Is this a preview of December 2nd's Pac-12 Championship Game? With the Sun Devils firmly in control of the Pac-12 South, it may come down to the winner of the Oregon versus Stanford game on November 12th to determine whether Saturday's huge game will merely be prelude to a battle for a BCS berth.
No. 18 Arizona State will have their hands full with the speed of No. 9 Oregon, not to mention the hostile environment of Autzen Stadium. So how can the Sun Devils come away with a huge win?
1st - Only Hope to Contain Them
Oregon's Heisman contending running back LaMichael James should miss the game, but Oregon's second ranked scoring offense (50.2 points per game) shouldn't miss a beat. The Ducks are loaded with dynamic playmakers such as Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Darron Thomas. It is unrealistic to believe that ASU can stop their offense entirely, so instead they must focus on containment. They must ensure that the Ducks are not able to consistently make big plays while at the same time forcing multiple turnovers. ASU's defense has 17 takeaways in the last four games, and will need perhaps three or more to give the Sun Devils a strong chance.
2nd - Run
Arizona State is venturing into one of the most intimidating stadiums in the nation in a nationally televised game with major conference implications. You can bet that the Oregon fans and players will be hyped up and ready, so one thing that ASU can do to combat that is to establish a strong running game early.
Oregon is one 86th in the country in rush defense, but ASU is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry on the season, and had a disastrous day on the ground in Utah when that number was a pathetic 1.9. The offensive line must get a strong push in their run blocks against Oregon's undersized defensive front to open running lanes for running back Cameron Marshall.
3rd - Keep Brock Standing Tall
The ASU offense is talented enough to score 30 or more points on most any team in the nation. That is, if they can protect quarterback Brock Osweiler, a facet that the offensive line has struggled with a times this year. Oregon likes to bring a lot of blitzes, utilizing their defender's speed in attempts to overwhelm opposing offensive lines with sheer numbers. The Devils must be up to the task or risk a blowout loss in Autzen Stadium. If Osweiler can get time, he should have plenty of options downfield against a young and inexperienced Oregon secondary.
4th - Rattle Darron Thomas
Since Oregon's opening day loss to LSU, Duck quarterback Darron Thomas has thrown 14 touchdowns and only one interception and has been maturing into one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12. He has not run nearly as much as he did last season, but that may change with LaMichael James out of the lineup.
ASU's defense needs to attack Thomas. While that may not mean getting sacks-Oregon has only allowed three all year-they must be a disruptive force, as they did a week ago against Utah's Jon Hays. Despite a modest sack total, their consistent pressure led to several key errors by Hays, and they will need to replicate that effort once again in Eugene.
Goal - No Margin for Error
Oregon is one of the few teams in the country that has more top-to-bottom talent than ASU, and more importantly, the Ducks' execution is second-to-none.
The Sun Devils proved in last season's 42-31 loss that they can beat the Ducks. They outplayed them for most of the game, but were done in by three interception in the fourth quarter.
They can not commit those same mistakes and have a chance to pull off the upset win, whether the culprit is turnovers, penalties or poor execution. Oregon can and will take advantage of those blunders.
ASU must play a near-perfect game in order to win this game.
Prediction: Oregon 38, ASU 34