1. Establish The Run...With or Without James
The big question heading in to Saturday night's game versus No. 18 Arizona State is whether the Ducks will be permitted the services of junior running back LaMichael James. It was roughly one week ago today when James, Oregon's best player and arguably the top running back in college football, went down with a dislocated elbow early in the fourth quarter against California. While the diagnosis for James' injury was far less serious than it had originally appeared, there's a very good chance the Ducks will be without their primary offensive weapon as they square off against the Pac-12's second best team in terms of total defense. In James' stead is junior running back Kenjon Barner, who would make his second career start and presumably receive the lion's share of the carries should James be sidelined. Along with Barner, true freshmen De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson will also be called upon to tote the rock against the aggressive Sun Devil defense and their ringleader at linebacker, junior Vontaze Burfict. Even with James, Oregon will have its hands full dealing with the Arizona State onslaught on defense, but without him, the Ducks will likely need a stirring performance from Barner and Co. on the ground if they are to continue producing at a high rate on offense. Fortunately for Oregon, if there's anyone capable of duplicating what James does (at least over the short term), it's Barner, who has comparable speed and elusiveness to James but perhaps isn't as rugged a ball carrier between the tackles. If Barner fails to provide the inside/outside running threat a la James, the X-factor offensively for Oregon could be Carson, who has proven to be a tough runner between the tackles in limited duty, as he officially tips the scales at 227 lbs. Establishing the run, particularly with Barner and/or Carson, also allows Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to continue to deploy Thomas from a myriad of positions, most notably slot receiver, where the freshman phenom has tortured opposing defensive backs with his tremendous speed and agility en route to leading the Ducks in receiving with 17 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns.
2. Force Turnovers
The second key to the game likely falls on all 11 Oregon defenders and Autzen Stadium's raucous capacity crowd. During his midweek press conference, Kelly admitted that turnovers will likely determine the winner of this game. While his team has been close, Kelly's squad only has four takeaways this season and ultimately has not had the same level of success in turning teams over compared to last year. The lack of takeaways haven't been the result of a lack of effort however, as Kelly believes his team has simply "missed" on the handful opportunities that have been afforded to them. Against Arizona State though, Oregon can't afford to miss. Sun Devil junior quarterback Brock Osweiler has had an early track record of turning the ball over this season, tossing six interceptions over six games in 2011. If Oregon can continue to generate a formidable pass rush which began to reveal itself three weeks ago against Arizona, the Ducks may be able to fluster Osweiler and force him in to making ill-advised throws in to defender-saturated areas. The Autzen crowd could also play a factor in rattling the Sun Devils, who have failed to win the last six contests against the Ducks. Saturday night's game will likely be one of, if not, the biggest home tilt of the season for Oregon as ESPN's College GameDay will be broadcasting live from Eugene, providing ample hype surrounding the matchup.
3. Get Your Licks on Osweiler
On offense the Sun Devils are triggered by the aforementioned Brock Osweiler, who holds the unofficial title of the college football's tallest quarterback, standing 6'8 and 240 lbs. Beginning his first season as the full-time starter, Osweiler has performed quite admirably in leading Arizona State to a 5-1 overall record and an AP No. 18 national ranking, throwing for 1,677 yards and 13 touchdowns. Though Osweiler's size allows him to effectively scan the field and distribute the ball to his deep corp of receivers, what separates him from most other quarterbacks his size is his impressive athleticism when plays break down, making him a constant threat whenever your defense takes the field. To reign in Osweiler and the Sun Devil offense, the Ducks will need to consistently keep them off-balance, which typically means getting to Osweiler and forcing him out of his comfort zone. This is easier said than done, as the Sun Devils like to operate out of the shotgun and use short and intermediate passes to effectively move the ball through the air. This means the Ducks must take advantage of their chances to punish Osweiler when he's flushed from the pocket or elects to use his ability to run. If Oregon is able to accumulate enough legal hits on Osweiler, they make take their toll, making Osweiler gun-shy and allowing the Duck secondary to limit the impact of receivers such as Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie and Jamal Miles.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
3 Keys To Arizona State
eDuck Top Stories
Oregon OL Cam Hunt on Oct 25Oregon will take on Arizona State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium starting at 2 p.m. Pacific. On Tuesday, Oregon OL Cam Hunt spoke to media following practice.
eDuckYesterday at 4:10 PM
Oregon WR Charles Nelson on Oct 25On Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 Oregon wide receiver Charles Nelson answered media question following practice. Oregon is preparing for Arizona State in game that will be played on…
eDuckYesterday at 3:02 PM
Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich on Oct 25Oregon is now at the stage where two more losses this season will ensure the first losing season since 2004. In fact Oregon last losing season prior to 2004 was in 1993. In Tuesday…
eDuckYesterday at 2:15 PM
Darreon Moore to Make Unoffical VisitOregon will get an unofficial visitor this weekend when corner back Darreon Moore, 5-11, 165 from Kamiakin HS, in Kennewick, Wash. comes to Eugene.
eDuckYesterday at 12:32 PM