(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Rewind to August, where if everything shaped up in the Sun Devils’ favor, this Thursday night game would have been the biggest of the year. Defending National Champion runner-up, versus a team trying to join the elite conversation. Two senior quarterbacks, an explosive offense versus a cutthroat defense, and a potential preview of the Pac-12 Championship.
Unfortunately for both Oregon and Arizona State, their lackluster seasons have them looking up their divisional ladders, as opposed to sitting on the throne.
While ASU has yet to prove itself to be a national contender, Oregon on the other hand has had one losing season since 1994, and has been in two of the last five National Championship games. This year was shaping up to be no different with their leading rusher returning, and a very promising replacement at quarterback to fill in 2015 Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota’s shoes.
Vernon Adams, a senior transfer from Eastern Washington University, was given the reigns to this Ducks team but hasn’t performed the way he was expected to, and has been held back by injury.
That along with the worst statistical defense in the Pac-12 can both contribute to Oregon’s 4-3 record, which is already as many regular season losses Oregon combined to have in the two seasons prior. Almost farther from the norm is the fact that they are fourth in the Pac-12 north, and their chances of a comeback season are looking very slim.
For Arizona State their championship aspirations are on extremely thin ice, but that’s not to say they have lost all hope.
Sharing the second place spot with UCLA, the Sun Devils may not control their own destiny anymore, but this game against Oregon is now just as important as any game this season if they want to keep their chances alive.
So while this game doesn’t hold the monumental circumstances everybody hoped it would, the importance for both of these desperate teams is still there.
Matchups to Watch
ASU Defense vs Oregon run game
The one aspect of this Sun Devil team that has deserved constant praise has been the run defense, and they will once again be needed to face one of the most notoriously dangerous running programs in college football.
Head coach Todd Graham’s defense has held four straight opponents to less than 100 rushing yards.
Now they will face maybe their biggest task of the season in trying to contain Oregon’s Adams and sophomore running back Royce Freeman.
Freeman is right now the Pac-12’s leader and nation’s seventh leading rusher with 997 yards on 150 attempts, and Graham said that he is as hard to tackle as any running back they have faced all season long. While Adams, who hasn’t shown his running ability as much due to his health, rushed for 1232 yards in three seasons as the quarterback at Eastern Washington before transferring to Oregon this season.
Utah’s Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker were seen as a huge threat on the ground together, but ASU handled them for the most part very well. But the Texas A&M game was broken open when their true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray came in and ran for 69 yards on six attempts.
While containing a dual-threat quarterback has been hit or miss at times for the Sun Devils, it will have to be another hit if they want to slow down this dynamic Oregon attack.
ASU Offensive Line vs DeForest Buckner
Also (unfortunately) similar to the Texas A&M game, ASU will have to pay a lot of attention to a freaky athlete off the edge coming for redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici’s head.
Senior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who opted to finish out his career at Oregon before entering the NFL Draft, seems to have made the right decision. Buckner was already considered by many to be a first-round talent after his junior season.
Buckner stands at 6-foot-7 and has five sacks on the year, which places him at second in the conference, and has trouble written all over him for the ASU offensive line considering how they handled Texas A&M’s superior defensive line talent Myles Garrett.
Garrett played all over the place on the Aggies’ defensive line and sacked Bercovici twice, and opened up plenty of opportunities for his teammates. Buckner will likely play a similar role, capable of playing multiple positions on the defensive line and his presence alone is bound to cause chaos for this sporadic Sun Devil offensive line.
Both of these teams are playing to try and revive their seasons, and what better place to do it than on a Thursday night on national television?
While a lot of headlines surrounding this game have to do with the Salute to Service week Arizona State University is putting on, I think it will give this Sun Devil team a lot of extra motivation playing with Pat Tillman’s name on the back of all their jerseys.
There is so much at stake for both of these teams, but having the home field advantage and the Tillman factor on their side, I think the Sun Devils blow out the Oregon Ducks, 42-17.