ASU-Oregon Preview

"And the hits keep on coming". That's what the ASU Football team must be thinking to itself these days. After a bitter last second defeat at home to Washington, the Sun Devils will make the trek to one of the toughest venues to play in – Auzten Stadium in Eugene Oregon. The resolve and character of the Devils will greatly be tested this week, against one of the Pac-10 leaders.

If first year head coach, and former Ducks offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter has delivered anything until now, that would be the high-powered offense which has been his trade mark the last few years. Quarterback Jeff Krohn has been one of the most efficient passers not only in the Pac-10, but also in the whole country this season. Krohn has thrown 18 touchdowns, and has only five interceptions. With the running game being inconsistent, ASU's success in the air will greatly determine its offensive output this week. Krohn's favorite target has been receiver Shaun McDonald who had a career high 194 yards receiving last week. On the year, McDonald has nine touchdowns, 696 yards, and is averaging a shade under 100 yards per game. Oregon's low ranking in pass defense, may be an ample opportunity for the Sun Devils to effectively move the ball in the air. The ground game, which has been ASU's offensive strong suit in the last few years, has been erratic. The two leaders at running back are Delvon Flowers with 609 yards and four touchdowns and Tom Pace with 331 yards and four touchdowns as well. Oregon's stout run defense will pose a stiff challenge to the ASU runners. When ASU achieves balance in the air and on the ground, it can be as dangerous as anyone in the conference. However, the slow starts the team has had recently, often translated into abandoning the ground game to dig itself out of the sizeable deficits it put itself into during the first half. A slow start against the Ducks, could translate into another Pac-10 loss for the Devils. Another fact that should concern ASU is the fact that Oregon defense has been one the best in the conference creating turnovers. Furthermore, Oregon leads the Pac-10 in red zone offense, and it will likely feast on an ASU team, which brings up the rear in this category.

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.

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