Sun Devil fans circled the Wisconsin road trip on their calendar months in advance. There was much anticipation of witnessing what this ASU football team was capable of accomplishing. The optimism around the valley elevated ten fold following the 20-19 near upset at Camp Randall. Now, one of the best teams, if not the best team in the country is coming to Tempe Saturday night.
A renewed sense of belief in the Sun Devils has been sparked due to their impressive performance against the Badgers, yet a loss is all Dennis Erickson and his ASU team have to show for it. Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, another moral victory will not be tolerated.
Granted, the Oregon Ducks are ranked fifth in the country and boast the best offensive and defensive units in the country. Not to mention, their special teams are pretty darn good too.
The Sun Devils are tired of coming up short and losing the big games. The team is tired of it. The coaching staff is sick of it, and the fans have certainly seen enough of the close calls.
The job at hand is not easy, and the Ducks are a very impressive team. However, the Sun Devils have a determined attitude about this game versus the Ducks.
ASU’s Brandon Magee and Omar Bolden turned away any chatter of Oregon, once again, having their way with the Sun Devils. With Oregon claiming the last five games, nobody on the ASU roster has ever beaten Oregon.
“Sometimes the big brother has to lose, it is just a matter of time,” Bolden said.
Brandon Magee shared those same thoughts about the Ducks. “We are going to play Sun Devil football and that is the way it’s going to be,” Magee said. “Nobody around here has beaten Oregon, we want to do it for everyone.”
The Sun Devil defense will have their hands full Saturday night, but the swagger and optimism being expressed by the maroon and gold is encouraging. Encouraging, but will that swagger translate into a major upset victory?
On the other hand, the Oregon Ducks are business as usual. No bulletin board material to speak of, other than the Ducks maybe being psyched out by the temperature difference from Eugene to Tempe.
The temperature in the Ducks indoor practice facility was hovering around triple digits this week, as Chip Kelly tried to acclimate his squad to the expected 102-degree weather at 7:30PM Saturday.
Certainly not comfortable playing conditions, but nothing on a football field should be comfortable. When playing against Oregon, nothing is ever comfortable, whether it is the atmosphere at Autzen Stadium, or the Ducks offense that scores better than a point a minute. Everything about Oregon is frightening, other than their mascot.
Before even mentioning the Oregon offense, Chip Kelly has a defense that does not nearly get the credit that it deserves. Seasoned performers like Kenny Rowe, Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger, Brandon Blair, and John Boyett have been making plays their entire careers, and have continued that in 2010.
Kenny Rowe has been a troublesome defensive end against ASU in the past. The matchup between Rowe and ASU’s left tackle Dan Knapp will be very intriguing. Knapp, a converted tight end, has the agility and quickness to compete against Oregon’s athletic defense. Knapp’s ability, and the whole offensive line as a unit will play a big role in determining how this game unfolds.
Along with Rowe, linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger have led the Ducks defense in 2010. Their defensive performances have led to two shutouts and only relinquishing 580 total yards in three games.
Those numbers are nice, but certainly get trumped by the Ducks' impressive 72 and 69-point games.
On offense, Chip Kelly is armed with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and quarterback Darron Thomas. Just those three names alone are scary for Sun Devil fans. Each player has the ability to break a big run on any snap.
Overall, the Oregon rushing attack has piled up 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns, good enough for second in the nation. Keep in mind that rushing total is for three games, one against a Southeastern Conference defense (Tennessee).
Although the spotlight in Oregon’s offense is not on the quarterback, the honor is split up between two sensational running backs in James and Barner.
The Oregon running back duo has combined to total 562 yards and seven touchdowns in three games, and both players have displayed their breakaway speed and athleticism every chance they get.
ASU actually matches up fairly well with the Ducks. Although Oregon has the experience, the Sun Devils’ athleticism and tenacity on defense might make up the difference. Plus, ASU has a lot to prove in this game. In 2009, ASU was the top-ranked defense in the conference.
The Oregon Ducks dropped the hammer on ASU last season at Autzen. Chip Kelly’s offense ran for 268 yards, as LaMichael James contributed 150 yards and three touchdowns.
This season’s defense for ASU is faster and much more athletic, and have another year of seasoning underneath their belts. Fans in the valley have slowly seen the maturation of ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict. If the Oregon offense is going to be slowed down at all, Burfict and the active linebackers will be a major reason.
Will Burfict layout one or even both of the Oregon tailbacks early in the contest to fire up his teammates? Sun Devil fans sure hope so.
Last Saturday against Wisconsin running back John Clay, Burfict had 11 tackles in the one-point loss and seemed to be everywhere on the field. A similar performance against the Ducks will go a long way in ASU potentially pulling off the upset.
Another reason for optimism heading into Saturday’s game has to be attributed to ASU’s overall team confidence being higher, due to one simple fact: The maroon and gold actually have an offense this year.
Last year at Autzen Stadium, the Sun Devils scored 21 points against Oregon. The Sun Devils were anemic at best in 2009.
Keep in mind, Rich Olson is not calling the plays for ASU this year, Noel Mazzone is the man in charge of that duty. So far, Mazzone was the absolute right choice for the position, but Oregon can make even the most accomplished coaches look pedestrian.
Saturday night will be the true test for ASU. Wisconsin was a good gauge for Pac-10 play, but certainly the Badgers do not play the same style of football that reigning conference champion Oregon will display.
The Sun Devils will matchup against the best team in the conference at home and the score should be much closer than the spread indicates (Oregon minus-11.5). With an expected crowd in the neighborhood of 65,000, ASU will have to play championship football Saturday night to beat the Ducks.
If the Sun Devils want to be in the conversation with the best in the conference, moral victories will not get the job done. At some point, Arizona State has to win the big game. The “big brother” has to lose eventually, and Saturday night could be that special night.