Another game, another W. And this one was big. Not only did we knock one of the teams above us in the BCS down a notch or two, but the whole nation got to see just how good this Duck team is.
It wasn't easy. I never thought it would be. But there was never the sense that we might lose it, either. We went ahead 7-0 a minute into the game, and ASU was never able to tie it up. And it wasn't for lack of chances. The Sun Devils moved the ball at will between the 20s, but when push came to shove in the red zone, Oregon's underrated defense (yeah, I'm guilty of that) forced them to settle for field goals again and again. And when you have to settle for field goals against Oregon, you lose.
I'm going to talk about the defense first, because they played a spectacular game. You look at the stats and it looks bad. Arizona State had 489 total yards. 379 of those were through the air. Carpenter is the real deal, and is going to be downright scary next year. But with all those yards, ASU only found the end zone twice. Three times ASU was forced to finish long drives with short field goal attempts, and one of those was missed. Only one of the field goals occurred where the Sun Devils weren't stopped in their own red zone. And the goal line stand to force a FG attempt on the first series of the game was huge.
The defense also made many big plays. They forced two big turnovers late--Thurmond's interception in the end zone was one of the worst thrown balls I have ever seen, and a big fumble as ASU was driving for a score that basically ended the game. And, while Carpenter was shredding the defense in the first quarter, the Ducks began to pressure him and sacked him a whopping eight times. Rudy made some plays, but he is a mediocre quarterback at best when on the run. ASU racked up the yardage. They had the ball for almost 35 minutes. But in the end, they scored 23 points. Big ups to the defense--they are for real.
The offense is for real, too. And if there was any doubt who the best player in college football was before yesterday, Dennis Dixon ended the debate. He played far from a perfect game--but still had four touchdown passes, ran for another 57 yards, and orchestrated 35 points on a defense that was only giving up 15 a game. And if Jaison Williams could actually hold onto a pass, the damage would have been far more severe. There are still games left, but the Heisman has to be Dixon's to lose.
I actually really liked the strategy out of the gates. With everybody and their grandmother thinking that we were going try and run the ball down ASU's throats, the Ducks took to the air. A minute into the second quarter, Dixon already had three touchdown passes. Jaison Williams, for all his second half drops, had two big touchdown catches, Jonathan Stewart another on a beautifully blocked RAC out of the flat, and the Ducks were up 21-3. It was obvious that the Devils weren't prepared for this, and the Ducks score those two touchdowns with ease. One ASU made adjustments, the Ducks went several three and outs in a row until they figured it out and scored again. But with ASU settling for field goals at every turn, the closest they got was within five.
The only real drawback to the offense was Jaison Williams. You look at the raw numbers--5 catches for 106 yards and two TDs, and it looks like he had a great game. But, in what is becoming a big problems this season, he also had four drops and his confidence was clearly shaken as he sat on the bench with his head down for a whole possession. Drew Davis completely replaced him for one possession and had a big touchdown catch. With J-Will, we know that he talent is there. What is not there right now is the confidence. Hopefully, he can take the bye week, work on some stuff, and get that confidence back. If he's playing up to his capability, this offense is at a whole other level.
I also want to give some props to Josh Syria. How many punts inside the ten? Best punter since Bidwell.
If all you did was read the game recap, you saw that Dixon injured his knee. It doesn't appear serious. Brady Leaf did finish the game, but Dixon was hopping and running on the sideline with his helmet on--and Bellotti said on the postgame that Dixon could have played but with the big lead, why risk it. The official diagnosis is a "tweak," but they said that it couldn't even be considered a sprain. He has the whole bye week to heal up, and he should be okay. John Bacon wasn't so lucky. You know that when you play a Dennis Erickson team, a cheap shot is going to knock one of your guys out for the season, and Bacon was the victim of that on a bad clip on a punt return. While it probably won't serve as the most noticeable loss (and Casey Matthews played great in his absence), you hate to see anyone go down--make Bacon the fifth significant player to be lost for the season. We wish him the best in his recovery.
We have knocked ASU out of the national championship race, and will jump up above them in the BCS. BC was also kind enough to lose, meaning we will be no worse than third. LSU and Ohio State were down for much of their games, but came back to win (LSU is really starting to piss me off, they do not deserve to be ranked ahead of us when they are barely squeaking by teams). We need to win out, and one of those teams needs to lose for our dream scenario to happen.
We are in great shape. 8-1, and as long as we take care of business against teams that are clearly inferior, we can do no worse than the Rose Bowl. Just another great win in our dream season.