In what is shaping up to be a preview of the Pac-12 inaugural championship game, the No. 18 Arizona State Sun Devils travel to Eugene, Ore. to take on the No. 9 Oregon Ducks. This is easily college football's game of the week.
The Sun Devils are looking to get off the schneid after losing six straight to the Ducks coming into Saturday's matchup. It will not be an easy task. Oregon has not lost a home game since losing to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008. During their 19-game home winning streak, the Ducks have outscored opponents 934-347. This team is a force at home. With Arizona State looking to prove that its football program has arrived, you can be sure Oregon and its home crowd will be ready for this game.
Keys to the game:
Arizona State's Brock Osweiler has quickly become the leader of the Sun Devils' fast-break offense. His size (6'8", 240 pounds) alone presents problems for defenses. Add his quick release, sneaky mobility and good decision-making to the mix and this team has the potential to light up the scoreboard. He needs to avoid locking on to receivers, however, with free safety John Boyett always lurking near the ball.
Oregon's Darron Thomas is having an insane year, leading an offense that is averaging a whopping 540 yards per game. I wouldn't call him great at throwing or running the ball, but he is pretty good in both areas, making him a very dangerous weapon. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure from a particularly nasty Devils defense.
Arizona State's defense vs. Oregon's offense:
As much as the Arizona State offense has improved this season, the team's true identity lies in its defense. Led by preseason All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Sun Devils defense is an extremely aggressive one that plays very physically. They have forced 18 turnovers in six games this season, including 10 in the previous two.
This is where Oregon's offense has struggled recently with games against LSU this season and against Auburn in last season's national championship game. This defense may not be quite at the level of these two SEC schools, but having two future professional linebackers in the middle who can cover a lot of ground in a short time make up for a lot of shortcomings.
The Oregon Ducks offense is high octane. It scores 50 points while averaging 227 passing yards and 312 rushing yards per game. Running back LaMichael James is leading the nation with 170.4 rushing yards per game. This offense is built to score points on anyone. The Ducks will need to fire on all cylinders if they want to produce anywhere near their average output against Arizona State's stout defense.
This is where it starts to get very interesting. Oregon's Heisman hopeful, James, may miss the game with an elbow injury. This is a huge blow to the Ducks. The Ducks have very capable backups in junior Kenjon Barner and true freshman De'Anthony Thomas. Basically, Oregon is loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. Still, the Arizona State defense will look to take advantage of a Heisman-level talent missing from the backfield.
ASU plays a tough game and limits Oregon's offense, though the Ducks prevail 38-31.
Important game information:
Location: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
When: 10:15 p.m. ET, Oct. 15, 2011