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Fading ASU can ruin College Football Playoff chances for No. 6 Oregon

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin, left, avoids a tackle by Oregon State defensive back Jaydon Grant during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

Arizona State’s fall from early Pac-12 contention continued with a failed two-point conversion attempt last week at Oregon State.

After their fourth-straight loss, the Sun Devils are tied for the last place in the Pac-12 with a 2-5 conference record (5-5 overall).

“It has been a very disappointing season,” head coach Herm Edwards said Monday. “We should not be at .500 but we are.”

The Devils return home this week, but their road to the postseason has a significant roadblock ahead of it.

No. 6 Oregon enters the Valley on a nine-game winning streak. The Ducks are battling for a College Football Playoff spot and will need a win over ASU to keep their chances alive.

Essential Info

What: Oregon (9-1, 7-0) at Arizona State (5-5, 2-5)

When: Saturday, at 5:30 p.m.

TV: ABC (Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on air)

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Scouting the Ducks

Oregon scores the 14th-most points in the FBS (37.8)and allows the 10th-fewest (14.8).

The Ducks have run through the Pac-12 with only a couple of close calls against the two Washington schools.

They blew Arizona out of the water last week 34-6 as quarterback Justin Herbert completed 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns.

He is seventh in the nation in passing touchdowns with 28. Multiple pundits predict he will be selected in the top-10 of the 2020 NFL Draft.

But Oregon is so balanced that it does not even throw the ball most often.

The Ducks have a solid core of halfbacks led by sophomore C.J. Verdell. He averages 6.3 yards per carry.

The balance also comes into play with how many targets Herbert has to work with.

Nine players have 10 or more catches this year. Four different Ducks caught touchdowns last week.

Wideouts Juwan Johnson and Johnny Johnson III are the ones to watch for on Saturday. They are both quick deep threats, and Juwan Johnson has great size at 6-foot-4, 231 pounds. He’s a tough cover.

The Ducks are also excellent at getting the ball back.

They allow the third-fewest first downs in the Pac-12 and have the most turnovers forced with 20. They lead the country with 17 interceptions.

(AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

They have an experienced defense (eight starters are upperclassmen) that has allowed no touchdowns in half of its games this year.

“They’re good in all phases, from third down and red zone, and they rush the passer really well,” Edwards said.

Oregon’s main issue this season has been penalties. It is the second-most penalized team in the conference after USC.

Field goals have also been a struggle, but the Ducks have not needed to take many of them due to their tendency of reaching the end zone. Still, 5-for-9 on the year is tough to live with.

How ASU matches up

Last year, ASU kept it close by forcing turnovers and running the ball well.

But ASU has subpar run protection with the worst stuff rate in the Pac-12, according to Football Outsiders. Plus, Oregon has turned the ball over a lot less often this year than last.

(AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

The Sun Devils have a chance by playing a really clean game. They have not done so in recent weeks, but a penalty-filled performance with turnovers will result in a massive blowout.

Somehow, someway, ASU will need to show discipline.

Daniels will need a cleaner pocket as well. The pass protection has not been the problem in most of ASU’s losses, but it will have a tough task against the Ducks, who have 32 sacks already.

Receivers Brandon Aiyuk, Frank Darby and Kyle Williams will need to play massive games.

Oregon plays a lot of man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Aiyuk should get extra attention, but if he is on one-on-one coverage, he could win his battles and be a nightmare in the open field.

If Oregon keys in on him, it will be up to Darby and Williams to get open and make plays.

Defensively, the lack of penetration up front has put a lot more strain on the secondary. That has caused vulnerability.

Herbert will carve the Devils if they give him time in the pocket.

Unfortunately for ASU, one of its most experienced rushers, George Lea, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury last week, per Edwards.

If Oregon’s line wins the battle up front, ASU better hope Herbert has an off day.

Final thought

ASU has allowed 56 points over its last three first quarters. Oregon excels in the second half of games.

Edwards talked a lot about avoiding early deficits in this week’s press conference, but this week is the most important of the season to do that.

The Sun Devils with early momentum could be a scary team, they just have not had that at all this season.

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