Six Points: Devils miss opportunity in Eugene

Oct 16, 2011, 3:14 PM | Updated: 5:46 pm

The Arizona State Sun Devils went to Eugene, Oregon not only with the
hopes of ending a six-game losing streak to the Oregon Ducks, but also to
send a message to the rest of the Pac-12 and the nation that they were
ready for prime time.

The (now) 18th-ranked Devils failed on both goals, falling to #9 Oregon
41-27 in front of a school-record 60,055 fans at Autzen Stadium.

So what did the Sun Devils do right? And what went wrong? Here are six
things that stood out from the loss.


Bryan Bennett, difference maker – When Oregon’s
Bryan Bennett came in to the game with 12:21 left in the 3rd quarter for an
injured Darron Thomas, Arizona State led 24-21. Bennett, a freshman
from Encino, California, had thrown a total of 13 passes in his collegiate
career, and they had all come in garbage time of one-sided wins over
Nevada and Missouri State.

So you’d figure that Oregon’s offense would become a lot more one-
dimensional with the frosh at the controls. It did. The only problem was,
Arizona State’s defense couldn’t stop it.

In the time that Thomas was on the field, Oregon’s offensive attack was
balanced, at least from a play calling standpoint. The Ducks ran the ball 18
times for only 61 yards and threw the ball 17 times for 187 yards. With the
inexperienced Bennett in the game, Oregon ran 31 times for 266 yards and
threw only 5 times for 22 yards.

In other words, the Sun Devils defense and coordinator Craig Bray had to
know what was coming, but couldn’t stop it. Why? See point #2.


Where was the front four? – Oregon’s offensive line,
basically knowing that they were about to become an exclusive run offense,
shifted their level of intensity when Bennett came into the ball game.
Darrion Weems, Carson York, Hroniss Grasu, Mark Asper and Nick Cody
manhandled the Sun Devils’ defensive line over the next two pivotal drives.
Oregon averaged nearly 16 yards per pop on their next nine running plays,
and turned a 24-21 deficit into a 35-24 lead in relatively easy fashion.


The fumble that wasn’t a fumble? – It’s the Pac-12, so
if you’ve watched this conference for any amount of time, you expect the
officiating to be less than competent (I’m being kind).

But a crucial play in the third quarter really had a big hand in sinking the
Sun Devils. With Oregon leading 28-24, Bennett got loose on an 18-yard
run down the ASU sideline and was hit by Gannon Conway, who knocked
the ball out in the process. A hustling Will Sutton saved the ball from going
out of bounds with a tremendous athletic play, and Conway recovered it at
about the ASU 35-yard line.

The ruling on the field however, was that Bennett was down by contact.
The play was reviewed for several minutes and referee Jay Stricherz
announced that the call on the field would stand, and that was the extent
of the explanation. Really.

Two plays later, Kenjon Barner scored on a 5-yard touchdown run,
effectively putting the game out of reach for the Sun Devils at 35-24. I’ve
watched the replay dozens of times. It was simply a blown call on a
number of fronts, and ASU nor their fans were even offered an explanation.


Penalties – The Devils committed 8 penalties for 95
yards in the game–obviously not a great number when you’re trying to
upset a top ten opponent in their stadium, but also not the most we’ve
seen in the Erickson era.

But man, were most of them just killers. Vontaze Burfict was called for two
personal fouls in the game. Hey, it wouldn’t be a big game without #7
getting flagged a couple of times, right? I think both were questionable
calls, but Burfict still put himself in the situation to allow officials to throw
flags, and they did on both occasions. The first one on Burfict was a late
hit call on Oregon tight end David Paulson which moved the ball to the
ASU-16 yard line, and the Ducks scored one play later to tie the game at 7
in the first quarter.

In the 2nd quarter, with Oregon facing a 3rd down and 12 from their own
12-yard line, Darron Thomas was hit in the head by defensive tackle Bo
Moos after throwing an incomplete pass that should have forced a punt.
Instead, three plays later, Thomas hit Lavasier Tuinei on a 28 yard
touchdown pass to tie the score at 14-14.

Late in the second quarter, with ASU leading 17-14, Brock Osweiler hit
Gerell Robinson on a 12-yard pass that gave ASU a first down at the
Oregon 22-yard line. But, Robinson got up, doing a lot of talking to
Oregon safety John Boyett, and kneed him in the head, drawing a 15-yard
personal foul flag. Osweiler threw a pick on the next play, and Oregon
turned it into a touchdown :24 later to take a 21-17 lead into the locker

In the third quarter, on a crucial third and 8 with ASU trailing 35-24,
Osweiler hit George Bell on an 18-yard completion to seeming give the
Devils a first down at the Oregon 41-yard line. Nope. Robinson was called
on offensive pass interference, instead giving ASU a 3rd and 23 at their
own 26. They ended up punting.

And finally, there was the holding penalty in the fourth quarter on
seldomly-used receiver Kevin Ozier, that wiped out a Jamal Miles
touchdown. ASU settled for a field goal instead.

You can complain about the botched fumble call all you want. Heck, I agree
with you, and I’ll listen to those complaints. But ASU unloaded chambers
full of ammunition into their own feet all night long.


Lack of aggressive decision making – When you’re
trying to pull an upset of a top ten team on the road, one of two things has
to happen. You either need to play nearly mistake-free football, and we’ve
already illustrated that didn’t happen for Arizona State. Or you need to
take some chances.

This also didn’t happen for ASU. In the fourth quarter, after Ozier’s holding
penalty nullified a Sun Devil touchdown, ASU had a fourth and seven from
the Oregon 13-yard line, and opted to attempt a field goal. Alex Garoutte
connected from 30 yards out, cutting the deficit to eleven points and
keeping it a two possession game at least.

OK, so you know it’s a two-possession game and the clock is becoming a
factor, but facing a 4th and 2 from their own 32-yard line and trailing by
14 points, ASU took a delay of game penalty and then punted the ball away.
Oregon didn’t score on their next possession, but did melt 3:13 off the
clock and made a comeback nearly impossible.

The decision making just didn’t mesh with the reality of the situation. I’m
not saying ASU wins with if different decisions are made, but it would have
been a lot more interesting down the stretch.


Looking forward – While this is a frustrating loss for
the Sun Devils, it should have been expected. I know I didn’t pick ASU to
win this game. But a lot of the chatter from ASU fans after this game was
pointing to another meeting with the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship
Game. Let’s not get that far ahead of ourselves, people.

First of all, Stanford and Washington will have a lot to say about who’s
representing the Pac-12 North on December 2nd. The Cardinal host
Oregon on November 12th and Washington is still undefeated in
conference play.

And in the South, ASU is no shoo-in to roll to the Championship Game. On
November 5th, the Sun Devils will be in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl for a
date with the Bruins that should feature two teams with one conference
loss. UCLA has a road game at Arizona on Thursday and a home affair with
Cal before ASU gets to town.

I laughed too when I read Kirk Herbstreit’s prediction of UCLA winning the
Pac-12 South, but right now, it’s very possible.

The Sun Devils need to rest up during the bye and concentrate on October
29th against Colorado.


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