Cue Brent Musburger, this should be a real “dandy in the desert”, as the Oregon Ducks finally hit the road for their first real test against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Ducks are a legitimate national title contender with aspirations for an undefeated season. With the strength of the SEC, I believe that’s the only way they get into the “big game” to close the season. Even if they are able to win tonight’s game, it will tell us a lot about their prospects for running the table the rest of the season.
I’ve made it quite clear I wasn’t very high on the Sun Devils entering the season but they could win me over by even keeping it close tonight. Looking at their schedule so far the best win is probably their dominating victory of the Utah Utes. A game in which Utes backup Jon Hays made his first road start of the year. I am a big fan though of Arizona State’s defense. The defensive line is stout lead by defensive tackle Will Sutton. They have terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season long.
WHAT I’M WATCHING FOR:
1) How Ducks QB Marcus Mariota will deal with pressure…. Expect Arizona State to blitz a lot. I actually think that could be an advantage for the Ducks. Use De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the screen game and spread your line to allow Mariota to get out of the pocket. If you can do that successfully that will force the Sun Devils to play a lot softer which isn’t exactly their style. They don’t tackle well in space and we all know what the Oregon offense is capable of in a one on one match up.
2) Why Arizona State has to try and run early…. The Ducks pass rush led by 6’7 “Stretch Armstrong” Dion Jordan is going to cause a lot of problems for any offensive line. However, you can slow them down by running at them. The Sun Devils aren’t a team that likes to run the ball a lot out of traditional formations. They prefer to have QB Taylor Kelly give his receivers a chance to get solid YAC with the short pass game. Tonight thought you’ve got to work outside zone runs at Jordan and inside zone plays at defensive tackle Taylor Hart. Although you shouldn’t expect huge rips against Oregon linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, they are chase and tackle guys that rarely miss.
3) Contain Oregon’s return ability… Frankly there’s no reason you should ever kick to Oregon’s returners but especially not in a game like this. One return can completely kill your crowds momentum and take a major advantage you have away in an instant. Arizona State punter Josh Hubner is one of the best in the country. I doubt he’ll be called on tonight in what is expected to be a shootout but on his 2-4 punts he’s got to kick them out of bounds. I’d sacrifice 10 yards of field position even against this offense. That’s how dangerous D-A Thomas is on special teams.
PREDICTION: Tempe will be absolutely rocking tonight. The Sun Devils might not have the best fans but during big games that school is better then most… in many ways. I think this will live up to the hype for most of it but Oregon pulls away early in the 4th quarter as they finally start to hit “big plays” down the field. Oregon 38 – Arizona State 24.