Friday, October 19, 2012
Arizona State fails to test dominant Oregon
By Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This was not a test of the Oregon football system. If this had been an actual test, you would have seen Arizona State still in the game after the first quarter.
Some test? After an odd flurry to start the game, No. 3 Oregon was never challenged by Arizona State in a 43-21 victory Thursday night in Sun Devil Stadium, which was less than half full to start the third quarter.
We all know that Ducks coach Chip Kelly is not much for media scripts. The Washington game is supposed to be a bitter rivalry. Kelly gave that a shrug and a "Neh," and announced how much he liked and respected Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian.
The visit to Arizona State on Thursday was supposed to challenge the Ducks. It was supposed to give us a measure of redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota in a frenzied, hostile environment.
But after a horrible start -- a fumble on the second play, a 28-yard Sun Devils touchdown pass on the third -- the Ducks simply rolled. Test Mariota? He didn't need to throw. It was 22-7 after the first quarter and 43-7 at the break.
"One thing I love about this team," Kelly said, "is we don't flinch."
Oregon rushed for 329 yards. By halftime.
Mariota didn't play in the second half, yielding to Bryan Bennett and the second unit.
Marcus Mariota and Oregon have more challenges than just USC awaiting them in Pac-12 play.
Arizona State entered the game 5-1, ranked 24th in the coaches' poll. The Sun Devils topped the Pac-12 in most major defensive categories and were led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who was No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency. While the naysayers are sure to come out -- they lost to Missouri! -- this was, at least, a solid team.
And Oregon simply curb-stomped them.
Just as they had done to the rest of their Pac-12 schedule thus far. Average margin of victory in four games: 31.8 points. And that includes three teams that have been ranked at some point this season.
In defense of the Sun Devils, they lost their best player -- defensive tackle Will Sutton -- to a knee injury just after he forced a fumble from Mariota on the game's second play. Shortly thereafter defensive end Junior Onyeali went down with a shoulder injury.
Those were major blows to the Sun Devils' defense, without a doubt.
"Losing Will was very disruptive and we did a poor job being prepared for that as a staff," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "So much of what we had planned was around him and you have to have a plan B and it took us well into the game to figure out what to do there. Making no excuses, we got beat by a team tonight that's a lot better than us, but we made them look a lot better by making a lot of mistakes."
The Ducks' defense fully matched the offense. It grabbed four interceptions, two which in the first half were returned inside the Sun Devils' 10-yard line. It also relentlessly pressured Sun Devils quarterbacks, recording five sacks. The first-team defense only gave up the early touchdown on a 28-yard pass. The other Arizona State scores came in the fourth quarter on a pick-six and a late tally against backups.
The Sun Devils finished with 408 yards, but gained only 202 through the first three quarters.
Mariota had an 86-yard TD run, a beautiful 6-yard scoring toss to Bralon Addison and even caught a touchdown pass from Bennett. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 46 yards, bouncing back from the early fumble to demonstrate plenty of poise. In his first road game, in Seattle against Washington State, he threw two interceptions. This was a more polished outing.
"Up in Seattle, I tried to do too much," he said.
But the Ducks aren't going to say too much. They're not into the idea of making statements.
Asked what statement a blowout win made, safety Avery Patterson deadpanned, "That we're 7-0."
Said Mariota, "I'm happy about tonight, but it's just one game."
Oregon's next, er, Super Bowl is at back at home against Colorado on Oct. 27. Then comes the much-ballyhooed trip to USC on Nov. 3.
Whether the Ducks admit it or not, they made a statement: This team is clearly good enough to contend -- again -- for the national title. But, as Kelly and players said, there's plenty of work ahead. Starting with, yes, the woeful Buffaloes.
Said Kelly, "We're going to get everybody's best shot. We know that."
Another part of this evening's statement? Everybody else's best shot may not be enough to even get close to the Ducks.