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Thoughts on Arizona State’s surprising victory over Oregon

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) motions to fans in the student section after scoring a touchdown against Oregon during the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — You had to think the Oregon Ducks (specifically their offense) were licking their chops as they took the field at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night.

After all, the Ducks came into the contest averaging 42 points — in the first half of games! And Arizona State’s defense entered Saturday as the 121st-ranked defense in the nation after three weeks.

The Sun Devils certainly didn’t shackle the Ducks, but their defense did just enough to help ASU earn a 37-35 win, breaking a 10-game losing streak to the guys in the bright green and yellow uniforms.

Yes, Oregon still scored 35 points and amassed 401 total yards. But those figures are 21 points and 208 yards lower than the Ducks’ season averages.

The key number? ASU allowed only one third-down conversion in 11 Oregon attempts on the night and stopped them on both fourth-down tries.

“This whole week, we just emphasized ‘get off the field’,” lineman A.J. Latu said. “We struggled with that the first three games, getting off the field on third down.”

In losses to San Diego State and Texas Tech, ASU allowed first downs on 50 percent (13-of-26) opportunities.

“That’s a high-powered offense and I think they had 27 plays at halftime,” quarterback Manny Wilkins chimed in. “For the defense to have 27 plays going into halftime against a very good offensive team, I think that was the big difference in the game — how well (the defense) executed.”

And yes, this defense needed a performance like this. That it came against Oregon — a prolific offense who put up 732 yards on ASU last year in Eugene — could prove to be an added psychological bonus.

On offense, Wilkins continues to be a rock. He’s been somewhere between solid and spectacular all season and on Saturday, completed 24-of-39 throws for 347 yards and a touchdown. He has yet to throw an interception in 149 attempts. The junior added two rushing touchdowns and continues to make good decisions with the ball.

He may have the best top-to-bottom wide receiver corps ASU has had in the Todd Graham era. Everyone knows N’Keal Harry is a monster (and he was on Saturday with 170 yards and a touchdown), but the other receivers have stepped up in a big way. Against the Ducks, it was Jalen Harvey’s turn to shine and he caught eight balls for 133 yards.

Harvey joins Harry, John Humphrey, Kyle Williams and Frank Darby as ASU receivers who have topped the century mark in single-game yardage this year.

There was a lightness in the postgame press conferences, both among the players and Graham, who himself said there was a good amount of joy in the locker room following the game.

“We broke the rock and danced and sang the fight song, and had a great time,” he said. “It was a great win for us.”

And for the first time in a long time, there are plenty of ASU fans singing and dancing, too — at least for a week, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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