The Oregon Ducks entered Sun Devil Stadium Thursday night riding an 8-game win streak against the Arizona State Sun Devils. By the end of the game, Oregon and Arizona State had played out one of the most memorable games in Duck football history.
Oregon jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the 1st quarter, led by superstar sophomore RB Royce Freeman and his 64-yard touchdown run.
In years past, that lead would’ve signaled the beginning of the end for another Oregon blowout win. This year, things are different. Arizona State answered back in the 2nd quarter, clipping Oregon’s lead down to 17-14 by halftime, and all but shutting down the Oregon run game.
In fact, the Oregon offense looked so miserable that Arizona State coach Todd Graham told reporters after the game, “There was never a point in the game where I didn’t think we were going to win.”
In the 3rd quarter Arizona State came out white-hot on offense, amassing a total of 229 yards on 30 offensive plays, against the Oregon defense. Arizona State took a hold of the game by scoring on 3 consecutive drives, building a 31-20 lead.
Sun Devil Stadium was electric at that point, with the home fans worked into a frenzy. All the momentum appeared to be swinging Arizona State’s way.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Charles Nelson happened.
Oregon’s sophomore safety and return specialist Nelson received Arizona State’s kickoff and took it 100 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown. Not to be outdone, when Oregon received the ball back, after forcing a Sun Devil punt, Oregon sophomore RB Kani Benoit took off for a 62-yard touchdown run to give Oregon a 34-31 lead heading into the 4th quarter.
In the 4th quarter, Arizona State regained the lead with 10 unanswered points, taking a 41-34 lead. The Ducks were faced with a season defining moment, it was time to put-up or shut-up.
The Ducks chose the former, grinding out a 60-yard, clock-eating drive, that resulted in a magical 4th-down touchdown throw by Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. with only 12 seconds left in regulation.
Arizona State senior safety and captain Jordan Simone spoke about the play, saying, “It’s really frustrating. Us as a defense, we never want to give up anything like that. Too many critical errors, and things that we can control. We’ve gotta do what we’re coached to do at the end of the day.”
Oregon and Arizona State would go on to battle toe-to-toe for 3 overtimes, exchanging touchdowns like counter-punches, before Oregon sophomore DB Arrion Springs made the game winning interception in the end zone.
As Arizona State fans fell suddenly silent, Sun Devil stadium erupted with cheers from Oregon’s traveling fans, and the Duck players themselves, as they rushed the field to celebrate their thriller of a victory.
Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici was asked postgame about what he saw on that final play of the game, “It was man-coverage, we had a play on where it was a simple slant and a fade, and I decided to throw the slant. As the quarterback it’s on me, I can’t make that mistake. It was 2nd down and we had a couple lives ahead of us. It’s gonna hurt.”
Adams was the star for a Ducks offense that struggled to maintain consistency throughout the game. He amassed 315 yards passing to go along with 4 passing touchdowns.
However, the number that won’t show up on the stat sheet is the number of times Adams escaped Arizona State’s relentless pass rush, turning a number of seemingly negative plays into positive yardage.
After the game, coach Todd Graham lamented the missed opportunities by his defense, “They didn’t do anything we didn’t practice. What killed us was we couldn’t tackle. We had their quarterback dead to rights and we couldn’t get him down. We got them 3rd- or 4th-and-12, guy (Adams) scrambles around, bounces off of us, and throws up a prayer. One guy comes off his man, got to stay on your man. That was pretty disheartening.”
Coach Graham went on to comment about the focus of their defense when it came to game-planning for Oregon’s offense, while conveying a loss for words at QB Adams Jr. performance, “We spent a lot of time game-planning for No. 21 (RB Freeman), No. 2 (WR Bralon Addison), No. 5 (RB Taj Griffin) and No. 6 (S/KR Nelson).
“There really wasn’t much he (QB Adams) did, he’s a scrambler, but it’s a head-scratcher when you’ve got a straight shot on a guy and you don’t get him down. He’s strong I guess, and slippery to tackle. I don’t know, that puzzled me a bit.”
In the end, perhaps No. 3 was the number that Arizona State will wish they would’ve spent more time preparing for. Oregon will look to continue their win streak next weekend at home against Cal.
Top Photo from David Pyles