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Fork Report: Sun Devils unable to overcome obstacles in loss to Oregon

Oregon defensive lineman Justin Hollins, left, and linebacker Jonah Moi (3) sack Arizona State quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)

Even before the game kicked off, Arizona State faced its share of obstacles. They were on the road, in an unfamiliar stadium, without six starters (or more) and a true freshman at quarterback.

Yet, given all that, the Sun Devils never wavered. They fought.

The obstacles, though, were just too large to overcome.

Justin Herbert threw for a school record-tying 489 yards and four touchdowns to help lead Oregon past ASU, 54-35, ending a five-game losing streak and sending the Sun Devils to their third straight defeat.

Dillon Sterling-Cole got the start in place of the injured Manny Wilkins, becoming the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for ASU since 2009, and went 21-of-38 for 302 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score.

Kalen Ballage accounted for three touchdowns and 290 total yards, playing running back, receiver and quarterback. He also returned kicks.

Oregon (3-5, 1-4) scored on its first five drives and six of seven first-half possessions to take a 30-14 lead into the break.

ASU (5-4, 2-4) rallied in the second half, three times pulling to within a score, but two late fourth-quarter interceptions by Sterling-Cole sealed the Ducks’ 10th straight win in the series.

ASU had not visited Autzen Stadium since 2011.


Solid start for Sterling-Cole, who led the Sun Devils on a pair of scoring drives in the first quarter and went 6-of-9 for 67 yards. He recorded the team’s longest pass play of the season, completing a 35-yard throw to Ballage on a reverse flea flicker. That set up a Ballage touchdown run. Later, Sterling-Cole rushed two yards for a touchdown, the first of his career.

Showing his versatility, Ballage accounted for 103 of the Sun Devils’ 171 total yards in the first quarter. He rushed for 22 (on seven carries), had 57 receiving (on three catches) and another 24 yards through the air on a pass to Jay Jay Wilson; the latter of which made Ballage the eighth different player — and fifth position player — to complete a pass this season.

Appearing to be injured earlier on the drive, Ballage returned and ran 15 yards for a third-quarter touchdown, his 12th rushing score of the season and 13th overall. He is now just the fourth Sun Devil since 2000 to have double-digit rushing touchdowns in a single season. The score, plus two-point conversion, pulled ASU to within a score, 30-22, at the 4:56 mark.

Needing the defense to make a play, Marcus Ball, who had a team-high 14 tackles (including seven solo), did just that, recovering a fumble and running the football 45 yards to the Oregon 10. From there, Ballage, operating out of the Sparky set, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Kody Kohl to pull ASU to within a score, 40-35, with 6:39 remaining in the game.


Miscommunication may have been the cause, but the result, yet another big pass play allowed, has been the norm this season. On Oregon’s third offensive snap, a 3rd-and-3, Herbert and Pharaoh Brown hooked up for a 72-yard touchdown, the 16th pass play of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Sun Devils this season. They allowed 24 such plays all of last season.

Two more players suffered injuries in the first half. Guard Stephon McCray limped off the field, favoring his right leg, on the very first snap of the game. He was replaced by redshirt-freshman Steve Miller. Later, linebacker Koron Crump appeared to hurt his knee after a second-quarter sack of Herbert. By the way, it was Crump’s team-leading ninth sack of the season.

For the fourth time in conference play and fifth time overall this season, the Sun Devils defense allowed an opponent to gain better than 500 yards, and Oregon hit the mark by the third quarter. It was in that third quarter when former Phoenix Mountain Pointe High standout Jalen Brown had 49-yard reception, the 17th pass play of 40-plus yards allowed this season.

Actually, make that 18 pass plays of 40-plus yards allowed this season. The latest occurred in the fourth quarter, when on 3rd-and-10, Herbert found Johnny Mundt open for a 53-yard catch and run for a touchdown, capping a five-play, 64-yard drive. It was Mundt’s second reception of the game and it put Oregon ahead, 40-28, with 10:43 remaining in the game.


734: The Sun Devils allowed a season-high 734 total yards, including 21 plays (out of 88 run by Oregon) of 10 or more yards


“We’re just making critical error after critical error after critical error on defense. Obviously, it’s tough. We have some miscommunication stuff, a lot of blown assignments,” head coach Todd Graham said at halftime after his team had just allowed 413 total yards, 320 of which came via the pass with Herbert completing 20-of-24 attempts and three touchdowns.

“I’m really, really proud of the effort that our guys gave,” Graham said, following the Sun Devils’ sixth consecutive conference road loss. “We tackled poorly. We played really poor defensively, but I’m proud of our kids’ heart and effort. It was very difficult, obviously, with that many guys out.”


ASU now has 11 touchdowns this season out of the Sparky formation, and they have rushed for 24 touchdowns this season overall.

ASU now has lost each of its first three Pac-12 road games; they are 0-3 away from Tempe for the first time since the 2008 season.

Linebackers Salamo Fiso (knee) and Christian Sam (ankle) did not play; Sam has not played since the season opener against NAU.

Defensive backs Kareem Orr (knee) and Armand Perry (toe) were also out; it is the second straight game Perry has not participated.

Starting left guard Sam Jones (foot) plus a key offensive reserve, wide receiver Cameron Smith (unknown injury), missed the game.


Some time off.

The Sun Devils will enjoy an 11-day break before hosting Utah on Thursday, Nov. 10. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

This marks the sixth straight year ASU will play a Thursday night game.

It’s Senior Night.

Utah won last season’s matchup, 34-18, ending ASU’s 11-game winning streak in the series. The Sun Devils, though, do still own an eight-game home winning streak over the Utes.

Utah’s last victory in Tempe came back in 1976.

Overall, ASU leads 20-7 in the all-time series, which dates back to 1961.

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