(2) Oregon (6-0) at Arizona State (5-1)
Thursday, October 18, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Oregon Ducks get back to work on Thursday night, as the take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Pac-12 action in Tempe.
Chip Kelly's Ducks had last week off and certainly enjoyed the extra rest in anticipation of making a run at the conference crown, as well as national championship. Oregon is a perfect 6-0 on the year, with half of those wins coming in-conference. Oregon sits atop the Pac-12 North standings. The Ducks are No. 2 in the top-25 poll, but are third in the first BCS poll, sitting closely behind SEC powers Alabama and Florida.
Todd Graham has had a highly successful first season with the Sun Devils up to this point. Arizona State is 5-1 overall, with the lone loss coming against new SEC member Missouri back on Sept. 15. The Sun Devils have rallied from that loss with three straight conference wins to sit atop the Pac-12 South standings at 3-0.
This series is tied at 16-16. Oregon has dominated of late to tie things up, winning seven straight meetings and 11 of the last 14 overall. The Ducks have won four straight in Tempe and have averaged 43.8 ppg in those matchups.
Known as an offensive juggernaut under Kelly's reign, 2012 has been more of the same for Oregon, which enters this contest second in the country in scoring (52.3 ppg) and eighth in total offense (541.7 ypg). The ground game has been simply devastating at 302.3 ypg (fourth nationally), thanks to plenty of backfield depth. Kenjon Barner has become the workhorse and has amassed 727 yards and nine touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. De'Anthony Thomas is a dynamic jack-of-all-trades, and has carried the ball just 41 times, but is averaging 9.2 yards per carry, with 377 yards and six TDs thus far.
The ground game has afforded freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota the time needed to ease into his new role. He has more than simply adapted, completing an impressive 67.9 percent of his passes, for 1,301 yards and 15 TDs. It is no surprise that Thomas is also a factor in the passing game, leading the team with 20 receptions, for 205 yards and three more TDs.
Like in years past, the Oregon defense is a step or two behind the offense in terms of productivity, but the Ducks are not void of playmakers on this side of the football. The team is yielding just 20.0 ppg, on 359.8 yards of offense and has recorded 40 TFLs, 17 sacks and 17 takeaways.
Senior linebacker Kiko Alonso has been one of the top playmakers on defense for Oregon, leading the team in tackles (36) and TFLs (7.0), with one sack, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Fellow senior LB Michael Clay is next in line at 33 tackles, with a pair of sacks. Junior defensive tackle Taylor Hart has provided the most in terms of sacks with four.
Arizona State knows a thing or two about offensive proficiency as well. The Sun Devils ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing (187.8 ypg) and passing (291.0 ypg), while leading the conference in pass efficiency (174.0) and ranking second in scoring (40.5 ppg).
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly has been a pleasant surprise under center, completing an impressive 68.3 percent of his passes, for 1,600 yards with 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Chris Coyle is the top receiver, recording 28 catches, for 386 yards an two TDs thus far.
The rushing attack lacks a workhorse, but rather utilizes a number of contributors, led by freshman D.J. Foster (269 yards, 6.0 ypc, two TDs) and senior Cameron Marshall (262 yards, 4.2 ypc, five TDs).
Graham knows that tempo will play a big role in the outcome of this game.
"The key to the whole thing is stopping them, said Graham in his weekly press conference. "When they are rolling and making their first, first down every time you are going to manage a lot of snaps. That is were the challenge is, but there are ways of managing that when we have the ball. We have to run our offensive at the rhythm we run it at. Right now its not that fast. It was pretty fast last week. I thought we were the fastest we've been, but there are ways you can manipulate that and still be a no huddle."
Arizona State boasts of the top defense in the conference, limiting foes to just 14.2 ppg and a meager 272.7 yards of total offense (fifth nationally). The team has been particularly strong against the pass, yielding just 144.2 yards per game (fourth nationally).
Senior Brandon Magee leads the way from his linebacker spot, with 41 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Junior linebacker Chris Young is a close second at 40 stops, with 10.5 TFLs and two sacks. Junior tackle Will Sutton (39 tackles) has made the most impact upfield, with 13.0 TFLs and 8.5 sacks.
Kelly's philosophy is that one game is not more important than the other and tries to force that home with his team.
"Every week is rival week for us," said Kelly following the win over Washington. "That form has worked for us every time, so maybe more people should do it like us. I don't care who you play, there is no reason to focus on one game more than another. Why would you diminish one opponent and build up another just because there is proximity from a distance? If you don't play like that, you're going to get knocked off. This works for us and we will continue to do it."
While the Arizona State defense is the best Oregon will face the rest of the way, the Ducks haven't seemed to be slowed by any defensive unit to this point and little should change on Thursday night.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 44, Arizona State 24
10/17 11:02:56 ET