Can the Devils Make it Three in a Row?

The Ducks have the 21st ranked Sun Devils square in their sights for their conference opener this Saturday night. Arizona State looks to go 5-0 and overcome the adversity that has severely depleted their backfield. Loren Wade is suspended indefinitely and Randy Hill is no longer an option for the Devils this year with a torn ACL suffered against Oregon State. Meanwhile, Oregon is seeking a 1-0 start to Pac-10 play for the fifth straight year and to avenge last year's lopsided 59-14 loss.

Turnovers have played a significant role in both teams' fortunes in 2004. The Ducks are at a -5 while the Devils have made huge strides in this area over last year, currently posting a +10. With each school having playmakers on both sides of the ball, the turnover battle may very well decide the winner in this contest.

Oregon QB Kellen Clemens is talented but needs to be more consistent in his decision-making. He has several weapons at his disposal behind a formidable offensive line. Devil fans that enjoyed watching former FB Mike Karney's play might take delight in the play of Dante Rosario for the Ducks. For the most part, he is highly underrated but is a key cog in their offense. He leads the Ducks in TDs with four on the year so far. Guess what? Three of those are receiving TDs. Rosario gets my vote as being the player to watch on the Oregon offense since he'll likely provide an intriguing match up for the ASU defense as he can run, block, and catch well out of the backfield. He's not the flashiest player out there but can get the job done.

Others to watch on offense for Oregon include WRs Demetrius Williams and Garren Strong, and TE Tim Day. Williams is Oregon's counterpart of ASU's Derek Hagan, a taller possession WR. The Ducks have produced several good TEs under Mike Bellotti and Day is no exception. The TE is active in the Duck offense so the Sun Devil defense will have another capable offensive weapon to defend, much like last week's Newton from OSU.

Defensively, the Ducks can be had in the secondary...if you can keep their defensive front at bay, that is. This marks the third straight game that the ASU offensive line will go up against a very active defensive front seven. Behind USC, Oregon has arguably the second best DL in the Pac-10. The much heralded DT from Utah, Haloti Ngata, is still making his way back to the speed of the game after missing most of the 2003 campaign due to injury. Making up for Ngata's progress and the loss of Igor Olshanksky to the line, is playmaker Devan Long. He's the lineman that ASU must keep in check this Saturday if they are to expose the Ducks' secondary. Long is the conference leader in tackles for loss with 7.5. Creating havoc backfield is his specialty as he's also recorded a pair of sacks. Jerry Matson is another playmaker at middle linebacker for the Ducks. Matson is second on the team in tackles for loss and is Oregon's top returning tackler from last season.

Questions are abound for both squads entering Saturday's contest. For Oregon, can Clemens keep a cool head and possibly expose the 9th rated pass defense in the Pac-10? How will the much-maligned secondary fare against Walter this time around? Arizona State fans have to wonder what kind of running game can we expect now that Loren Wade and Randy Hill are out, and does this make our offense a bit easier to defend? Can the OL go a third straight game without allowing any sacks? As Mike Bellotti said earlier this week, "You'll have to stay tuned".

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