(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Arizona State and Oregon had every reason to believe that this would be a big-time matchup when they looked at their respective schedules in August, and for a multitude of reasons, that’s not the case come Thursday night. However, those preseason expectations stemmed from talented rosters, and Oregon has plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball to give ASU head coach Todd Graham some headaches.
The spotlight shines brightest on Oregon’s sophomore running back Royce Freeman, who leads the Pac-12 averaging 142 rushing yards per game. As a team, Oregon is sixth nationally in rushing, so it’ll be up to ASU’s vaunted rush defense to stop the Ducks before they get rolling.
With that in mind, the Ducks’ roster is littered with talent, and Graham will surely be game planning for more than Freeman on Thursday night.
Vernon Adams, redshirt senior quarterback, No. 3
Oregon had high expectations coming into the season, and much of it was predicated on how quickly Adams would be able to pick up the offense and get things going. That process was delayed when Adams was injured in the season opener, and without him at the helm, Oregon’s offense sputtered. Keep in mind, however, Oregon is second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense.
But in the Ducks’ last game against Washington, Adams was 14-for-25 and found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Darren Carrington twice for touchdowns. Adams tossed four passes of 25 or more yards, reinforcing the vertical arm-talent Adams possesses.
If ASU’s defense does what it normally does, which means stopping the run and bringing creative pressure packages, it’ll be up to Adams to make the Sun Devils pay for leaving room in the secondary. Adams mentioned earlier that he likes the blitz because of how it opens things up out wide, so we’ll see exactly how much he enjoys it when ASU brings the heat more than he has seen this season.
Bralon Addison, redshirt junior wide receiver, No. 2
Darren Carrington, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, No. 7
While plenty of attention goes to Freeman, and rightly so, the Sun Devils know Oregon has feasted on taking advantage of great athletes on the outside. Addison is the latest weapon in Eugene to begin to make his mark, and he is second behind Freeman in all-purpose yards while leading the team in receiving.
With Carrington back on the field, that gives Oregon two dangerous options on the flanks, and it’ll be up to senior cornerbacks Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington to do what they can to keep the Ducks from stretching the field vertically as well as bringing them down before they can shake loose on underneath routes.
(Sidenote: Carrington’s return also means the potential for several Carrington-on-Carrington plays, which is fun.)
DeForest Buckner, senior defensive end, No. 44
While the Oregon secondary has been the clear weak spot for the Ducks and ranks last in passing defense in the conference, Buckner heads a Oregon front-seven that ranks fifth in rushing defense. When considering how bad the secondary has played, still managing respectable stats in the running game is a feat in itself.
Buckner in particular is a monster who looks to be headed for the first round of the NFL draft. At 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, the Hawaii-native is third on the team in tackles and first in sacks with five on the season. His size, quickness and range makes it tough for opposing teams to manage a rhythm, and whether or not ASU sophomore running back Demario Richard is at full speed will be critical in what the Sun Devils can do.
The Sun Devils had problems with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, another physical monster, and while Buckner isn’t quite the freak athlete Garrett is, he still has tools to wreak havoc in the Sun Devil backfield.
Either way, this is a matchup of two teams not performing up to their talent level, but also teams that are desperate to stay relevant in the Pac-12 race, and with that in mind, it should be an entertaining matchup in Sun Devil Stadium.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org