Devils looking forward to Oregon challenge

Daunting task this weekend for Arizona State? The Sun Devils are naturally well aware of what awaits them in Eugene on Saturday when they face the University of Oregon, but that doesn't diminish their level of confidence or enthusiasm for the colossal Pac-12 showdown.

"It's a great opportunity for this football program to go up there and we'll see what happens," said Arizona State head coach following Thursday's practice. "We had a good week of practice, we had a lot of fun and we'll go up there and play as hard as we can."

Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler is an avid trivia fan, but admitted to not knowing that ASU hasn't beaten Oregon since 2004. However, that stat did little to cause a grim outlook concerning their toughest match to date.

"Well, it's been 11 (years) since we beat USC and we beat them," Osweiler said in reference to ASU's victory over the Trojans this year. "So, obviously I'm not saying that this (Oregon) is a guaranteed win. But records are meant to be beat. We had a great week of practice, great week of preparation and we are ready for this football game.

"We've played on ESPN before and we won. We've played ranked teams before and we won. We've gone on the road and we won. I think that's enough said."

This sentiment of optimism among the maroon and gold undoubtedly is rooted in part by ASU's 5-1 record and their 2011 body of work.

"We've played well and we're getting better all the time," Erickson stated. "We have had a lot of guys step up when guys went down. It's like I've said all long – I like this team. For us to get this program down the road to the elite, you have to win games like this.

"But this really is our first opportunity to have that in a while. It's going to be fun and our players know that."

For Osweiler, it's not only what he and his teammates have been doing since September that gives him a strong sense of buoyancy, but also the hard work that all of them have been putting in since January.

"This work that was put in the off-season that you (the media) were not around to see," Osweiler explained. "Nobody but the football players and the strength staff…that's how we know we're ready. We worked extremely hard this past year, we have had a great season so far and we're up for the challenge."

***

2010 was the ultimate ‘what if' season, that was defined by close losses to high caliber teams, and the 42-31 loss to Oregon is a prime example for that. As frustrating as those experiences were, Osweiler feels that the lessons learned from those games is serving the Sun Devils well these days.

"Anytime we are playing quality opponents on the road or at home, you're going to get ready for big football games," Osweiler stated. "We've experienced great football teams last year. We played Stanford when I believe they were (ranked) third, we played Wisconsin, this year we played Missouri, USC and the list goes on.

"Oregon was a tremendous football team last year and they did a lot of great things obviously. Anytime you're familiar with a football team you have more tape to look at."

***

The Sun Devils have been listed all week as at least a two-touchdown underdog, yet it's a fact that Erickson doesn't pay attention to and thus doesn't mention it to his players.

"It's a game. It doesn't matter the underdog part of it," Erickson said. "Playing on the road is something that we are dealing with. It was loud at Utah, but nothing is like what we are going to see Saturday. Its' a hard place to play, but it's a great place and they have great fans and our guys are looking forward to it."

Count Osweiler as also someone who is not too concerned with the odds makers' opinion.

"We expect to win," Osweiler declared. "So we don't pay attention to what people outside of this football program predict, write about, and talk about. We're just concerned with our football team and our football team's goal is to win every football game."

***

It has been speculated for a while that sophomore running back, Deantre Lewis, who was a victim of random a random shooting in February, would not be able to play due to nerve damage in his hamstring. Lewis has practiced sparingly and was always limited during those sessions and has yet to play this year.

After Thursday's practice Erickson stated that he and the player have reached the decision to redshirt the running back for the 2011 season.

"We decided over a period of time that he's going to redshirt," Erickson said. "I don't care about winning games or losing games, I care about Deantre Lewis right now. He's been through things that none of us could imagine, not just physically but mentally. He's getting better all the time, maybe he can come back at the end of the year. But the biggest thing mentally, and physically for him, is to shoot for spring football.

"He's going to redshirt. A lot of people redshirt. That's' what redshirting is for. I know his mind is at ease with it. I'm glad it (the redshirt) happened and I'm glad that he's going in that direction. The bottom line is that physically he's not ready to play. Mentally he has been through some very difficult times. Unless you were shot I don't think that you would know. Neither would I. The most important thing is his mental and physical health."

***

The number of dropped balls by the ASU wide receivers has gone down from last year, but not enough to Erickson's liking. Having said that, the ASU head coach is pleased with the way that quarterback Brock Osweiler has been spreading the ball and employing good decision making.

"He doesn't focus on one guy," Erickson remarked. "He's reading what's happening in the offense itself and then going to the guy that he's supposed to go to. That's what great quarterbacks do and he's doing that right now."

***

There is no doubt that this already has been a trying season for first-year placekicker Alex Garoutte. The redshirt freshman has been struggling with his accuracy during games, but last week's performance in Utah, where he made both attempts from 27 and 35 yards, was a much needed shot in the arm for the kicker who prior to the Utah contest last made a field goal against Missouri on September 9th.

"It's like anything…if you start doing it the right way and making it then it's a lot easier to make the next one," Erickson explained. "When you're not doing it mentally it becomes tough. He has kicked well this week, you can see it. He has a lot of confidence."

***

There is a good chance that this weekend's road trip to Eugene may not be the last for ASU. If both they and Oregon win their respective divisions they will meet again as they battle for the Pac-12 championship. As focused as Osweiler is for Saturday, he confessed that he's not oblivious to this fact.

"Our eyes are set on the Pac-12 championship game and you kind of look each week to see where teams are sitting," Osweiler commented. "Obviously, there is a potential for us to play Oregon again this year but we're only concerned about this Saturday's matchup and we'll go from there."

With this week's game being not only televised by ESPN but also hosting the popular College GameDay show, the hype for this contest is undeniable. Nonetheless, Osweiler feels that his teammates have been even keel amid all the excitement this Oregon game is bringing.

"Guys have been pretty much the same and there is a little confidence going on in the locker room," Osweiler said. "Guys are excited for the challenge. We understand that Oregon is a great football team. But we're up for that challenge this year and we're excited to play them on the road…(ESPN) College GameDay so that has sparked something around the locker room.

"When you're playing a good team obviously you're really going to focus during the week and you'll be really locked in during meetings. But every opponent you play in the Pac-12 is good. Nothing really changes from week to week. We come in, we still do the same things, we tie our shoes the same way, we come out to practice the same way and we just get ready for that week's opponent."


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