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2010 Oregon Football Preview :: Arizona State Sun Devils

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Part four in a series on Oregon's 2010 season opponents

Part 1:  New Mexico | Part 2: Tennessee | Part 3: Portland State


7:30 PM PST :: September 25, 2010 :: Sun Devil Stadium

Opponent Arizona State
Nickname Sun Devils
Location Tempe, AZ
Enrollment 68,064
Head Coach Dennis Erickson (19-18 at ASU, 167-83-1 overall)
Stadium Sun Devil Stadium (73,379) : FieldTurf
2009 Record 4-8, (2-7 Pac-10)
Starters Returning 4 offense : 5 defense
Base Offense Pro-style
Base Defense 4-3
Blogs House of SparkyPitchfork Nation
Newspapers The Arizona Republic

After Oregon opens with one of the easier non-conference schedules in the Pac-10, they open conference play by heading down to the desert to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils, a team that has struggled offensively over the past two years, and failed to achieve winning seasons because of that.

After Dennis Erickson's first year in Tempe, when the Devils reached the Holiday Bowl, there was a lot of optimism that the Sun Devils were finally going to break through. That hasn't happened. Offensive line issues have led to a stagnant offense over the past two seasons, and a good (but not dominant) defense has failed to keep the Sun Devils in the win column. 

2010 doesn't look like it will be all that different as the Sun Devils were picked to finish 9th in the preseason Pac-10 media poll. 

Top Returners

Category Player
Rushing Cameron Marshall :: 64 Rushes : 294 Yards : 2 TD
Passing Samson Szakacsy :: 32/50 : 362 Yards : 4 TD : 1 INT
Receiving Kerry Taylor :: 23 Receptions : 276 Yards : 0 TD
Tackles Vontaze Burfict :: 40 Solo : 29 Assist : 69 Total
Sacks Lawrence Guy :: 20 Solo : 17 Assist : 4.5 Total : 34 Yards


2009 Offensive Statistics  

Statistic Arizona State Oregon
Pass Offense 215.2 (62) 180.31 (98)
Rush Offense 120.17 (93) 231.69 (6)
Total Offense 335.3 (90) 412.00 (33)
Scoring Offense 22.3 (91) 36.08 (8)
Pass Efficiency 113.12 (103) 128.03 (59)
Sacks Allowed 2.17 (70) 1.00 (10)
3rd Down Conversion % 30.77 (113) 35.12 (95)

Offensively, Arizona State's woes start with the offensive line, and this has been the case for a few years. In 2007, they gave up a stunning 55 sacks, for a sack rate of 12.9%. Even typing that, I don't know how that's possible.

While the pass protection has improved, the ASU running game has not, managing only 120 yards per game last season, near the bottom of the conference and nation. 

Unfortunately for ASU, it does not look like this situation will improve. After a string of offseason injuries, ASU returns only one offensive line starter, and with injuries taking their toll, depth is an obvious concern, and ASU will be relying on incoming JC linemen Chris DeArmas and Brice Schawb significantly. Luckily, both were present for spring practices, so they have some experience with the team, but relying on new players is not often a winning proposition, and it seems like it will be a struggle for ASU to match last years numbers.

The line may be protecting a new QB this season, as Michigan transfer Steven Threet has been in a tight race for the starting QB spot with Brock Osweiler. It seems likely that both will see some playing time, and this race is one that ASU fans will be watching closely. This looks like it may be a repeat of last season, when 3 QBs saw playing time after senior Danny Sullivan struggled, and then Osweiler got hurt. ASU really needs one of their QBs to step up to avoid a repeat of last season.

The ASU rushing attack will be led by Cameron Marshall, a sophomore, who was the number 2 back last season. Behind him, there are a whole lot of unknowns. This may not be a bad thing, as ASU hasn't had a truly strong rushing attack since 2006, and previous leader Dimitri Nance is very replaceable. If the line can improve, the rushing numbers can improve. If they can't, the rushing game should struggle as it has.

The Sun Devils will have some decent targets for whoever gets the QB position. They have talent and experience, with junior Gerell Robinson and senior Kerry Taylor, but neither of these players have produced at high rates over their careers. ASU has two incoming JC players that should make an impact, George Bell and Mike Willie, and will also add Aaron Pflugrad after he sat out a year after transferring. It should be a solid unit, but not a special one.

This seems to be the case for the ASU offense in general. They have a lot of players that could be productive in the Pac-10, but few players that will be able to take over a game. Because of this, the Ducks should match up very well against this offense. ASU bordered on ineptitude offensively for much of the season, and there's little reason to think that will change. They will require all their players to work together and play up to their ability, and that's no easy task, especially when breaking in new players.

2009 Defensive Statistics 

Statistic Arizona State Oregon
Pass Defense 189.0 (26) 207.62 (44)
Rush Defense 108.58 (19) 128.69 (42)
Total Defense 297.6 (13) 336.31 (35)
Scoring Defense 21.1 (26) 23.77 (51)
Pass Efficiency Defense 108.58 (20) 112.30 (25)
Tackles for Loss 6.50 (43) 6.31 (40)
Opponent 3rd Down % 29.65 (5) 37.91 (51)
Turnover Margin -0.17 (72) +0.15 (51)

Once again, ASU will be forced to rely on their defense, which will likely be the 3rd best in the Pac-10. But if that falters, ASU will have a very tough time staying in games.

The defense is led by one of the fiercest players in the Pac-10, and returning Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year, Vontaze Burfict. He's a headhunter that makes a lot big plays, and is always toeing that line between a hard hit, and an illegal hit. Luckily for opposing defenses, his headhunting ability can come at the expense of playing sound defense. But, this shouldn't come as a surprise for a Dennis Erickson coached player. His teams have always had a focus on intimidation, and then worried about stopping defenses. And it's worked out pretty well for them.

Burfict is joined by juniors Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee, talented yet inexperienced players. This will be a real test for Burfict this year, as he will now be the main leader on the defense, and how he handles that responsibility will be the difference between a very good defense, and a great defense.

The linebacking unit will have a strong defensive line in front of it, with 3 returning starters led by DT Lawrence Guy. They also have decent talent backing up those positions. This is one of the best defensive lines in the Pac-10, with experience and depth. They will give almost every offensive line they face a stiff challenge, giving Burfict and the linebackers a a chance to do their damage.

The secondary returns only one starter, but 4 players with starting experience. The unit is young, comprised of juniors and sophomores, though with the experience on the field that they have, this unit should be more than competent. Neither corner (Omar Bolden or Deveron Carr) will be a pushover, and with the strong front 7 that the Sun Devils have, this unit will not be asked to take a lot of pressure.

The Sun Devils will provide a good test for the Ducks offense early on. They will be one of the better defenses in the Pac-10, and we'll see once again how the offense is growing. Luckily, due to ASU's offensive issues, it's doubtful that there will be a lot of pressure on the offense. Look for the Ducks to go with a lot of misderection this game, and bait the Sun Devils into over-pursuit. Discipline has not been a strong point for Erickson defenses, and led by Burfict, it's doubtful this will change.

2009 Special Teams Statistics 

Statistic Arizona State Oregon
Kick Returns 19.43 (103) 24.91 (10)
Punt Returns 9.55 (52) 12.00 (27)
Kickoff Returns Against 18.84 (11) 20.85 (42)
Punt Returns Against 11.09 (92) 6.83 (36)

ASU returns former Lou Groza winner Thomas Weber, who has really dropped off the last couple seaons after battling a number of injury issues. If he's back to full strength, ASU should be just fine in the kicking game. Punting may be an issue, as ASU has struggled in return coverage, though punter Tevor Hankins averaged 44 per punt last season.

ASU has also struggled in the return game, and has not won that field position battle, something that is so important for a struggling offense. Again, I doubt this will improve. Arizona State just doesn't have the skill position players to get this done consistently. If ASU is going to be competitive against Oregon, they need to win this battle, and I just don't see it happening.

Final Analysis

This game should give the Ducks a 1-0 start to Pac-10 play. I just don't see ASU being able to do much offensively to stay in the game. This will be a fun game to watch for the offense, especially the Oregon passing game. ASU's only defensive questions lie in its secondary, and I'll be watching to see how the Ducks attack this. If Oregon can take the ASU defense off balance early (think last years Stanford game), then the Ducks will be able to keep the aggressive ASU secondary on its heels, and neutralize their main strength. 

Defensively for Oregon, this is another team they need to dominate. We expect big things from the Duck defense this year, and a big part of that will be stopping teams that they should stop.