Oregon Preview

It's being billed as the game of the year in the Pac-10 with BCS ranked #4 Arizona State visiting #5 Oregon. The winner has the inside track to the Rose Bowl and perhaps a national title game berth.

For Arizona State, the stakes haven't been this high in November in over a decade. To make up for it, the Sun Devils are hoping to ride the shoulders of first-year coach Dennis Erickson, who is no stranger to big games like this. Oregon is countering with 13th year head coach Mike Bellotti and a Heisman Trophy Award candidate at quarterback in Dennis Dixon.

OREGON DUCKS

2007 Record: 7-1, 4-1 Pac-10
Head Coach: Mike Bellotti

Last Week: Hosting the first match up of two top ten teams at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks edged Southern California 24-17.

OFFENSE

*Projected Starters

WR Jaison Williams, Jr.
LT Fenuki Tupou, Jr.
LG Josh Tschirgi, Sr.
C Max Unger, Jr.
RG Mark Lewis, Jr.
RT Geoff Schwartz, Sr.
TE Ed Dickson, So.
QB Dennis Dixon, Sr.
RB Jonathan Stewart, Jr.
WR Aaron Pflugrad, Fr.
WR Garren Strong, Sr.

Next to the addition of offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, the maturation of senior quarterback Dennis Dixon has been perhaps the biggest factor in taking the Oregon offense to the next level. Dixon, whose athleticism is a great fit in Kelly's spread option attack, has passed for sixteen touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. He's also averaging just over 235 passing yards a game. Dixon's running abilities are what make him a special X-factor, however. The signal-caller can escape a collapsing pocket with ease or move the chains on designed running plays. Dixon is averaging one rushing touchdown per game.

The injuries to Brian Paysinger and Cameron Colvin have tested the depth at receiver but with defenses attentive to the Ducks' high-powered ground game, this group is still capable of making big plays. Jaison Williams is the team's leading receiver with thirty-two receptions and five touchdowns. Tight end Ed Dickson can also move the chains and is a quality target for Dixon. Dickson has caught twenty-four passes in eight games. Aaron Pflugrad, who made his first start against Washington two weeks ago, has had a solid campaign as a true freshman with twelve catches. Pflugrad has the hands and football I.Q. you'd expect from a coach's son. Garren Strong is the veteran of the group.

Key Match up: Jonathan Stewart vs. Arizona State Linebackers

Stewart is the Pac-10's leading rusher and is averaging 130.4 yards per game. The junior also boasts an impressive average of 6.7 yards per carry this season. That number jumps up to 8.1 yards per carry when he's played Arizona State in each of the last two seasons. Stewart has netted 1,043 yards and nine scores on the ground for the Ducks. He runs hard and is a tough load to bring down when he gets a full head of steam so Arizona State defenders must be on alert to use good pursuit angles and tackle well. The offense took a slight hit with the loss of Jeremiah Johnson. Although he backed-up Stewart, Johnson was a talent that was understandably hard to keep off the field for too long. Andre Crenshaw, who has 271 yards and three scores, is now the top reserve behind Stewart.

DEFENSE

*Projected Starters

DE Nick Reed, Jr.
DT David Faaeteete, Sr.
DT Jeremy Gibbs, Sr.
DE Will Tukuafu, So.
WLB Kwame Agyeman, Sr.
MLB John Bacon, Jr.
SLB Jerome Boyd, Jr.
ROV Patrick Chung, Jr.
FS Matthew Harper, Sr.
CB Jairus Byrd, So.
CB Walter Thurmond III, So.

After losing a team leader last month, the linebackers have quieted some of their early critics with their recent play. The Ducks held USC to a team-total of 101 yards on the ground last week, which is somewhat meaningful when compared to the numbers past opponents like Houston and Stanford were able to put up. Kwame Agyeman has started on the weak-side since A.J. Tuitele went down with an injury nearly a month ago. The senior has tallied thirty-six stops in all eight games this season. Seven of strong-side linebacker Jerome Boyd's forty-five tackles this season were for a loss. John Bacon has also added thirty-five takedowns in the middle.

The Oregon secondary is anchored by Patrick Chung, a playmaker at the rover spot. Chung is solid in run support as well as dropping back in pass coverage. The junior leads the team in tackles with seventy-three stops and has tallied two interceptions. Chung is joined by current Pac-10 defensive player-of-the-week Matthew Harper at free safety. Harper is only two tackles shy of the team best mark of seventy-three. Two of his three interceptions came last week in the win over Southern California. Sophomores Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III man the two corner spots. Thurmond is second on the team in tackles with seventy-two and leads all defensive backs with twelve pass break ups. Byrd has three interceptions. Willie Glasper is the top reserve.

Key Match up: Oregon Defensive Line vs. Arizona State Offensive Line

The pass rush looked like a possible weakness heading into the season but, thanks to Nick Reed, that hasn't been a big issue. The defensive end leads the conference with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Reed has combined with fellow defensive end Will Tukuafu for fifty-five stops. Jeremy Gibbs, a versatile senior who can line up at tackle or end, has notched only sixteen stops but can get into the backfield. Gibbs has been credited with seven quarterback hurries this season. Tackles David Faaeteete and Cole Linehan will also figure into the equation up front for the Ducks. This battle in the trenches figures to be one of the bigger determining factors for each team. Not only will ASU's linemen be looking to establish their run blocking, but protection for a dinged-up Rudy Carpenter, will be of great importance.

SPECIAL TEAMS
P Josh Syria, Jr.
PK Matt Evensen, Jr.

PR Andiel Brown, Sr.
Aaron Pflugrad, Fr.
KOR Andre Crenshaw, So.
Jonathan Stewart, Jr.

Oregon punter Josh Syria brings in a 41 yard average into Saturday's game. Twelve of his thirty-one punts have been placed inside the 20-yard line. Syria's longest punt this season went for 61 yards. Place-kicker Matt Evensen has converted on ten of his thirteen attempts. Evensen is 5 of 6 from beyond 40 yards.

Andiel Brown is the top punt returner with a 10.4 yard average per return. His longest punt return was for 64 yards. True freshman Aaron Pflugrad has also been given a chance to return punts but has yet to rip off a big gain. Andre Crenshaw is averaging a modest 20.3 yards on six kick returns so far. With Jonathan Stewart's workload on offense increasing due to the injury to Jeremiah Johnson, Crenshaw will likely see more time. Remene Alston is also another option on kickoff returns. The return game has been solid but the fumbles need to be cleaned up.

Keep an eye on Patrick Chung when Arizona State sends specialist Thomas Weber out on the field. The defensive back for Oregon has blocked two kicks so far this season.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR OREGON

--Limit turnovers: Probably a given but turnovers have played a big part in Oregon's success. Last year's offense had far too many turnovers. This year's team has done a much better job protecting the ball, particularly Dennis Dixon. In their only loss this year, the Ducks turned the ball over four times to Cal. If Oregon can protect the ball or break even on turnovers, they stand a good chance of winning.

--Rattle Rudy: Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter jammed the thumb on his throwing hand in the second half of last Saturday's win over Cal. The injury doesn't appear to be anything serious but Carpenter's health is important if the Sun Devils are going to have a chance in pulling out a big road win. If an opposing defense can get inside Carpenter's head, such as Washington State did with their myriad of blitzes, the signal-caller can sometimes let his emotions get the best of him.

--Stop the run: Arizona State's offense is predicated on balance. Even without top rusher Ryan Torain, head coach Dennis Erickson will still look to establish the run with Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance. The running game has typically been more effective in the second half behind an offensive line that likes to tire out defenses at the point of attack. So if the Ducks want to thwart any sort of second half comeback from the Devils, they need to stop the run.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA STATE

--Win the battle on first and second downs: With how well Oregon's spread-option offense is set up, this is a little easier said than done. Limiting Dixon and Stewart on the ground to force Dixon to beat you with his arm is how most coordinators want to defense the Ducks but not a lot of defenses have the personnel to accommodate such a thing. The Oregon offense is too good to shut down but they can be slowed down. Defensive ends Luis Vasquez and Dexter Davis can help if they stay at home in containment while allowing the linebackers to make plays. The Sun Devils must also walk the fine line of gang-tackling and running to the ball without over-pursuing too much.

--Control the clock: The longer you can keep Oregon's offense off the field, the better. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they lead the nation in time of possession with a 34:27 mark. Oregon has lured teams into getting away from their game plan by abandoning the run, which has only meant more possessions for their high-powered offense. Establishing the ground game will be the key here, as always.

--Keep composure: Piggybacking on the previous point, this is the type of game where emotions can doom a team. Arizona State has done a nice job of avoiding the panic button all season if things weren't going well from the onset. That needs to continue this week in arguably the most hostile venue in the Pac-10. How Arizona State comes out in the second half could be the real determining factor in this game as that's when it becomes more about execution instead of adrenaline.

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