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Oregon Opens Conference Play in the Desert Against Arizona State

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NCAA Football: Oregon at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the top-25 for the first time under Willie Taggart, the Oregon Ducks roll into Tempe, Arizona to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Oregon looks to make an early statement to start conference play after a strong start to the season.

Oregon does not appear to be in any rebuilding mode as Coach Taggart has made an early mark in his first year. The swagger seen from the Chip Kelly era is back in full force after a disappearance last season under former head coach Mark Helfrich. As a result, the Ducks are 3-0 after concluding non-conference play and enter the rankings at No. 24.

Last weekend, Oregon played on the road for the first time against Wyoming. All eyes centered around Cowboys’ quarterback, Josh Allen, with NFL scouts in attendance as his draft stock flourished entering the season. Analysts believed Allen could be a potential top-10 pick in next year’s NFL Draft with his mobility and pocket-passing capabilities.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, scouts most likely took notice of a few Ducks’ players as Coach Taggart scored a win on the road in a 49-13 victory. Royce Freeman continued his success from Autzen Stadium into War Memorial Stadium rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Justin Herbert threw for 251 yards and one touchdown.

The dominance Oregon has displayed is encouraging with conference play about to commence. By now, the rest of the Pac-12 is on notice as the Ducks look to turn heads in the battle for the Pac-12 North.

But the concern remains about Oregon’s second-half performances. In the game against Nebraska, the offense scored zero points. Oregon held off Nebraska’s second-half rally though Coach Taggart came under scrutiny for a poor performance offensively.

The trend continued last weekend against the Cowboys as the Ducks appeared to coast through the second half without any effort. Oregon did manage to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter although the finish in the first half was non-existent as the offensive looked uncoordinated.

For Coach Taggart, the Ducks should be fortunate Allen was off the mark all night. Allen showed his capabilities, but his throws had too much zip and could not hit his receivers. With a young group of receivers, Allen managed only 64 yards passing with one interception. Credit the Oregon defense for taking away the passing game and preventing Wyoming from coming back.

Coach Taggart hopes Oregon can keep the offense going throughout the game against an Arizona State team who have lost two-straight games.

In a shootout last weekend on the road, the Sun Devils fell short against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech 52-45. The difference for the outcome was the Red Raiders outscoring the Sun Devils 21-3 in the first quarter.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

ASU quarterback, Manny Wilkins, should feel full of confidence heading into the game against Oregon. Wilkins threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns though he got outdueled by his counterpart, Nic Shimonek (543 yards, six touchdowns).

The Sun Devils may be 1-2 though Wilkins has been great offensively. He did beat out Blake Barnett, who transferred from Alabama, during camp which shows how much Todd Graham likes his junior quarterback.

Ball control is the only concern for Wilkins heading into the contest against Oregon. Wilkins has fumbled the ball five times this season but only losing one in a 30-20 to San Diego State. Defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, will likely put the pressure on Wilkins all game in hopes the trend continues.

Defensively, the Ducks turned in their best performance last weekend against the Cowboys with Kaulana Apelu, Arrion Springs, and Troy Dye among standouts. A collective effort needs to continue for the young defense with Pac-12 play beginning. The secondary could face a test with N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams the top receivers Wilkins will target.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State will be without linebacker Koron Crump in efforts to stop Oregon’s offense, ranked No. 2 in the country. Crump suffered an injury against Texas Tech last week and has been a bright spot in the Sun Devil’s defense with four sacks on the year. Jay Jay Wilson moved from tight end to linebacker to fill Crump’s spot. The Sun Devils currently allow about 38 per game, 117th in scoring defense.

Charles Nelson’s status is still unclear after the Ducks’ top receiver left the game last week with a leg injury in the first half. The damage was not as severe on first observation, and Coach Taggart said Nelson could come back soon. If Nelson cannot go, Taj Griffin will likely take his spot.

Last year in Eugene, the Ducks snapped a five-game losing streak with a 54-35 win over the Sun Devils. Justin Herbert threw for 489 yards and four touchdowns. Oregon is on a ten-game win streak against Arizona State. The last time the Sun Devils won was 2004, a 28-13 win over the Ducks in Eugene.

An early statement was made in Coach Taggart’s debut with as the Oregon offense exploded out of the gates. Now, another message can put the Pac-12 on notice in the desert with conference play starting. A win will certainly blow the Pac-12 North Division race wide open.