The Oregon Ducks struggled on the road in the 2018-2019 season. Their only two wins away from home came against a sluggish Cal team, ranked 24th in the AP Poll at the time, and in-state rival Oregon State — hardly wins to get excited about.
This year, the Ducks have notable road games in difficult environments such as Jerry’s World, Stanford and Washington, as well as less intense environments such as the half-empty coliseum in Los Angeles. The road to the Pac-12 championship, however, has typically presented some potholes on the path through Arizona.
In late November, the Ducks will make a trip down to Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils of the South division. In a critical part of the season, the Ducks cannot afford another letdown at the hands of an AZ team. The state of Arizona has not been kind to the Ducks in recent years, as Oregon has lost three out of the last four games against the Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats in AZ. The Wildcats defeated the Ducks in Tucson in 2013 and, of course, last season. The Sun Devils stopped all momentum the Ducks had rolling for them in 2017, defeating the Ducks in Tempe.
The Ducks have not left Tucson with a victory since 2011, and have not won in Tempe since 2015. Granted, Oregon doesn’t play in Arizona every season due to scheduling, but Arizona games have been a test. Looking at other notable Pac-12 North teams, success in the desert has been tough to come by. The Washington Huskies have not won a game in Tempe since 2001, and although Washington State beat the Sun Devils in 2016, they also had previously not won a game in Tempe since 2001, either. Stanford is the outlier, as the Cardinal has actually fared pretty well in Arizona. This year’s schedule has the Ducks playing the Wildcats in Eugene, but they do visit Herm Edwards country to face the Sun Devils.
Looking back to 2015, the Ducks won a thriller at Arizona State where Vernon Adams Jr. conducted a video game-esque 4th and Goal to send the game to overtime. The Ducks then won in the third overtime period on a controversial, toe-tapping touchdown. In the most recent tilt in Tempe, the Ducks had a tough time getting things going on third down, which really told the story. Oregon was 1 for 11 on third down, but still had an opportunity to come out with the victory late.
The Ducks had just cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time in a year, and had momentum after starting 3-0 with solid victories over Nebraska and an upstart, Josh Allen-led Wyoming team on the road. The Ducks made a nice comeback after being down 31-14 in the third quarter, but the Sun Devils put an end to all the aforementioned activity when kicker Brandon Ruiz split the uprights from 41 yards out with less than three minutes remaining.
The Ducks’ most recent trip to Arizona was a debacle at the hands of the Wildcats. All hope the Ducks had at making a late-season run for the Pac-12 championship was lost after a 44-15 scolding. Again, the Ducks struggled in all facets of the game, but offensively were only able to muster up 270 total yards and struggled on third down, only going 3 for 16 — against one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12, might I add. At the time, coach Mario Cristobal called the game a “gut-check.”
This season, the Ducks cannot afford a gut-check this late in the season. By November 23, the Ducks will be in the midst of a Pac-12 championship race and, potentially, a College Football Playoff race. The Pac-12 North favorite has been able to contain the Arizona teams in Eugene, but the games in the desert have had their season pass on the struggle bus. There are no layups in conference play and the Arizona swing is not one to take lightly.
Oregon carries an obvious preseason advantage into Tempe, returning its No. 1 offense asset in QB Justin Herbert, while Arizona State is now watching the former cog in their system, N’Keal Harry, catch passes from Tom Brady. It also has to be expected the Ducks repeat what they did two years ago at home against Khalil Tate and the Wildcats. Tate walked into Autzen a Heisman hopeful and left Autzen as, well, not so much. With the amount of hype surrounding the Ducks this season, sweeping the Arizona swing is vital and Duck fans won’t settle for anything less.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Tom Corno
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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