Summers: Oregon fans expect the Ducks to win all the games on the schedule, so yes, the first six games went exactly as fans expected.
At the start of the season, the only game on the schedule that fans thought might be a tough game was the USC game, but after the Trojans lost to Stanford, Arizona State appears to be the team that Duck fans believe will give the Ducks the best challenge. After three consecutive BCS Bowl games and three-straight conference championships Duck fans are accustomed to winning lots of games. In his three years as head coach, Chip Kelly has won 40 games.
Marcus Mariota has played very well for a first year starter. What are his strengths and weaknesses and are you generally surprised by how he has hit the ground running?
Summers: Mariota has been a very pleasant addition to the Oregon offense with both his running and passing. The redshirt freshman has a quarterback efficiency rating of 156.4 (second in the conference) and has thrown 15 touchdown passes. He's rushed for 221 yards and one of his strengths is his ability to keep drives alive by being able to pick first downs on the run. His calm demeanor is a tremendous asset and if there is any weakness to his game it is decision making on the option, but that has improved as he has gained more experience and one would be hard put to contrast Mariota's management of the offense at this point in the year compared to Darron Thomas a year ago.
Much has been said about the ASU contest being the first true road game for Oregon. How do you think it can possibly affect inexperienced players such as Mariota?
Summers: Mariota doesn't look like an inexperienced player, and technically this is Oregon's second road game, with the first being against Washington State at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle. I don't think being on the road for the ASU game will have much effect on Mariota. There are a lot of weapons in the Duck arsenal and having the likes of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas make things a lot easier on a freshman quarterback. Thomas can change the complexion of a game anytime he touches the ball.
The level of talent at running back for Oregon speaks for itself, but how do you feel this group which isn't known for its power running do in short yardage and red zone situations, especially against a stout defense such as ASU?
Summers: Actually the Ducks do have a power back in Colt Lyerla. The 6-5, 245-pound monster is a freak of nature. Lyerla wins the match ups with linebackers and defensive backs and is too fast for defensive linemen. If the Ducks decide to use him in the running game, he could be another nightmare for ASU as there is no one that matches up very well against him.
The Ducks' passing game tends to get overlooked, but one player that has had a great season thus far is tight end Colt Leyrla. What kind of impact can he have especially against an aggressive ASU defense?
Summers: As I indicated above, Lyerla could be a very big problem for ASU because of his size, strength and speed. As a receiver, he has soft hands and catches everything thrown in his direction. He also makes acrobatic catches, which is very rare out the tight end position. Lyerla is the type of player that can make an aggressive defense pay, because he can so easily break tackles and has the leg strength to motor down the field, dragging defenders along.
As potent as the Oregon offense is what is one area of weakness you think can be exploited?
Summers: It would be hard to exploit an offense that is scoring 52.3 ppg, and seriously the only weakness I can think of is when the backups are in for mop-up duty. At least through the first six game of the season that has been the case.
Todd Graham has talked at length about the improved Oregon defense. Can you talk about the differences you see in this group compared to last season?
Summers: The defensive line is probably the biggest noticeable improvement. The Duck defenders are very big and athletic. With the addition of DeForest Buckner, 6-7, 265, and Arik Armstead, 6-8, 280, the Duck defensive front with Dion Jordan, 6-7, 243, Taylor Hart, 6-6, and Isaac Remington, 6-6, 305 became really tall. One note, Remington most likely will not play on Thursday night pending the outcome of an incident during the off week in which he was charged with DUII. Normally a starter, Remington likely will be replaced by Tony Washington. Oregon defensive front normally will rotate eight players including all the players listed above along with defensive tackles Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli. If Remington does not play defensive end Sam Kamp becomes the eighth man on the normal rotation.
Who have been some of the players on defense that have really emerged this year?
Summers: Safety Avery Patterson has consecutive games with a pick-6. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu also had a pick-6 among his two interceptions against Arizona. Cornerback Troy Hill also returned an interception for touchdown against the Wildcats. The Ducks have a total of ten interceptions for the year.
What are some of the key injuries for Oregon going into this game?
Summers: All-America tackle Carson York and All-America safety John Boyett are done for the season. Chip Kelly does not issue medical reports but there is a question if senior linebacker Michael Clay will play. Clay reportedly however has been practicing this week. Media and the public are not allowed to watch Oregon practices.
Please name one player on each side of the ball that generally goes unnoticed that ASU should be aware of?
Summers: On offense it is probably wide receiver Keanon Lowe who is deceptively fast and on defense it might be Tyson Coleman, who could fill in nicely for Clay if the senior is unavailable. Coleman has been playing well and has been a staple on special teams with his aggressive, heads-up play.