Payback vs. Paid Back

The roles are reversed this week as the Sun Devils travel to Eugene, Oregon for their second Pac-10 game of the year. Instead of paying a team back this week for a 2003 loss, the Ducks are the ones looking for payback after ASU dominated them 59-14 last season.

Different players use different methods of motivation. Many players are simply self-motivated. Some get fired up by their opponents' smack talk. There are those who feed off the home or hostile crowd, while others use revenge as a motivator.

Over the last two weeks, revenge has been on the mind of some Sun Devils. They wanted to atone for sub-par performances against Iowa and Oregon State. These two games started a long, downhill slide for the 2003 Devils. This year, victories over those pair of opponents have contributed to the buzz around the team.

This week, the Devils are on the opposite side of a revenge game. Last year, ASU utterly dominated the Ducks, dropping 59 points on a shell-shocked Oregon team in Tempe. This drubbing included a touchdown pass from back-up QB Sam Keller with about 30 seconds remaining in the game. Many Ducks, including their head coach, feel that the final touchdown pass was unwarranted and unnecessary.

UO has not played great so far this season and even lost at home to Indiana, a lower-tier Big 10 team, while turning the ball over seven times. They also got down early against Oklahoma and although the final score wouldn't classify as a route, the Ducks were never really a threat to win the game.

This weekend's meeting, the Ducks' Pac-10 opener, offers the opportunity for Oregon to kill two birds with one stone – prove that the loss to Indiana was an aberration and also exact some revenge for last year's trashing in Tempe.

Welcome to the role of revengee instead of revengor, Sun Devils.

This game is yet another obstacle for ASU to overcome if it wants to be an elite team in the 2004 Pac-10 race. The Sun Devils did not look offensively sharp against the Beavers last weekend, with Andrew Walter completing only 40% of his passes. Additionally, the defense gave up a plethora of yards through the air to Derek Anderson, OSU's senior QB. Against a fired up Ducks team with something to prove, both of those items will have to improve and the team's rushing offense and defense cannot have any setbacks.

Much like the game against Iowa, this Saturday is why Andrew Walter returned to ASU for his senior season. This is a game in which the Devils will need its senior QB and captain to put the offense on his shoulders and to make the type of plays that only an elite signal caller can make. With the loud crowd at Autzen, Walter's game management and leadership skills will be severely tested. Indeed, he will have to "answer the scratch."

Hakim Hill also needs to step up in this game. He has gotten his share of carries this year and has performed well. However, he hasn't been asked to be consistent throughout a contest in both the running and passing games. Hill will be on the field for the majority of the game on Saturday night and must not succumb to mental lapses. Add to that the cast that he's wearing to protect a broken arm and Hakim Hill will be asked to be not short of Superman against the Ducks.

Talent wise, Oregon will not be far and away better than many of the teams ASU has faced thus far; however, they won't beat themselves like OSU and will come out with focus and a balanced attack, unlike Iowa. In other words, this will be the Devils' toughest game to date.

Forget about ESPN's College Game Day and an undefeated match-up with the Trojans. ASU needs a win this weekend because it may be the difference between a "great" and a "good" season. In August, away games in Eugene, Berkeley, and L.A. loomed large and looked like three probable losses, thus putting a proverbial ceiling on this season's win total at eight. Losses in all three away games will still accomplish that. In order to believe that nine wins is not a pipe dream, ASU must be victorious this week. I'm not saying that a win at Cal or USC is impossible, but Oregon is undoubtedly the most winnable of the three.

We now get to see how badly the Sun Devils want to be great, not simply exceed what were fairly mediocre pre-season expectations. I believe ASU will come out swinging and play hard from the opening kick-off. I also believe Walter will be much better than he was last weekend.

If the Devils come out focused and play well, there's no reason why ASU fans, including myself, won't be getting up at 6am in a couple weekends to boo Lee Corso when he puts on a gladiator helmet in LA.

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