A new 4-2-5 scheme has created a steep learning curve for the ASU defenders. Judging by this unit's performance all year, suffice to say that the Devils are still in the school of hard knocks when it comes to grasping this new alignment. Facing a well-oiled and balanced Oregon offense hardly makes anybody on this side of the ball feel at ease this week. Defensive end and 2000 Pac-10 freshman of the year, Terrell Suggs, has been enjoying another successful season. Suggs is the conference leader in sacks with nine, and ranks second in tackles for loss. Unfortunately, his teammates on the line have not been able to compliment him with any solid play of their own. The two linebackers, Mason Unck and Solomon bates have been for the most part shells of themselves, as is the case for safeties Willie Daniel and Al Williams. The biggest surprise on defense is safety and true freshman Jason Shivers who had 18 tackles last week, and consequently leads the team in tackles. All of ASU's corners are first year players, but they have hardly been the main culprits to the defense's poor play. The Devils rank in the middle of the Pac-10 when it comes to run and pass defense, and their ability to contain an explosive Ducks offense at home will be a lofty test.
Special teams have been a mixed bag of goods for the Sun Devils. Punter Nick Murphy ranks second in the conference, and kicker Mike Barth is one of the most accurate kickers in the Pac-10. Oregon's success in kick-off returns, and ASU's struggles in covering kick-offs will be an interesting battle to follow this week. Both teams are good punt return teams. Former Ducks special teams coach Tom Osborne will make his debut trip to Eugene as the Sun Devils special teams coach. Needless to say, that he will have added incentive to win this week. Whether his troops will follow through may be a whole different story.
Entering this game, ASU will be battling various elements: cold weather, rabid fans, and possibly their toughest opponent to date. Not exactly factors that you'd like to face after a heart-breaking loss at home, and an underachieving season. On the surface, Oregon will have much more riding on this game. However, ASU knows that a win can negate their loss to Washington and possibly turn around what has been so far a substandard year.