"I think I know that Oregon system pretty well. This game is like playing ourselves," said Coach Koetter. "Offense, special teams, defensively…in my opinion, they're going through a very similar thing we are. They struggled in certain aspects of their game. Oregon has a lot of injuries at positions they didn't have great depth to start with, like offensive line and tight end. I think when you have injuries, and struggle for one reason or another, you have a tendency to become a boxer. You have to protect yourself and not be backed into a corner. Oregon is like that right now, and I think we're like that right now."
Koetter pointed to the fact that the Ducks, much like the Devils, started out the season with high expectations. "Oregon was a team that wasn't picked as high this year," exclaimed Koetter. "Which was unusual for them. They start out winning on the road at Mississippi state, huge win against Michigan…with the success they've had in recent years the fans had the tendency to think that they would run the table and be in the Sugar Bowl. Then they ran into a very good Washington State team, and a Utah team that's underrated."
The Sun Devil skipper is hopeful that cornerback R.J. Oliver will be able to play considerable minutes on Saturday. Then again, his health won't be the only determining factor. "If it's a warm day like last week, I'm sure conditioning will become a factor at one point, because R.J. hasn't done much the last month other than riding the bike." However, even if the junior were to play, he wouldn't be exclusively matched up with standout Oregon receiver Samie Parker. "You can't necessarily match guys up because the fact that they move them all over. They're not many teams in the Pac-10 that stick a wide receiver in the same spot all the time. It's tough to get an individual match-up."
ASU wide receiver Daryl Lightfoot has been struggling all season, and last week was held catchless. Nevertheless, Koetter is confident that the his fastest offensive weapon can turn things around. "Overall I have huge expectations from him," said the ASU head coach. "Last spring he had a very consistent four weeks of spring football, had a good fall camp…but since we got to the season Daryl has been nagged by little injuries. When you're a guy at his size and quickness, basically his wheels are his meal ticket. It was one week ago where we weren't sure if he could play at all – he tweaked his hamstring in practice. He came back and practiced again well this week. I fully expect when Daryl is 100% healthy and started getting some balls thrown his way, he'll take off."
Koetter added that the emergence of receivers Derek Hagan and Terry Richardson doesn't soften the blow of Lightfoot's performance. "We need all of them. We're still lacking that ability to make that play over the top. Against a team like Oregon who puts nine in the box, that's what they challenge you to do."
In light of the difficulties ASU's vertical game has been experiencing, Koetter did admit that he has made some modifications to combat that. Then again, when facing Oregon he may just have to shy away from those adjustments. "We've done a decent job the last two weeks trying to put the ball more in the tailbacks' hands," said Koetter. "And they responded very well. But against Oregon it's not easy to do. I point to Michigan going in there averaging over 300 yards a game, and rushing for a minus 20. Nick Alloti their defensive coordinator, says you're not gonna beat him running. Maybe they'll come out and play a seven-man box against us, but I never known Nick to do that in his whole career. So, I wouldn't hold your breath." Koetter added that spreading the field against the Ducks isn't a sure recipe for success either. "They get those corners right up in there. They pretty much challenge you to throw deep."
These days, it's not only the physical abilities of the ASU players that are being tested, but also their mental makeup. Koetter stated that he's not concerned with his team's confidence and overall psyche. "Our players have a good attitude. Everyone has a little of frustration inside of them, players and coaches. A lot of things are boiling underneath the surface that a big fat "W" would cure." You can also throw in the fans who will breath a sigh of relief if the Devils' notch their inaugural conference victory this weekend.
ASU and Oregon Mirror Each Other in Many Ways
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