Despite an underwhelming performance in Palo Alto, Calif., last weekend, Oregon returns home to Autzen Stadium, known to be as hostile as Pac-10 venues come, while the Sun Devils look shake its current three-game losing streak.
Offensive Projected Starting Lineup
QB 8 Jeremiah Masoli Jr. 5-11 220 Daly City, Calif.
RB 21 LaMichael James RS-Fr. 5-9 180 Texarkana, Texas
WR 10 D.J. Davis Jr. 6-1 205 Denver, Colo.
WR 23 Jeff Maehl Jr. 6-1 175 Paradise, Calif.
WR 80 Lavasier Tuinei Jr. 6-5 200 Arcadia, Ind.
TE 83 Ed Dickson Sr. 6-5 243 Bellflower, Calif.
LT 69 Bo Thran Jr. 6-5 295 Gresham, Ore.
LG 77 Carson York RS-Fr. 6-5 285 Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
C 54 Jordan Holmes Jr. 6-5 285 Yuba City, Calif.
RG 79 Mark Asper So. 6-7 323 Idaho Falls, Idaho
RT 68 C.E. Kaiser Jr. 6-4 300 Veradale, Wash.
Oregon's high-power offense is based in innovative play-calling, efficient and dynamic quarterback play and explosive contributions in the running game.
Despite a moderately rocky start in the early portion of the season, Jeremiah Masoli, a pit bull of a player at quarterback, guides the Oregon offense and is one of the most dynamic performers in the Pac-10, having completed 118-of-197 passes (59.9 pct.) for 1,461 yards with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions, while adding 491 net yards on 82 carries (6.0 avg.) with eight touchdowns, rating him eighth in the league and tops among Pac-10 quarterbacks in rushing. Masoli has the ability to fit the Oregon spread offense perfectly, with precise decision making and a hard-nosed demeanor whether dropping back to pass or taking on defenders in the run game.
After LeGarrette Blount, an early-season All-America candidate, was suspended for the "year" after brawling in the season opener, few would have predicted that Blount would be replaced quickly and seemingly in easy fashion by a redshirt freshman.
LaMichael James undoubtedly is the individual surprise story among the Pac-10 this year, ranking 12th in the nation and second in the league with 1,043 rushing yards on 149 carries with eight touchdowns, also rating eighth in the nation in yards-per-carry (7.0). Also a factor in the passing game, James has collected 11 receptions for 128 yards (11.6 avg.). A slashing runner with elite breakaway speed and footwork, James has obvious game-changing talent despite his youth.
The breaking news in Eugene this week was Blount's reinstatement after an eight-game suspension, and the bruising power back that recorded 1,002 rushing yards and a school record 17 touchdowns in 2008 will suit up against the Sun Devils and see snaps behind James, as will redshirt freshman Kenjon Barner, who ranks third on the team with 245 rushing yards and three scores.
Tight end Ed Dickson is rolling toward First-Team All-Pac-10 recognition with his dynamic play, leading Oregon and ranking first among the conference's tight ends in receptions (34), receiving yards (464) and touchdown catches (four). Reliable downfield and in the short passing game, Dickson has the ability to impact defensive game plans with his versatility. Also contributing from the tight end spot is sophomore David Paulson (11 catches, 175 yards).
Oregon focuses more on stability than star power from its wide receivers, as Jeff Maehl leads all wide receivers with 30 catches for 372 yards (12.4 avg.) with two scores. Projected starters D.J. Davis (15 catches, 170 yards) and Lavasier Tuinei (15 catches, 104 yards) have made consistent if unspectacular contributions, while speedy reserve Jamere Holland (11 catches, 178 yards) is one of Oregon's premier deep threats in the passing game.
Though the Ducks lost several stars along its offensive line last year, Oregon has replaced them admirably, as the Ducks lead the Pac-10 in scoring offense (36.3 ppg.), rushing offense (233.6 ypg.), while ranking third in the league with 12 sacks allowed.
Left tackle Bo Thran, left guard Carson York and center Jordan Holmes have started all nine games this year, while right guard Mark Asper and right tackle C.E. Kaiser have starting eight games each in 2009 and are projected to suit up with the first-team against ASU.
With a dominant running game being all the rage among Pac-10 teams, Oregon has been and remains king on the ground, thanks to contributions both from the quarterback position and its running backs depth. ASU's best hope is to load up and limit Oregon's rushing attack and force the Ducks, who rate last in the league in passing offense, to take to the air and not impose its offensive will on the ground.
Defensive Projected Starting Lineup
DE 39 Will Tukuafu Sr. 6-4 262 Salt Lake City, Utah
DT 88 Brandon Bair Jr. 6-7 268 St. Anthony, Idaho
DT 90 Blake Ferras Sr. 6-6 290 San Jose, Calif.
DE 58 Kenny Rowe Jr. 6-3 232 Long Beach, Calif.
SLB 11 Eddie Pleasant So. 5-11 207 La Palma, Calif.
MLB 55 Casey Matthews Jr. 6-2 235 Agoura Hills, Calif.
WLB 35 Spencer Paysinger Jr. 6-3 226 Los Angeles, Calif.
LCB 18 Anthony Gildon So. 6-1 175 Simi Valley, Calif.
FS 20 John Boyett RS-Fr. 5-10 190 Napa, Calif.
ROV 14 Javes Lewis So. 6-1 185 Tustin, Calif.
RCB 37 Talmadge Jackson III Jr. 5-10 182 Murrieta, Calif.
An overall efficient defense with the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, the Ducks rank first in the league in pass defense (187.3 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (101.8), second in sacks (25) and in scoring defense (20.9 ppg.).
Oregon has received strong contributions from a variety of defenders, as five players on the roster average at least 5.5 tackles-per-game, three of which rank among the Pac-10's top-20 in average tackles-per-game.
The beef of the Oregon defense rests in its sturdy group of linebackers, led by Casey Matthews who rates third on the team in tackles (54) and ties for second on the squad in sacks (2.5). Active weak side linebacker Spencer Paysinger (50 tackles, two fumble recoveries) and strong side linebacker Eddie Pleasant (37 tackles, 2.5 sacks) figure to flank Matthews as the Ducks' starting linebackers.
Free safety John Boyett leads the team in tackles (61) while rating eighth in the league in tackles-per-game (6.8), allowing him to rank as the Pac-10's leading freshman tackler. Additionally, Boyett ties for the team lead in interceptions (two).
Javes Lewis joins Boyett among Oregon's projected starting safeties and ranks second on the team in tackles (60) and ranks 10th in the conference in tackles-per-game (6.7).
Free safety T.J. Ward is arguably the Ducks' top defender, but has struggled to remain healthy in 2009. If he had played in enough games thus far, Ward would lead the conference in tackles-per-game (9.5; 38 tackles in four games), but has been greatly limited in his game appearances and entered this week listed at second-string behind Boyett.
Oregon's cornerback depth chart has been greatly altered from the start of the year due to season-ending injuries to All-America candidate Walter Thurmond as well as starter Willie Glasper. Talmadge Jackson III statistically leads those healthy enough to play, collecting 36 tackles and a team-best two interceptions, while Anthony Gildon is poised to start opposite Jackson, and has posted a modest five tackles in six games this year.
Depth behind Jackson and Gildon is scarily thin, as walk-on Chad Peppars (two tackles in five games) is listed as Jackson's reserve at right cornerback, while true freshman Cliff Harris, an elite recruit whose early-season development stalled due to eligibility concerns, has appeared in only four games and is charted as Jackson's primary backup at left cornerback.
Will Tukuafu, who played junior college ball in the state of Arizona, leads the defensive line as a third-year starter at Oregon, having collected 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Undersized by overactive end Kenny Rowe starts opposite Tukuafu and is tied for third in the league in sacks (7.0) and second in force fumbles (three), while also having totaled 24 tackles on the year. Both players likely will be chomping at the bit to rough up Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler in his first career start.
Defensive tackle, a position of great concern to start the season, is likely to feature Brandon Bair (36 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss) and Blake Ferras (26 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss) as starters, with little proven depth behind them as projected second-stringers Zac Clark and Simi Toeaina have combined for only 19 tackles and two tackles-for-loss on the season.
All-in-all, Oregon's defensive strengths play into ASU's relative offensive weaknesses; the Ducks will be expected to bring the full-court press on freshman Brock Osweiler and hope to collect sacks and increase the rookie's mistakes. In order for the Devils to etch offensive success in Eugene, running backs Dimitri Nance and Cameron Marshall will need to be efficient, secure and reliable – especially early – as the Devils will likely look to rely on its running game frequently, if possible.
Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 25 Morgan Flint 5-9 173 Sr. Bend, Ore.
P 49 Jackson Rice 6-3 217 Fr. Moraga, Calif.
KR 24 Kenjon Barner 5-11 180 RS-Fr. Riverside, Calif.
21 LaMichael James 5-9 180 RS-Fr. Texarkana, Texas
PR 24 Kenjon Barner 5-11 180 RS-Fr. Riverside, Calif.
Kicker Morgan Flint has provided a reliable presence this year, connecting on 10-of-12 attempts with a long of 42 yards, while true freshman punter Jackson Rice averages 41.0 yards on 45 punts.
With the absence of excellent returns specialist Walter Thurmond, Kenjon Barner has stepped efficiently, ranking second in the Pac-10 with a 28.6-yard averaged on 19 kickoff returns with a 100-yard touchdown, while also averaging 7.1-yards on eight punt returns.
Running back LaMichael James is listed as Oregon's second kickoff returner and has two returns of 23 and 20 yards on the year.
After a three-game win streak against the Ducks from 2002-04, ASU has dropped its past four meetings with Oregon, including embarrassing losses in Tempe both last year and in 2006. The tricky Oregon offense has befuddled ASU in the past, and it will take all the intensity and athleticism the Devil defense can muster to limit Masoli and company in Eugene.
The combination of an angry Oregon team, a hostile stadium environment and a rookie starting quarterback for the Sun Devils on paper provides a perfect storm in favor of the Ducks. ASU will enter Autzen Stadium as significant underdogs on Saturday and will need to rely on opportunistic defense and efficient offense to prove prognosticators wrong.
Injury News and Roster Notes
- True freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler was named the starter, as ASU's regular is sidelined with a bicep injury. Samson Szakacsy will back up Osweiler.
- Tight end Dan Knapp missed most this week's practices but should play a limited number of snaps on Saturday.
- Cornerback Omar Bolden will miss the rest of the season due an MCL injury that he suffered six games ago and that has been slow to heal.
Five Questions: ASU at Oregon
- How will true freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler perform in his first career start?
- How will ASU's defense match up with Oregon's high-octane offense?
- Can ASU's thin cornerbacks group perform at a high level despite recent injuries and off-field issues?
- Will ASU running backs Dimitri Nance and Cameron Marshall be effective enough to guide the Sun Devil offense?
- Which Oregon team will show up after an impressive win and significant loss over the past two games?
- Rover Chad Peppars was a teammate of ASU kicker Thomas Weber at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Calif.
- Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was a teammate of ASU defensive back Austin Williams at City College of San Francisco (Calif.). Williams impersonated Masoli on ASU's offensive scout team in preparation of the Sun Devils' matchup with Oregon.
- Linebacker Tyler Briffett was a teammate of ASU's Bo Moos and Aaron Pflugrad at Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon High School.
- Defensive end Will Tukuafu played at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community college in 2005 and attended Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in 2006 before transferring to Oregon.
- Cornerback Anthony Gildon and linebacker Casey Matthews attended Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif., the same school as ASU's Christopher Coyle.
- Tight end Dion Jordan (Chandler High School) is an Arizona native.
- ASU wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad attended Oregon (2006-07) and attended Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon High School, as did ASU defensive tackle Bo Moos, whose father previously served as Oregon's Athletic Director.