We often cite statistics in this space and there were a lot of big numbers to digest in Arizona State’s 61-55 loss to Oregon. The biggest is minus-16, which is essentially what ASU was on special teams in the game. It’s hard to win a game against a somewhat comparable team when you miss three field goals and give up a kickoff return for a score.
ASU was quite simply sloppy in this game. The special team miscues, quarterback Mike Bercovici threw two bad interceptions and nine enforced penalties which resulted in three Oregon first downs are going to lose you games.
Play-calling is going to be a bone of contention and it should be but for both teams. The decision of ASU and its offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to throw the ball two plays in a row for the three-yard line is odd when you consider ASU ran for 344 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry in the game.
At the same time, some Oregon’s decisions were just plain odd. The Ducks only rushed 28 times to 41 pass attempts. Oregon actually averaged 6.6 yards per carry in the game but would go through extended stretches where it went completely away from the run.
Norvell is going to take a lot of heat for his choices at the end of the game but the offense did put up 741 total yards and converted 14 of 23 third downs attempts. Overtime was not the main reason for the ridiculous numbers, ASU had 550 yards of offense after three quarters play.
One thing Norvell and offensive did quite well was incorporate all of its weapons. Senior D.J. Foster looked as good as he has looked all year, playing the role he was mainly used in prior to this year, which was more of a hybrid role that ASU consideres a two-back personnel grouping even when Foster is aligned in the near slot. Still, Foster only had 116 yards from scrimmage.
ASU did use 12 personnel (1 RB 2 TE) a lot on the running plays in the game too. Junior Kody Kohl only caught two passes in game but one was a key well executed touchdown reception in the second half.
ASU dominated Oregon on the ground, rushing 55 times for 344 yards. Sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage both went for over 100 yards rushing. Richard was electric at times after missing the Utah game with a knee injury. He rushed 19 times for 135 yards. Ballage consistently ran hard and at times showed the power running that many have been waiting for, as he had 127 yards and averaged 10.6 yards per carry in the game.
Bercovici played well but his two interceptions came at inopportune times. He nearly had a third pick at the Oregon goalline that was overturned upon review. If that call was not overturned, three points come off the board for the Sun Devils.
The first interception came on a play where it appeared ASU assumed Oregon had jumped offsides but no flag was thrown and Bercovici, apparently thinking he had a free play, tried to force the ball to Tim White. The last interception in overtime, obviously, ended the game.
Bercovici still had a huge night, bringing ASU back from behind on multiple occasions. He ran the ball well consistently in the game, finishing with 16 carries and he gained 78 yards (not counting sack yardage). He completed 32 of 53 attempts for 398 yards and five touchdowns. He did a good job of distributing the ball, eight receivers caught at least two passes. Despite nearly throwing for 400 yards, no receiver had over 100 yards receiving.
White had a good game but appeared to let up on some routes at times, still he is clearly ASU’s big play threat in the passing game. He had nine catches for 97 yards and a score.
ASU's receivers as a whole struggled early on with their outside blocking which played a part in ASU’s slow start (120 yards and no points after the first quarter).
The ASU offensive line, despite multiple errors by junior Evan Goodman, played as well as it has this year. Bercovici was sacked four times but one came on a horrible pass block by Ballage and at least two were coverage sacks.
Defensively it was a mixed bag for ASU. One factor that is probably being overlooked right now but hurt ASU late in the game was its lack of a defensive line rotation. Whether it be a lack of talent or experience, the fact that ASU has tried to build depth up front on defense but yet is only really rotating in one backup played a big part in the defense’s inability to take down Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams on multiple plays late in the game. The defense was clearly gassed and just a handful of snaps earlier in the game by Edmond Boateng and Renell Wren could have helped later on in the game.
Obviously giving up 61 points and 501 yards is not a great night but this loss is not totally on the ASU defense either.
The bad was the penalties. Sophomore Tashon Smallwood picked up a personal foul in the second half when he retaliated to a shove by an Oregon offensive lineman which gave Oregon a first down when it should have been a third and 10 for the Ducks.
Oregon’s first two touchdowns came on a third and one (64 yard run by Royce Freeman) and and a fourth and one (39 yard reception by Darren Carrington). After the game, head coach Todd Graham attributed both of touchdowns to mental breakdowns by the defense.
Some of the mistakes in the back end of the defense fall on true freshman Kareem Orr. Orr, who was recruited as a cornerback, has played admirably at times but continues to have one of two big mistakes a game that has caused the team. At this point it probably seems like a lock that sophomore Armand Perry will takeover field safety when healthy but Perry’s experience at safety really consists of one game at the college level.
Special teams seemed to have been steadily ticking upward this season before tonight. Junior kicker Zane Gonzalez missed two field over 50 yards, it’s hard to blame him too much for missing the longer ones but he has shown he is capable of making those kicks. His first miss of 26 yards is inexcusable and he was shaky on the night on kickoffs for the first time this year. He had almost been automatic on touchbacks prior to this year, but the weather could have hampered him in that area. He also had a kickoff which went out of bounds but ASU intercepted Adams on the very next play.
The return by Charles Nelson started in the endzone, and was not on Gonzalez but that play really turned the momentum away from ASU. The Sun Devils had a 31-20 lead and locked like they had the game in hand.
Junior punter Matt Haack had three punts for just 97 yards but did put two of those inside the 20-yard line.