Can Oregon Make A Statement?
Posted Oct 18, 2012

Week 8 Fearless - Prediction Oregon at Arizona State

Oregon (6-0) at Arizona State (5-1) Oct. 18, 9:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal: The Pac-12 will stage one of its games of the year in front of a national TV audience on Thursday night. And, for a change, neither USC nor Stanford will be in the building.

The conference has given birth to two major surprises so far this season, Oregon State in the North Division and Arizona State from the South. The Sun Devils get a first crack at dethroning three-time defending champ Oregon, a seminal moment in the debut season of Todd Graham in Tempe. Graham is an early candidate for Coach of the Year honors, inheriting a wayward program from Dennis Erickson, and transforming it practically overnight.

ASU is No. 24 in the latest Coaches' poll, and have rolled through its first three conference games to grab a lead in the South. The bandwagon is adding new members daily, but naysayers point to a schedule that's missing victims with a winning record. The Sun Devils may be hot, but widespread respect won't come until they take down a powerhouse opponent.

Enter mighty Oregon. The Ducks are right where they've been every fall under Chip Kelly, looking down at the rest of the Pac-12, and positioned to compete for a national championship. It's the program you can set your watch—or your stopwatch—to. Oregon has seen its share of so-called contenders cross its path, and has summarily disposed of all of them.

Arizona traveled to Eugene on Sept. 22 with visions of shocking the world, yet left with its world rocked following a 49-0 whitewash. Two weeks ago, rival Washington thought it had the blueprint for slowing down the Ducks. Uh-uh. The Huskies never recovered from a first round knockdown, losing 52-21. The Ducks are accustomed to wearing a target; in fact, they wear it rather well.

Why Oregon Might Win: The offense under Kelly is a given. But it's the play of Nick Aliotti's D that really has the Ducks soaring this season.

Oregon is going to score. It's going to score fast. And it's going to make the opposition weak at the knees when QB Marcus Mariota and backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas explode into daylight. It's almost a certainty for a team averaging 52 points a game. However, the offense has been elevated this fall by a coterie of ball-hawking defenders that have already collected 17 takeaways, scored four touchdowns and shutout an Arizona team norming 45 points in its other five contests.

The Ducks promise to be a handful for an O-line that's the weakest link in Tempe. DE Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will cover a lot of ground going from sideline-to-sideline. And in the secondary, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and FS Avery Patterson are going to stick to whichever middling Sun Devils wide receiver is running patterns.

Why Arizona State Might Win: While Oregon is certainly a challenge of a different magnitude, the Sun Devils have yet to display a glaring weakness, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

To suggest that co-coordinators Paul Randolph and Ron West have coached up the Arizona State D is like saying the Oregon uniform situation is a fluid one. At the midway point of the season, the Sun Devils rank in the top 10 nationally in pass defense, sacks, tackles for loss and total D. Their pressure has been non-stop, marked by 16 sacks in three Pac-12 games. And it's going to emanate from myriad angles.

DT Will Sutton will blow up plays from the interior. Ends Junior Onyeali and Carl Bradford, a pair of 233-pounders, will explode off the edge. And LB Brandon Magee and Spur Chris Young, a JUCO gem, play with ideal range and tenacity. Corners Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor have been so good in man coverage that it'll allow safeties Alden Darby and Keelan Johnson to press up and fill running lanes. No one stops the Oregon offense. Arizona State, though, is playing as if it's capable of keeping the Ducks from running away and hiding.

What To Watch Out For: When Graham tabbed little-known Taylor Kelly as his starting quarterback, it seemed like an odd choice to many. It's been a decision that's been paying dividends in Tempe ever since.

Kelly has been a microcosm for Arizona State … exceeding expectations and turning heads, week-in and week-out. He's not Mariota from an athletic standpoint. Not even close. But who could argue with the nation's No. 3 hurler in passing efficiency, a savvy game manager with 14 touchdown passes and only two picks? Completing passes on that Oregon defense presents new challenges this week, ones that'll entice Kelly to use gifted TE Chris Coyle, and put a little more weight on his backs as both runners and receivers.

The Sun Devils may not be able to point to one star, but Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster all bring something different to the ground game. Oh, and the Ducks can't forget about backup QB Michael Eubank, a 6-6, 233-pounder who can be used much the way Blake Bell is employed by Bob Stoops in Norman.

What Will Happen: No team is untouchable this season. Not even Oregon.

In Eugene, forget about it. In Tempe, Arizona State will open Week 8 with a shocker that reverberates throughout the upper echelon of the BCS standings. The Sun Devils are no fluke, no product of a soft first-half schedule. This team is for real, and it'll use a primetime audience to make its case. ASU is one of a handful of defenses in the country playing with enough speed and suddenness to keep the Ducks from scoring in waves and from any point on the field. It closes in a hurry, gang tackles and operates with constant energy. Sutton, in particular, will shed what's left of his anonymity, making a case to be included in All-American discussions.

The hero, though, will be Kelly, who'll outplay Mariota, and withstand the pressure of the Oregon defense to guide his Devils down the field at pivotal moments in the second half. There'll be a party-like atmosphere on Thursday night in Tempe, site of Arizona State biggest upset since top-ranked Nebraska fell here 16 years ago.

CFN Prediction: Arizona State 37 … Oregon 35
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Oregon -9.5 O/U: 68.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Seven Psychopaths, 1 – Here Comes the Boom): 4.5