The Oregon Ducks have managed to expose both of Arizona’s Pac-12 football teams, showing us all they just aren’t ready for prime time.
No. 3 Oregon took down the University of Arizona, 49-0, after the Wildcats got off to a 3-0 start to the season. And last night, it was Arizona State‘s turn to get schooled – before a home ‘black out’ crowd of 71,004 that was expecting their No.24-ranked team to hang with the high-octane Ducks.
The 43-21 final score could have been much worse, had Oregon coach Chip Kelly not decided to begin making substitutions early in the second half. The high-octane Ducks were averaging 52 points a game coming into this one.
Actually, it took the Sun Devils (5-2) less than a minute last night to do what the Arizona Wildcats couldn’t do in an entire game. They scored a touchdown against Oregon when Will Sutton knocked the ball loose from quarterback Marcus Mariota on the second play of the game, and then a Kevin Ozier 28-yard reception on ASU’s first play from scrimmage put the score on the board at the 14:11 mark.
But Oregon wasted no time in stomping on the jubilation that filled Sun Devil Stadium, re-centering the college football universe with a dose of reality.
It took the Ducks just two plays from scrimmage to not only score, but convert a two-point conversion attempt to regain the lead, 8-7, just 23 seconds later.
Then Oregon took its time on the next two drives, taking 14 plays to tack on another score, and then running it to 22-7 on a 15-play drive to close out the first quarter.
The long drives were not typical hurry-up Oregon, which normally caps a scoring drive in two minutes or less – and had racked up 14 drives coming into this game that lasted a minute or less.
They even added a new twist on this one, putting two quarterbacks on the field at the same time and scoring when the back-up quarterback, Bryan Bennett, took the snap and then pitched out to Mariotta, who dove into the end zone from about five yards out.
But the real psychological damage in that first quarter came following a couple of key injuries that took the air out of ASU’s emotional momentum coming into the game. Sutton suffered a knee injury on that first play from scrimmage and fellow defensive lineman Junior Onyeali was sidelined less than nine minutes into the game with a shoulder injury. The pair formed the heart and soul of the ASU defense.
The second quarter didn’t start any better. And certainly didn’t finish any better.
On the first play of the second quarter, Boseko Lokombo intercepted a Taylor Kelly pass and carried it back to the ASU six-yard line to set up the visitors’ fourth touchdown three plays later by Kenjon Barner. The Ducks took just 56 seconds to add that one and make it 29-7.
Kelly had two interceptions on the night and finished with just 93 yards passing on 10 completions.
An 86-yard run by Mariota made it 36-7 with 12:26 yet to be played before the half, prompting Rece Davis on the ESPN broadcast team to explain to their national audience that “this one is over… it’s a blow-out.”
The words still lingered in the desert night air when the Ducks regained the ball with an interception at the ASU 35 when Kelly’s pass attempt ricocheted off the hands of his intended receiver and into the hands of an Oregon defender. That would soon result in the 43-7 lead the Ducks took into the locker room at halftime.
ASU managed to stop the bleeding in the third quarter, as Oregon began pulling its starters, and neither team scored during those 15 minutes.
The Devils had a few chances to put some points on the board as the fourth quarter got underway. But Oregon made a goal-line stand in the opening minutes to keep ASU out of the end zone and then, when the Devils threatened again minutes later, they intercepted Michael Eubanks on the goal line on a fourth-down pass attempt. Eubanks, the redshirt freshman, has just taken over for Kelly to try to get something started.
Then, with a little more than nine minutes left in the game, that elusive score came in front of a crowd that had thinned considerably by that time when Anthony Jones intercepted Oregon’s back-up QB at the 36 and carried it in to make it 43-14.
D.J. Foster made the score a little more respectable when he pulled in a Eubanks pass on 4th-and-6 and turned it into a 23-yard gain and a touchdown with 4:47 left to play.
But it was too little, too late. And now the Sun Devils have to shake off the stunning setback and try to get ready for the next game, and the remainder of the schedule that still holds some promise for post-season play.
Their rivals down in Tucson weren’t able to do that. The Oregon loss was the first of three in a row and the Wildcats went from an undefeated team to a .500 team. Their misfortune was to have a couple of ranked teams waiting after Oregon.
ASU faces UCLA next, a game the Devils have been focused on all season. The Bruins aren’t ranked, but are 5-2, coming off a 21-14 win over Utah, and will have had a bye week to prepare for the game in Tempe.
After that it’s Oregon State, which is currently the No. 8 team in the BCS standings.
It’s a good thing the Devils got off to a good start this season… because the party might be over.
(Photo: Oregon Athletics)