Arizona State a 'huge game' for Kelly, Ducks

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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Oregon, steadfastly adhering to coach Chip Kelly's philosophies, only plays nameless, faceless opponents. And every week is a Super Bowl. There are no rivalries. There are no special emotions. The idea is simple. You should always be 100 percent focused on the task at hand because 75 percent means you're letting your team down and 110 percent is hyperbole.

And yet.

Sometimes even Kelly admits sensing a notable pregame buzz. He did this week, as his Ducks appear to be facing their toughest test to date: a road trip to 5-1 Arizona State on Thursday night on ESPN.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/US PresswireMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks take on the Sun Devils at Arizona St. tonight (9 ET, ESPN).
"It's got a huge-game feel," Kelly said. "Our kids are fired up to go down there. If you want to win this league, you've got to win on the road."

While the Ducks already have whipped a pair of ranked teams -- they dispatched Arizona and Washington by a combined count of 101-21 -- they have yet to play an A-list foe on the road. The Sun Devils are hoping to be rude hosts by creating a difficult atmosphere, one that might shake up redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"When Oregon is on the offense, and this is the first time that they have been on the road in this type of atmosphere. I encourage our crowd, when they are on offense, to try to break the windows out of the new building over there," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Let's get it loud."

Arizona State's defensive plan is simple. Slow down the Ducks' running game and attack Mariota with a variety of stunts. Then hope the pressure and the crowd noise cause him to make mistakes.

The Sun Devils' defense has been very good at attacking. It ranks second in the nation in sacks (4.33 per game) and tackles for a loss (9.83 per game).

"They are very aggressive with their attack," Kelly said. "Probably blitz more than any team we've faced so far. Got some really good players."

As for the Sun Devils' offense against the Ducks' defense, Graham has another card up his sleeve. His good friend is Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn, who was Auburn's offensive coordinator when it beat Oregon for the national title after the 2010 season. The Ducks beat Arkansas State 57-34 in the season opener, so Malzahn, who runs a very similar offense to Arizona State, has a good idea of what Graham and his team will be facing and perhaps has some ideas on how to counter it.

Said Graham: "We spent a little bit a time talking. We actually exchanged film and stuff like that, trying to help each other. I talked to him a bit; they played Oregon and played them in the National Championship Game and then played them this year. He told me they were pretty good."

"Pretty good" is one of the issues for the Sun Devils. They've yet to play a team with a winning record, so they've yet to measure themselves against a team that falls into that category. This matchup with the No. 3 Ducks could provide them national legitimacy, or it could unmask them.

Oregon and Arizona State are fast-paced, no-huddle teams, though Graham admitted he will be tempted to slow things down a bit because his team is not as deep as Oregon's. As usual when facing Oregon, turnovers and explosion plays will be key.

But, as Mariota succinctly noted, Point A for any team that hopes to beat Oregon is it must stop the run. The Ducks rank fourth in the nation with 302.3 yards rushing per game.

Said Mariota: "If we can get the run game going, things will be cool for us."

And if they can't, the Sun Devils' defense and its charged home crowd hope to make things hot for Mariota & Co.

Ted Miller | email

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