not limited to the offensive side, creating need for ASU to be accountable for the various pressures that the Ducks will dial up to try to rattle Brock Osweiler. As statistics indicate, Oregon's defense generally is mortal and if the Sun Devils can protect Osweiler, ASU has the potential to move the ball against the Ducks.
Much to ASU's delight, Oregon has one of the league's poorer run defenses, which would give the Devils a substantial boost if Cameron Marshall and company can take pressure off the Sun Devil pass game.
Special Teams Preview
Oregon has only attempted three field goals on the year, with Rob Beard converting attempts from 29 and 30 yards in the season opener against LSU and Alejandro Maldonado missing from 52 yards last week.
Jackson Rice, one of the league's better punters, brings a 46.2-yard average on 18 punts into Saturday's game.
Though Cliff Harris has only returned two punts, Oregon has still received star efforts in the return game with LaMichael James averaging 19.3 yards on six returns with a touchdown and De'Anthony Thomas averaging 17.3 yards on three returns. With James likely out of action Saturday, it remains to be seen if Harris will take on a greater role or if Thomas will assume a full-time punt return role. On kickoff returns, however, Oregon has not made nearly as much noise as Thomas averages 20.0 yards on 10 returns and Kenjon Barner averages 16.4 yards on seven runs. As a team, Oregon only averages 18.5 yards on kickoffs, with LaMichael James, Josh Huff, Troy Hill and Terrance Mitchell also receiving reps.
To leave Autzen with a win, ASU may either have to play completely error-free football or force a multitude of Oregon mistakes—or both.
Bluntly and honestly stated, this is the lone game on ASU's schedule in which fans and critics assumed the Sun Devils had little chance to win. Though ASU has been impressive by stepping up to a solid Missouri team in Tempe, snapping an 11-game losing streak versus USC and by taking charge on the road in conference play at Utah, in order to defeat Oregon the Sun Devils will undoubtedly need to put forth the best team performance of the Dennis Erickson era.
Oregon's dynamic team speed and the game's overall magnitude pose a tremendous challenge to the Sun Devils—a challenge that exceeds any other of recent years at ASU.
Bottom line, in about two-and-a-half years under Chip Kelly, Oregon has not lost at home—and hasn't lost in Autzen since falling to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008—and only has dropped one game in Pac-10/12 conference play under Kelly.
Arizona State will need to play its best game of the Dennis Erickson era to win, plain and simple.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
Keep on Turnin'
In a game of this magnitude, ASU may need to create its own opportunities—and no better way to do that than to continue the team's string of forced turnovers. Though he has matured greatly since the start of the season, when De'Anthony Thomas had fumbling issues against LSU, it certainly interrupted his focus as well as the team's, which would be exponentially helpful for the Sun Devils Saturday.
"It's Time" for Vontaze
Nobody doubts Vontaze Burfict's talent, but there's also little doubt that he has yet to show his full skill set thus far in 2011. Oregon presents a challenge that Burfict's all-world athletic skills will be needed in order for ASU to survive, making it mandatory that he cut the reins loose and play fearless and fearsome sideline-to-sideline football.
This is a key to any football game, but in this environment it is additionally important for ASU to execute in terms of taking care of the ball on offense, standing firm with third-down defense, converting in the red zone and limiting penalty infractions. Oregon is unlikely to hand anything to ASU; therefore the Sun Devils can't afford to hand anything to the Ducks.
Undoubtedly, Oregon's Autzen Stadium is the toughest road task in the Pac-12 and when the matchup at hand is nationally televised and includes two top-20 teams, the ante likely will raise. Within that hysteria, ASU needs to remain as composed as it possibly can and not allow the crowd and the game's magnitude to create any disadvantageous circumstances.
Lineup Notes and Injury News
Cornerback Osahon Irabor is expected to remain in the starting lineup despite a back injury suffered at Utah.
Offensive tackle Aderious Simmons is expected to be fully healthy and likely will start at right tackle, his first appearance since the season opener.