DUCKS NOTES: Up-tempo ASU launches tough stretch for Oregon
One of four new Pac-12 coaches, Arizona State's Todd Graham took over his program and instituted an up-tempo offense and emphasized conditioning. Sound familiar?
The league's preeminent team, the up-tempo and fast and conditioned Oregon Ducks, pay a visit to Tempe, Ariz. at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN).
Graham expects a severe challenge, although the game promises to have a big-time atmosphere, with a likely sold-out "black-out" crowd a lot of people dressed in black, including the 5-1 (3-0 Pac-12) Sun Devils.
"They've been running that system for quite a while," Graham says, of Oregon. "We've got to try to manage that (tempo/pace) somewhat. A key will be running the football and get stops on defense, early stops.
"It's easier said than done to say you'll slow down Oregon, as far as tempo. Nobody's done that. I think our guys are in good shape. ... I've got a belief in our guys. We have a good football team. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."
A lot has been made of ASU's easy schedule; then again, the Ducks are seemingly facing their toughest opponents in five of the next six weeks ASU, USC, Cal, Stanford, Oregon State.
The Sun Devils, led by quarterback Taylor Kelly and an aggressive defense featuring defending tackle Will Sutton, will surely know where they stand as a potential Pac-12 contender after Thursday.
"This is as good as it gets," Graham says, of the Ducks.
Oregon (6-0, 3-0) has thrashed Arizona, Washington State and Washington in its first three league games. Have they been adequately tested?
"One of the reasons we've been successful is because everybody we play we give the utmost respect to," coach Chip Kelly says. "That's not just talk. It's an unbelievable league every Saturday, you'll look up and go, 'Whoa, did you see that score?'" Case in point: Cal beating UCLA 43-17.
"If you overlook anybody, you'll get knocked off," coach Kelly adds.
Graham understands how much UO's offense can tax defenses. He adds:
"It's important we try to manage our snap count; how many snaps we play defensively. Our goal is not be playing 80-plus snaps on defense. The key to the whole thing is stopping them. When they are rolling and making first downs every time, you are going to manage a lot of snaps. But there are ways of managing when we have the ball. We have to run our offense at the rhythm we run it at. Right now, it's not that fast. It was pretty fast last week (versus Colorado). I thought we were the fastest we've been, but there are ways you can manipulate that and still be a no-huddle (offense)."
Dynamic D.J. Foster, bruising Cameron Marshall (brother of UO's Byron Marshall) and speedster Marion Brice are the top ASU ground gainers, combining for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Graham figures if the Sun Devils force four turnovers, it means less snaps. "Keep it under 70 (snaps for the opponent)," he says. "That's the formula to win, and that is obviously easier said than done."
The Ducks are 40-6 under Kelly, having lost only two league games in winning three consecutive titles at Stanford in 2009 and at home against USC last season.
"Our kids are fired up to play," Kelly says. "If you want to win this league, you've got to win on the road. If you want to be great, not good, you've got to win on the road." Case in point: USC's loss came at Stanford, and Stanford's loss came at Washington.
"This game this week is huge," Kelly adds.
The Ducks will also play at USC (Nov. 3), Cal (Nov. 10) and OSU (Nov. 24).
Graham says the Sun Devils Stadium crowd can be a factor; it's a stadium that has seen its share of docile crowds.
"I encourage our crowd, when they are on offense, to try to break the windows out of the new building (on campus)," he says. "Let's get it loud. We have to do our part and give the crowd an opportunity to get excited.
"Obviously, our guys will be really fired up for this game, but we have to execute our plan, execute our system."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota will be playing in his first true road game Thursday. The "road" game against Washington State was played at Seattle's CenturyLink Field.
The Ducks practice with noise and music blaring to prepare players for road games.
"We don't throw things at him or put up signs demeaning him," jokes Kelly, of ways to prepare Mariota for road affairs.
"We know it's a great stadium (at ASU). Sounds like they're going to pack it. If you're a competitor, you enjoy being in those situations. He's a competitor."
Graham says the Ducks have dynamic players De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner but a redshirt freshman quarterback.
"They don't have a quarterback that has gone through three years without losing on the road. This is his first year," he says. "He is a great athlete and great player, but he hasn't been on the road. So we are hoping we can do things to impact him and minimize the explosive plays."
He continues: "This game, we have to win explosive plays. We have to score points and create takeaways. ... I don't try to look at every great thing they've done and try to be scared to death. I'm going into this game to win it and that is our mentality. I don't mention their players by name. We show (our players film) and say, 'Here's their stats,' and the rest is, 'How do we beat them?' "
The Ducks have dominated the Sun Devils in recent years, winning seven games in a row and 11 of the past 14 in the series, including the past four games at ASU by scoring an average of 43.8 points.
Interestingly, the Ducks haven't lost a game from week two through week eight in each of Kelly's four seasons to date (26-0).
Oregon has scored 30 or more points in 19 consecutive games, and 42 or more in nine in a row
ASU's Sutton, a 6-1, 280-pound junior from Corona, Calif., has 13 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks; the Sun Devils average more than four sacks per game. He leads the ASU defense, which is "very aggressive in their attack," coach Kelly says. "They probably blitz more than any team we've played so far." While Oregon averages a conference-leading 53.2 points and 541.7 yards, the Sun Devils give up a league-low 14.2 points and 272.7 yards.
The Ducks have outscored opponents 112-19 in the first quarter of games, the Sun Devils 62-10.
Barner rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown in UO's 41-27 win against ASU last year in Eugene.
ASU quarterback Kelly, a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore from Eagle, Idaho, ranks third nationally in pass efficiency (176.0 rating). He has 1,700 yards passing, 14 TDs and only two interceptions, and a completion percentage of 68.2 percent.
He's netted 210 yards on the ground (3.7 yards per carry).
Graham says QB Kelly likes to run the ball and "he is such a tough guy, so I don't really worry about it. There have been times when he has taken a couple of shots and I'll have to tell him to protect himself. I don't want him to start being cautious at all."
The Sun Devils average a league-low 31.3 penalty yards per game (26 total penalties in six games) and have only two turnovers in Pac-12 play (both Kelly interceptions versus Colorado).