It was SUPPOSED to be the first real test for both teams, SUPPOSED to be either the next step towards a championship or validation for a new regime, SUPPOSED to be another typical Thursday thriller continuing the long-standing trend of upsets and nail-biters, SUPPOSED to be a lot of things. In the end it proved very little, except that Oregon can score at will when it wishes to do so, and Arizona State remains a work in progress.
In quite possibly the most thorough first half demolition of an opponent ever witnessed by fans of Oregon, the Ducks nonchalantly racked up an astounding 43 points in the first half vs. Arizona State, embarrassing the ASU crowd and team before a national audience.
The lead-up to the game had been played up by both the media and the respective team mascots, mudslinging in the youtube age done at its finest between The Duck in his bid for president and Sparky with his political action committee Concerned Citizens of the Pac-12. Sparky claimed that the Duck can’t be trusted as he doesn’t wear pants, while the Duck simply responded ‘Sparky Who?’ In an attempt to get a sellout crowd in Sun Devil Stadium the campaign to “Black Out The Duck” proved successful, if the goal was to draw a few laughs from fans, but aside from the scoreboard proving sporks are indeed better than forks the blackout attempt before a national TV audience was little bark and zero bite.
The banter took a decidedly more serious turn early the morning of the game, when Oregon fans painted the rock A outside of Sun Devil Stadium green, just after it had been painted black by students to match the blackout theme of the evening.
There is no greater insult than to attack the A, which is guarded by students around the clock when it comes time to play their rivals, the University of Arizona. Not anticipating Oregon fans to stoop to this level, it could have been a rallying cry to will ASU to the improbable upset, instead it turned into salt rubbed in the wounds left after only the first quarter between two clearly mismatched teams.
Arizona State was one of four teams in the Pac-12 Conference to change coaches in 2012, hiring away Todd Graham from Pitt to take over a team that was talented, but underachieved and played highly undisciplined under former head coach Dennis Erickson, ASU previously leading the nation in penalty yardage.
Graham’s team has performed admirably in the season, coming into Thursday with a 5-1 record, only having lost to Missouri but playing a schedule that left little in proven competition. So too did Oregon have something to prove, having also played a light schedule though escaping unscathed at 6-0, its only previous away game at a neutral site vs. WSU in Seattle.
Coach Graham’s efforts through the first six games have been impressive in changing the identity of the traditionally underachieving Sun Devils, but on this night ASU reverted to their old ways and then some, playing the role of their own worst enemy through 3 1/2 quarters of futility before making it slightly respectable in the waning moments.
In fact, it took only two plays for the game to essentially end.
On the second play from scrimmage, ASU’s star defensive tackle Will Sutton burst through the line and disrupted the handoff in the backfield, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Sun Devils.
However in doing so, Sutton banged his knee on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s leg in a way that severely injured Sutton while leaving Mariota completely unharmed. The Sun Devils capitalized on the turnover scoring a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, but it would be the only joy ASU would find all night. When the Sun Devils lost Sutton on the second play, they lost the game.
With Sutton’s knee injury forcing him to leave the game, there was a huge hole left in the #1-rated Pac-12 defense’s front. It took only two plays for Oregon to take advantage, senior RB Kenjon Barner bursting through the trenches attacking the very spot Sutton had just been forced to vacate on his way to a 71 yard touchdown. A quick two point conversion, and Oregon was ahead 8-7 while most fans were still making their way to their seats barely a minute in to the game. ASU would never lead again.
Following the one lapse touchdown following the fumble, Oregon’s defense locked down, bringing a brutal pass rush leaving ASU QB Taylor Kelly scrambling for his life. Arizona native senior defensive end Dion Jordan terrorized Kelly, sacking him twice in the first half and forcing him out of the pocket on numerous plays.
Meanwhile, ASU’s injury problems mounted. Their starting guard Andrew Sampson suffered a leg injury, the starting defensive end Junior Onyeali was taken out with a shoulder injury. They would return, but provide little in valuable production hampered by the losses.
Indeed, the game’s momentum swung so quickly in Oregon’s favor, that it felt as though the instant Sutton was injured on the second snap that ASU’s chances in the game ended then and there.
One drive after another from Oregon came in waves, either through quick strikes such as Barner’s 71 yard run or Marcus Mariota’s 86-yarder, or in long sustained drives that punished the ASU defense.
By the time the second quarter started, the game was already out of hand, 22-7 with Oregon driving again. The second quarter fared no better, Oregon shutting out ASU while tacking on three more touchdowns to make it 43-7 at the half.
By mid-second quarter, it was clear that Oregon was already letting off the gas, content to go through the motions burning the clock and hopefully escaping the game without injury. The Ducks, averaging 300 yards rushing per game, ran all over the Sutton-less ASU defense, racking up 406 total on the night. With run lanes open all night, there was little need to attack by any other means, the Ducks only accumulating 48 yards total through the air on 11-of-19 passing.
ASU meanwhile found themselves down another touchdown with each passing minute, a top-10 ranked defense looking more like a squad akin to a flag football rec league. Everything Oregon tried worked, even impromptu moments of experimenting on the fly.
In without question the most memorable moment from the game, with Oregon in the redzone once more the Ducks decided to get tricky, putting both quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett on the field simultaneously. Bennett took the snap and kept the ball on a run towards the goal line, but upon being hit short of the line and appearing wrapped up for a sack, somehow lobbed the ball outside to Mariota, left unguarded along the sideline, who dove for a touchdown. It was quite possibly the first quarterback-to-quarterback touchdown pass in Oregon history, and the first touchdown catch for a UO QB since Joey Harrington in the 2000 Holiday Bowl.
By the half, fans were streaming out to the bars, and much of the media were already off discussing other topics of the day, simply awaiting the inevitable.
The second half would prove quite pointless, neither team moving the ball with much success until a couple late scores by ASU, one on an interception return for touchdown, another on a pass with less than five minutes remaining. Oregon seemed content to sit on the ball, not scoring at all in the second half after doing so with little obstruction throughout the first half.
With the reserves playing almost the entire 2nd half, even ASU threw in the towel early, pulling Kelly in the 2nd half in favor of backup QB Michael Eubank. 43-21 would be the final score, but if Oregon had wanted to, it might as well have been 70-7. It felt like 70-7.
While the Ducks would only muster less than 50 yards total through the air, both Barner and Mariota rushed for over 100 yards, Barner tacking on three touchdowns for good measure. Oregon’s defense forced five turnovers on an ASU team that had been so proficient in ball control until Thursday.
No matter how much it may have felt like Todd Graham had changed this ASU program, when faced with a true opponent, they reverted back to the same ol’ Sun Devils–defeated, lacking heart, flustered, and likely to crumble in the second half of the year facing a brutal remaining schedule, the loss moving USC ahead of them in the rankings of the Pac-12 South Division. Different coach, same results…at least for now.
For Oregon meanwhile, the game proved the doubters wrong, and put tremendous fear into USC and other upcoming opponents, including possibly those striving for a spot in the BCS national championship. The Ducks casually racked up 43 first half points, and could have done far more damage had the starters remained in the game and playing at the pace which Oregon began the game. With USC having lost earlier to Stanford, Oregon on a nationally-televised Thursday night game proved that they are the elite team in the country west of the Mississippi.
Next for Oregon comes Colorado to Autzen Stadium, a near-impossible task for the rebuilding Buffaloes, then all eyes shift to the November 3rd matchup in Los Angeles vs. USC. Oregon is 7-0, expectations higher than ever for these Ducks to achieve greatness; but on Thursday night for one half of football they came as close to perfection as may have ever been witnessed.
- This was the fourth consecutive Oregon Ducks night game broadcast nationally by ESPN or ESPN2.
- The last time Oregon played a Thursday night game in Arizona, it was 2007 at the University of Arizona. Oregon’s national championship and Heisman Trophy hopes were simultaneously dashed in a heartbreaking loss.
- Oregon came into the game ranked 2nd in all human polls, but #3 in the first BCS rankings.
- Coming into the game vs. ASU, Oregon had been beating opponents by on average 32 points per game.
- The win over ASU was Oregon’s 10th in a row, second longest active streak in the country (Alabama). During that stretch Oregon has scored 42+ points in every single game, the longest active streak of 42+ point games in the country.
- Oregon has scored 30+ points in 19 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the country. Oregon is 38-2 under Chip Kelly when scoring 30 or more.
- Under Head Coach Chip Kelly the Ducks have never lost a game between week 2 and week 8.
- The victory over ASU was Oregon’s 8th in a row in the series, and the 12th win out of the last 15 matchups.
- Oregon has four interceptions returned for a touchdown on the season (best since 1991), but came close to having two more, with Avery Patterson and Boseko Lokombo both returning interceptions to near the goal line. Patterson’s was returned to the 1-yard line, leaving him just short of his third consecutive interception returned for a touchdown in three straight games.
- Oregon’s first scoring drive took only 17 seconds (Barner 71 yard TD run), the 15th drive of the season culminating in a touchdown that took less than a minute to complete.
- Oregon senior RB Kenjon Barner broke 100 yards rushing, in the first quarter, on only five carries.
- Marcus Mariota’s touchdown catch was the first for an Oregon quarterback since Joey Harrington in the 2000 Holiday Bowl. Mariota joins Harrington as the only Oregon quarterbacks to have run, caught, and thrown for touchdowns in the same game.
- Marcus Mariota’s 86 yard touchdown run was the longest in school history for a quarterback.
- ASU had nine punt return yards in the game, bringing Oregon’s net punt return yards given up through seven games at 5 yards total net.
- Coming into the game, Arizona State had only given up 10 points in the first quarter all season, the Ducks scored 22 in the 1st quarter.
- Since Chip Kelly’s arrival in Eugene, Oregon has now scored 40 points or more in the first half of games six times, the most of any school in the country.
- Oregon kicker Rob Beard has never missed an extra point, and converted a two-point conversion in the game as well, the pass being tipped but still converted.
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2nd Half Photos:
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