Heading into a rather lackluster day in college football, one of the biggest games of the week featured the Oregon Ducks against the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils.
Both teams had only lost one game heading into this matchup and both teams still had much to prove. Without star RB LaMichael James, many thought that Arizona State would have a chance to pull off a big upset in what may be a preview of the first-ever Pac-12 Championship game.
While Arizona State did play a very close game and was even able to establish a lead over the Ducks in the third quarter, the Ducks offense proved to be too much for an impressive Sun Devils defense as the Ducks ended up rolling to the tune of a 41-27 win, despite not having James and losing starting QB Darron Thomas early in the second half.
This game proved to be very entertaining, and though there was a winner and a loser, both teams took positives and negatives away from this game.
You may be wondering who that young gentleman in the No. 3 jersey is, and to answer your question, that is Oregon's backup QB Bryan Bennett, who saw action on a big stage for one of the first times in his career.
While he has gone into games during this season for "cleanup" work, Bennett has never been put onto a national stage where he had to lead the Ducks against a stout defense, and that is exactly what Bennett did Saturday night against the Sun Devils.
After Darron Thomas went down with a knee injury (for which he said he expects to return next week), Bennett operated the Oregon Duck offense as though he had been in the system for a few years already.
Though he did only complete two passes on five attempts for 22 yards, Bennett flashed his athletic versatility as he rushed five times for 65 yards with a long of 35 yards. The young quarterback was able to engineer two Oregon touchdown drives and two field goal drives in the fourth quarter that sealed the game for Oregon. The biggest thing Bennett did, however, was not make any mistakes. He was stayed mistake-free in a high-pressure atmosphere and helped secure a victory for the Ducks.
Thomas may be back next week and still has a year of eligibility left after this year, but if anything goes wrong for the star quarterback, Oregon can be assured it has a confident and impressive backup in Bryan Bennett.
There is no doubt that the Oregon secondary is very talented and has the ability to play some of the best coverage in the nation, but the problem right now is that the players starting in the secondary are very young, coupled with the fact that star safety Eddie Pleasant also suffered a knee injury in the third quarter.
After the first possession of the game where the Oregon secondary shut down the talented Brock Osweiler for a three-and-out, Osweiler was then able to complete 10 consecutive passes as he picked apart the Oregon defense en route to a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Though there were times the secondary did look impressive, there were still many more times where it looked confused with its reads and has much room for improvement.
One bright aspect to the secondary, however, was the return of Cliff Harris, who had an interception and returned it for 50 yards as he helped to give the Ducks the momentum that fueled them through the rest of the game.
The Pleasant injury is especially concerning for the Ducks as he was beginning to find his identity and really establish himself as a top and talented safety. If Pleasant isn't able to return in the near future, expect more questions to arise out of the Oregon Ducks secondary.
Despite having questionable play by their secondary, the Oregon defensive line definitely showed up against the Sun Devils at Autzen Stadium.
Fueled by the Autzen-attendance record of 60,055 crazed Duck fans, the Oregon defensive line accounted for four sacks in the game, including two back-to-back in the third quarter during a crucial drive for Arizona State.
After the LSU game, many wondered whether inexperience up front would come to haunt the Oregon defense, but last night proved the defensive line is really starting to come together and make big plays for the team. Added to this, it held RB Cameron Marshall to 97 yards and kept the pressure on Osweiler all day, forcing him to either move out of the pocket or make hurried throws that eventually led to mistakes.
Though the defensive unit as a whole still needs improvement, the Oregon defensive line is definitely gearing up for a run at the Pac-12 championship.
Though Arizona State has only lost two games this season and is still the favorite in the Pac-12 South division to reach the Pac-12 championship, its confidence definitely took a blow when it lost to the Ducks Saturday night.
Heading into this game, many Sun Devil fans were very excited about the potential for a Pac-12 Championship run, but while they did have a lead and played the Ducks pretty well for the most part, the Sun Devils showed why they aren't ready to make the next leap in the Pac-12 as a team prone to mistakes.
The Sun Devils defense, despite how good it s on paper, could not keep up with a Duck team that was hampered with injuries. It allowed a team without its starting RB and QB to walk all over the Devils in the second half and really could not find a defensive identity during the game. When Bennett came in for the Ducks, the Sun Devils seemed to allow him to adapt to the game without putting any pressure on a young quarterback that possibly could have been shaken up with more pressure from ASU.
Added to this, if Arizona State does make the Pac-12 Championship game, many will doubt its chances in the game (barring a huge turnaround) as it has proved the South's best team may not be able to beat the North's second-best team (at the moment—Stanford is first in the North Division standings, although talent-wise many would argue the Ducks are the best).
Arizona State is still expected to win the Pac-12 South Division, but with a loss to Oregon on Saturday night, things got a little bit more interesting for UCLA and the Pac-12 South race.
Though their record only stands at 3-3, the Bruins are just one win back from Arizona State in the Pac-12 South as they have so far gone 2-1 in conference, and the Sun Devils are now 3-1.
The Bruins' schedule will also aid them as the toughest games they have left are at home versus Arizona State (Nov. 5) and at the Coliseum against USC (Nov. 26).
Adding to UCLA's motivation is Rick Neuheisel's job uncertainty where his loyal players will be looking to help secure his position for future Bruins teams as well.
Though Arizona State should win the Pac-12 South still, the loss to Oregon Saturday definitely has given the Bruins a lot of hope heading into the second half of the season, and things are now starting to look more interesting in the Pac-12 Championship race.
By now, everybody knows that one of the top places for College GameDay to visit is Eugene, Ore., and with a game as big as this in the Pac-12, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Chris Fowler headed to the damp Pacific Northwest to broadcast their premier college football show.
And by now you should also know that Corso has developed an almost brotherly relationship with his favorite Duck mascot, choosing the Ducks in just about every game where GameDay has featured Oregon. Part of his routine has now even become to involve himself with Eugene and the crowd, and this time was no different.
Watch the video above and skip to the 1:07 mark to see Corso's funny antics as he picks the Ducks by leading the band out of the GameDay arena, but make sure to pay attention until the 1:33 mark where Corso takes an embarrassing tumble in front of his beloved Duck fans.
While Corso is one of the nicest gentlemen to cover the sport of football, sorry coach, you definitely lost this time around.
Up until last night, the Pac-12 had somewhat been out of the limelight, but with a national broadcast on ESPN as well as being featured on College GameDay, the Pac 12 definitely put on a show for the rest of the nation, asserting that it was still there.
With a game that featured many lead changes as well as great college football talent, many people around the nation were able to see why the Pac-12 is a conference to be reckoned with.
Though it's no SEC, look for the Pac-12 to assert itself in the years to come as one of the better conferences in college football
After all, the Pac-12 is the "Conference of Champions."
If you are a loud and boisterous fan around Chip Kelly while he is being interviewed, my advice is to stand completely clear of him.
This is the second time that Kelly has done this, so, kids, please learn, he really doesn't care what team you are rooting for, he just wants you to be respectful.
Good message from a great coach: Respect everybody in every situation.
Usually put into the background of LaMichael James' accomplishments is his best friend and fellow running back, Kenjon Barner.
Just like last season when James was out, Barner took hold of the opportunity he was presented with and shined in the national spotlight. Barner rushed for 171 yards on 31 carries as well as a touchdown.
With 148 yards accumulated in the second half, Barner helped the Ducks offense through some first-half struggles en route to a staple win over Arizona State 41-27.
Barner illustrated why he would be a premier running back at any other school, and if James is ever out again, the Ducks can rest assured that Barner will do his best friend justice.
Unfortunately for may fans on the East coast, it was past their bedtime when the second half started, and this was just a shame as this turned out to be quite a game.
While most prime-time West Coast games are adjusted to account for this fact, Oregon-Arizona State could not be moved to an earlier time slot, thus causing many to consider what many believe was a preview of the Pac-12 Championship game.