Will it rain in Tempe?

Mike Bellotti has been involved in two games at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium when it rained. Once the rain had little effect, but in 1989, Bellotti's first year with the Ducks as offensive coordinator, it was a muddy mess, something Bellotti described as a "mud bowl." This week there is a possibility of rain in Tempe, and for the No. 25 ranked Ducks (4-1) taking on No. 17 ranked Arizona State (3-2) on the Sun Devils' home field a little rain may help cool off some aggravated dispositions.

"It rained there my very first year in 1989," said Bellotti of the possibility of rain this Saturday. "In fact it was a downpour, a monsoon, it was a muddy, bad game...when it rains in Tempe or Phoenix, it usually floods."

The Ducks could use all the help they can get from Mother Nature in calming down a team that played USC last week so close, and in fact it took a great come-from-behind effort on the part of the Trojans to put away the Sun Devils, 38-28. For Duck fans, this may sound familiar, but the Sun Devils led the Men of Troy going into halftime by a score of 21-3. Similar by the fact that the Ducks led USC 13-10 going into halftime two weeks ago at Autzen Stadium. Of course everyone knows now that USC has the ability to be trailing at halftime, go into the locker room and find some source of magical energy and come out in the second half swinging. Last week, the Sun Devils gave up five touchdowns in the second half, the same number the Ducks did in their game with the Trojans in Eugene.

Very coincidental indeed and considering that the following week after getting beat by the Trojans, the Ducks marched on Stanford to the tune of 44-20, then it makes sense that ASU will have a similar goal of coming out on their home field and making their next opponent wail too. Considering over the last three seasons, former Oregon offensive coordinator and now Arizona State Head Coach Dirk Koetter has made the Ducks and their fans do a lot of wailing, some cool rain might just be the ticket. Last year, ASU beat Oregon 28-13, in 2003 it was a 59-14 trouncing of the Ducks and in 2002 it was 45-42 in favor of the Sun Devils.

So far this year the Sun Devils have been living up to the expectations many have had for them. Despite losing to LSU (35-31) and the loss the USC, the men from Tempe have been on a roll. They disassembled Temple, 63-16, put up 50 plus points against Northwestern (52-21) and then traveled to Corvallis and blasted the Beavers, 42-24. They have 852 yards net in rushing or 170.4 yards per game, 1,930 yards passing or 386.0 yards per game for a total of 2,782 yards or 556.4 yards per game total offense. With numbers like that it was pretty easy for Bellotti to point out what the biggest challenge will be for his team.

"Their offense," responded Bellotti when asked during the Pac-10 Media Conference that was streamed live on oregonlive.com about what is the biggest challenge that Arizona State presents. "They're a good football team, but their offense is very explosive and playing with great confidence."

Trying to contain the explosiveness and the big play opportunities is what is in store for the Ducks. Looking at the season statistic of the Sun Devils it is easy to see a number of long plays by a number of different people. Quarterback Sam Keller has 1,790 yards of passing on 114 completions on 192 attempts. He already has 18 touchdown passes while giving up five interceptions. His longest pass play is for 65 yards. Keller has a number of receivers including Derek Hagen, 36 catches for 593 yards, five touchdowns, 118.6 yards per game average and a long of 45 yards. Rudy Burgess has 17 catches for 220 yards, three touchdowns and a long of 49 yards. Jamaal Lewis has 14 catches for 266 yards and five scores including a long of 36 yards. Moey Mutz has 14 catches, 237 yards, one touchdown and a long of 38. Matt Miller is another wide receiver with big numbers (10 catches, 239 yards, two scores and another long of 65).

The leading rusher for ASU is Keenan Herring with 70 carries for 484 yards, five touchdowns and one run of 67 yards. Burgess is the second leading rusher with 54 carries for 219 yards, two runs going into the end zone and his longest run was for 18 yards.

ASU's Terry Richardson is a threat on punt returns. So far this year he has put one punt back into the opposite end zone after an 84-yard return.

The Ducks obviously have their work cut out for them on both defense and special teams play. Last week the Duck defense look markedly improved, albeit against a weak Stanford offensive line. The Ducks allowed Stanford a total of 220 yards offense all game, but in the second half, the Cardinal could only muster up 15 yards total net offense. A big reason for that was because Oregon changed some of its scheme and allowed players like defensive end Devan Long more opportunities to go after Stanford's quarterback, Trend Edwards. Long finished the game with two sacks, but the Oregon defensive line was in hot pursuit of Edwards all afternoon long.

"Devan Long makes us whole in the defensive line," Bellotti said of his senior defensive end. "He's the best pass rusher we have, he's an effort guy."

What looks will Oregon's defense present to ASU? That is a good question partly because ASU's coaching staff is so familiar with Oregon's defense. Not only was Koetter a top assistant to Bellotti, but several of the ASU assistant coaches have been on Bellotti's staff too. While Oregon's new offense may cause confusion for the ASU coaching staff, Bellotti is quick to point out that Koetter acts as his own offensive coordinator and has sat though many meeting with the Ducks.

"I think they throw out a lot of preconceived notions about this or that in all aspect with the exception of our defense (and) that has not changed a great deal," observed Bellotti on how ASU's coaching staff might look at the Ducks for this game.

One player that could make a big difference in the ASU game for the Ducks is Haloti Ngata. Ngata has been the target of some criticism even though most of the time he is double-teamed on every play. If for some reason ASU changes up their offensive blocking assignments and puts Ngata in one-on-one situations, Bellotti has an expectation for Ngata to make plays. Ngata is a very big man. Standing 6-5 and weighing in over 340 pounds, who squats over 600 pounds, bench presses over 500 pounds and power cleans over 400 pounds, he is an easy target for criticism, but there is a higher standard attached to him. At times last year he dominated games, yet at other times it seemed he was not there. He is able to do things not normally associated with a man his size -- run down backs and receivers and knock quarterbacks to the ground with a one-handed shove. With two of his predecessors on the Oregon defensive line moving onto the NFL, what is expected of Ngata is different from everyone else.

"When he is not doubled, I expect him to make a play every time," said Bellotti challenging Ngata. "Certainly that is high expectation. The bar is raised for Haloti, after guys like Junior (Siavii) and Igor (Olshansky). It maybe unfair of what we ask him to do, but I hold him to a higher standard. He's comfortable, he's OK with that, he wants to reach that higher level."

Whether any of the challenges of the players will make any difference at all remains to be seen, because Koetter isn't afraid to hint on what he intends to do against Oregon -- pass, pass long, and pass often.

"Oregon in the past, on who ever they play, they have the philosophy to make you a one-dimensional offense," Koetter said earlier this week. "By Oregon's choice, they try to make you one dimensional that you have to throw the ball. And that plays to our strength. If they do this against us, it's not a big secret of what we are going to do."

It would appear then that this game is going to come down to a few very select people with some big challenges on their hands. For Ngata, a man that could be a first round draft pick in next spring's NFL draft, he is going to have to make plays -- regardless of anything else, because he is expected to do so.

Offensively, the Ducks are on just as much a roll as ASU. Senior quarterback Kellen Clemens was sensational last week against Stanford going 22-of-29 for 393 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, his first of the year. For the year, Clemens has 1,516 yards on 119-on-184 with 12 touchdowns and only the one interception. Clemens has also rushed for 139 yards net. Wide receiver Demetrius Williams has been on fire this season with 33 catches for 572 yards and five touchdowns. James Finley is the second leading receiver with 24 catches for 264 yards and Cameron Colvin has 11 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Tight ends Tim Day also has 11 catches for 97 yards and Dante Rosario has 10 catches for 114 yards and two scores. Running back Terrence Whitehead has 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown, and he should be available for the ASU game.

"They are very similar to Northwestern but are a better passing team," observed Koetter of the Ducks. "Kellen Clemons, their quarterback, is an excellent player. Those receivers he's throwing to are very explosive players."

The Oregon running game could look differently this week because of Whitehead's health and the emergence of the three freshmen, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Terrell Jackson (red shirt). Bellotti indicated today that Whitehead is practicing and that while Stewart's ankle was a bit sore he will see action on Saturday. After a slow start in the running game, Bellotti is now faced with having four very good running backs, and one football. Whitehead the proven veteran did not play last week because of a groin injury and with Stewart slowed because of an ankle injury, Jeremiah Johnson was activated as only Terrell Jackson was fully healthy and available during practice last week. Jackson started against Stanford, but Johnson ended up the leading rusher with 63 yards on just 11 carries. Johnson scored twice, although one touchdown was called back. The most productive of the tailbacks last week was Stewart. Used in short yardage situations because of his ankle, last year's No. 1 nationally ranked running back in high school had three touchdowns against Stanford, one by receiving and two by rushing. Bellotti indicated he would find ways for all his tailbacks to see action, and specifically mentioned that Johnson would be a kick return specialist.

"I'm pleased with the depth and talent," said Bellotti of his running backs. "We have to strategize ways how use of it."

Oregon's kicking game has been an adventure all season long. While place kicker Paul Martinez leads the country in field goal kicking with 15 made or 3.0 field goals per game, he has been somewhat inconsistent with shorter ranged kicks and points after attempts. Punting and kickoffs have also been in question and Bellotti mentioned in his media conference that each position is open to competition among the various kickers.

The forecast for Saturday's game says there is a chance for rain. While it may not really make much difference if it rains, although in 1989, the Ducks won 27-7, one thing that seems clear is that this game is between two teams that are ranked and were set back by one common opponent. It is also clear that ASU intends on throwing the ball often and deep on the Ducks. There is no mystery surrounding the plan, but the question is if Oregon's defense can do something to stop ASU. Will Devin Long be as productive as he was last week? Will Haloti Ngata take on the challenge his coach has issued and be a force in the desert?

The answers will come on Saturday night with kickoff scheduled for 7:15 p.m. in a game carried on Fox Sports.

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