By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
As time expired on the scoreboard in Eugene on Saturday night, the Sun Devils weren’t able to limit their own mistakes and match the speed of their opponent, two key factors that were imperative to have a chance at victory. In what could potentially be a preview of the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game on December 2, 2011, Arizona State and Oregon faced each other this past Saturday in front a record crowd of 60,055 at Autzen Stadium. There was much hype and anticipation for this game with ESPN’s College Game Day broadcasting in Eugene and a national television audience. This was an big opportunity for the Sun Devils to end a six year drought against the Ducks and establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league. Unfortunately for the 5-2 Sun Devils, they were not able to seize the moment, losing to the Ducks 41-27.
During the first quarter and a half, there was cause for excitement for ASU fans. After slow starts against Oregon State and Utah, the Sun Devils drew first blood on their second possession after the defense forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the Oregon 33 yard line. Capitalizing on an Oregon penalty, Brock Osweiler connected with Gerell Robinson in the front right corner of the end zone for a 20 yard touchdown. As they are known to do, the Ducks responded quickly and took advantage of a late hit personal foul penalty by ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict that put the ball on the ASU 16 yard line. True freshman and speedster DeAnthony Thomas scored on the next play to tie the game 7-7. ASU was not going to be deterred, and in a wild first quarter took the lead back 14-7 when Brock Osweiler hit a wide open Mike Willie for a 25 yard touchdown. Once again, Oregon responded back and scored two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 21-17 lead into the locker room at halftime. The end of the second quarter was a pivotal point in the game, as ASU was intercepted on a solid drive at the end of the half. Oregon took possession with just over a minute left until halftime and scored the go ahead touchdown in less than four plays from scrimmage. Huge momentum swing.
In the second half, despite taking the lead 24-21 on a quality drive on their first possession, everything went wrong for ASU’s defense. Led by their back up quarterback, Bryan Bennett and back up running backs, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, the Ducks broke loose and scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to pull ahead of the Sun Devils for good. Despite losing its starting quarterback Darron Thomas early in the third quarter, Oregon used its running game masterfully by gaining 276 yards in the second half and winning the time of possession after having the ball only 11:14 in the first half. ASU’s potent offense was held in check for the rest of the game punting four times which allowed the Ducks to seal the win.
Grading the Game
Brock Osweiler’s numbers, while impressive, were in vain. The ASU quarterback completed 29 of 46 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He was not able to scramble as effectively as in past games rushing for minus five yards and he threw a costly interception in the second quarter, where there seemed to be some confusion on the route by Mike Willie. Oz was also picked off again at the end of the game on a ball that bounced out of Jamal Miles hands. Osweiler was constantly under pressure from the Oregon defense and was sacked four times and hit on several others. After a great first half he was not as crisp after halftime and leading ASU to a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.
Gerell Robinson was again the star of the day catching six passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. Mike Willie hauled in five passes for 79 yards and a score. Aaron Pflugrad was rather quiet against his old team and only caught two passes, and George Bell caught three passes and had a completion called back due to a penalty. The unit ran wild in the first half but then was shut down in the second half by the Oregon defense. The other factor that brought this grade down was the personal foul penalty to Robinson at the end of the first half that ended up being a huge momentum swing to the Ducks.
Cameron Marshall broke the century mark running 20 times for 101 yards and a touchdown with a 4.8 yard per carry average. Jamal Miles ran seven times for 68 yards. Miles was also caught six passes for 24 yards. The Ducks were prepared and focused to stop the ASU run game, but the unit played as well as can be expected and once Marshall is 100% after the bye week, he will be a lot bigger factor down the road.
Right tackle Aderious Simmons was back in the lineup after missing five weeks with a high ankle sprain. In his first action back he did a decent job and held Dion Jordan without any sacks, but played too high in the running game and looked out of place during some plays. Dan Knapp also did a decent job at left tackle in keeping the Ducks defensive ends without any sacks. The interior of the line needs to improve in their blitz pickup. This is a huge issue as every week Osweiler is getting hit and sacked by linebackers. Teams will continue to do this until ASU figures out a way to stop it. Four sacks is not a winning number and Osweiler was pressured numerous times. Run blocking is still an issue with the interior playing too high and not getting any push off the line. Injuries are affecting this unit big time and once again, the bye week comes at a good time.
Bo Moos, Jamar Jarrett and Davon Coleman had five tackles each. Toa Tuitea had three tackles and Will Sutton had two. It was a tough day for the defensive line after being disruptive and productive in the past few games. The group would make some quality stops and seem to be in control, then the Oregon offense would break off a long run and big play. Oregon ran for 327 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. In 22 pass attempts by the Ducks, there were no sacks, hits or pressures. This group will need to continue to work hard and step their game up. Junior Onyeali is expected back for the Colorado game which will help.
Colin Parker continues to make plays and came up with a huge first quarter fumble that led to an ASU touchdown and had five tackles on the night. Star linebacker Vontaze Burfict was once again ordinary with seven tackles and was penalized twice for personal fouls, one which led to a Duck score. Burfict struggled to shed tackles, was out of positon on several plays and missed a few tackles. In short, he has had a disappointing first half of the season after being named to several award watch lists. Shelly Lyons had seven tackles and an interception that set up a field goal in the second quarter, but also struggled in the second half shedding blockers. Oregon’s 327 yards rushing and 6.7 per carry average falls on the linebackers shoulders as much as the defensive line. They had problems closing on the speedy Oregon backs and we really missed Brandon Magee out there.
Oregon passed for 209 yards and given that there was hardly any pressure on the quarterback this unit deserves a pat on the back…sort of. Eddie Elder had a costly penalty that kept a Duck drive alive but the unit played rather clean for the entire night. Deveron Carr was the leader with seven tackles. Elder had six stops. Clint Floyd was playing a decent game until he left the game due to injury. After intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble the week before the unit did not have any takeaways against Oregon.
Alex Garoutte was consistent and solid as he hit two field goals in the second and fourth quarters and made all of his extra points. Josh Hubner had a busy night punting eight times with a 43.3 yard average. Jamal Miles returned 6 kickoffs for 103 yards. Coverage teams were better as Oregon averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns and 8.6 yards on punt returns.
Going into the bye week there is plenty to do. This loss was disappointing but in the big picture it has not harmed ASU’s chance to win the Pac-12 South. ASU needs to regroup, correct their errors and get better discipline as a team. The issues this team has had this season are 100% correctible. This is a good football team that has not played up to its full ability yet. Seven games into the season they’re 5-2, still ranked and have a serious shot at running the table and finishing the season 10-2 with a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game in December. It’s important that during the bye week, they get healthy, refocused and get ready to close out the season the way they are capable of. If they take care of business the rest of the way, they will potentially get another shot at Oregon, assuming the Ducks get through Stanford and win the north. How they recover from this loss, get healthy and prepare during the next two weeks will determine how far they will go the rest of the way. “Prosperity is a great teacher, Adversity a greater.” – William Hazlett
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