In easily the most anticipated home game for the Arizona State football program since 2005, the Sun Devils will play host to the 2nd-ranked Oregon Ducks Thursday in Tempe.
For Todd Graham’s team, it’s an opportunity to announce their presence on the national stage and to quell the doubters who believe ASU’s 5-1 start is more a product of their schedule than their quality of play.
Oregon has owned this rivalry in recent years, winning the last seven overall and 11 of the last 14 matchups. ASU’s last win over the Ducks came in Eugene in 2004, when Andrew Walter threw for three touchdowns in a 28-13 triumph. The Sun Devils last tasted victory over the Ducks in Tempe in 2003 — a 59-14 beatdown.
So what to watch for Thursday? A lot, really. Here’s a few things that could be interesting…
Oregon’s offensive snaps – Graham has said he wants to limit Oregon’s snap count on offense, and offered up 70 as the number that would help the Sun Devils pull off the upset. That is definitely easier said than done.
In their first six games, the Ducks have averaged 83.7 snaps per game. Considering that Oregon averages 6.5 yards per play, an extra 13 snaps is a difference of 84.5 yards per game — or most certainly a touchdown.
But teams that have held Oregon to under 70 snaps haven’t necessarily fared that well either. Last season, seven Oregon opponents held to Ducks to under 70 plays, but the Ducks still rolled up an average of 530.9 yards and 51.1 points per game.
“No matter what happens, you want that scenario where we have 80-plus plays and we keep them under 70, and that is a challenge. A huge challenge,” Graham said earlier this week.
That scenario has played out seven times during Kelly’s tenure; Oregon is 5-2 in those games. Incidentally, one of those contests was the last meeting in Tempe between the two teams when the Sun Devils had 99 offensive plays to Oregon’s 69. The Ducks won 42-31.
Keeping Oregon out of the end zone – Whatever the snap count may end up being, the key to beating the Ducks is keeping them out of the end zone.
Since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009, Oregon has lost just six times. Only twice have teams been able to outgun the Ducks in a high-scoring shootout. Stanford was able to do it in 2009 with a 51-42 win, but that team had Andrew Luck at quarterback and Toby Gerhart at running back. USC outslugged Oregon in 2011 by the count of 38-35 last season with Matt Barkley throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns.
The other teams that have beaten Oregon during Kelly’s tenure have basically shut them down. In the season opener of 2009, Kelly’s first game, Boise State held Oregon to 152 yards of offense and only one touchdown. In the 2010 Rose Bowl, Ohio State stymied the Oregon offense in a 26-17 win, holding them to 260 total yards. In consecutive losses to Auburn (in the BCS Championship Game) and LSU (in the 2011 opener), both SEC teams held the Ducks to under three offensive touchdowns.
Who wins the first quarter? – Unlike years past, where they’d wear teams down in the second half, Oregon is bludgeoning opponents in the first quarter in 2012.
In six games in 2012, the Ducks have put up 20 or more points four times in the first quarter and are outscoring opponents 112-19 in the first 15 minutes of games.
Arizona State hasn’t been quite as dominant offensively in the first quarter of games, but has been outstanding defensively. The Sun Devils have outscored opponents 62-10 in first quarters, with only Missouri being able to crack the scoreboard.
Can Jamal Miles break out? – ASU’s most versatile player in 2011 has been one of the quietest so far in 2012.
Miles, a senior from Peoria High School, caught six touchdowns, returned three kicks for scores and even threw a scoring strike in 2011. This season, he’s been absent from end zone celebrations, and has accounted for only 235 yards from scrimmage this season.
If Miles can revert back to last year’s form, it could go a long way toward Arizona State pulling an upset.