BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Sun Devils' athleticism figures to provide biggest challenge yet to No. 24 Oregon

Taking the temperature of the 24th-ranked Oregon Ducks as they get set to take on Arizona State in the warm desert, 7 p.m. Saturday:

• "We have our hands full this week," says linebacker Troy Dye, commenting about Arizona State and its offensive talent — QB Manny Wilkins, running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard and receiver N'Keal Harry included.

"They're tremendously better athletically" than nonleague opponents Southern Utah, Nebraska and Wyoming, Dye adds. "We're in Pac-12 play now, you'll see faster offenses, better offenses, bigger and faster guys. We're looking forward to the challenge, and to show people what we're made of."

Adds defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt: "We haven't seen athletes like these, yet. They spread you out, put defenders on islands. We have to be playmakers."OREGON DUCKS FOOTBALL

• The mobility of Wilkins and running prowess of Ballage have the Ducks' attention.

On 6-3, 230-pound Ballage, UO coach Willie Taggart says: "We've got to get a lot of guys to the ball. We can't rely on one guy to tackle him. He's a big and athletic back."

Adds Dye: "He's a load to bring down. Go in there and chop down his legs."

On Wilkins, one of many Sun Devils to miss last year's Oregon game, Taggart says: "He's very athletic. It's important that we contain him. ... He's a very mobile quarterback, and that brings another challenge to a defense. It's the first time it's a good mobile quarterback we've had to go against."

• Ballage has only 179 yards on 49 carries (3.7 average) and four rushing scores. Wilkins has completed 68 percent of his passes for 308 yards per game and seven TDs. Harry has 24 receptions for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and Kyle Williams 14 catches for 200 yards and two TDs.

• The UO defense has been impressive. Taggart says the Ducks have tackled decently, taken the ball away, contained the run, rushed the passer effectively and made third-down stops.

• The Ducks offense also has been impressive — at least in the first half of games — with QB Justin Herbert, running back Royce Freeman, a physical offensive line and young players stepping up for receptions.

On Pac-12 play, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Mario Cristobal says "the sense of urgency has to go up. This is a different animal. ... We're looking at every single week the same way. We want to be in attack mode. Aggressive. Not flinching or hesitating. We want to be aggressive in conference play."

• The status of receiver Charles Nelson, who has predictably become UO's best receiver, remains in doubt because of a sprained ankle suffered against Wyoming.

The passing game might be hindered, or not.

"Charles is an explosive player for us, we all see that," Taggart says. "I don't see the offense changing. He'll be back soon and be ready to go."

• Kicker Aidan Schneider has made only one field-goal attempt, and missed the kick.

"If he's not getting attempts, that means we're scoring touchdowns," Taggart says. "I prefer to score touchdowns, and keep that leg fresh."

• Defensive lineman Scott Pagano, the Clemson transfer, made his debut against Wyoming after offseason foot surgery.

He has made an impact, Taggart says, as a veteran presence "not only to the defensive line but to our entire football team, to teach our guys what it's like to work and be a champion. ... Guys appreciate him as a person."

• Leavitt was in prototypical practice/game mode this week while talking with reporters.

Are the Ducks further along, defensively, than he envisioned?

"I can't think all those thoughts," he says. "One snap, one day. I can't lose focus on what we're doing, or I'll get confused."

• The Ducks had 24 penalties in the first two games, and only four at Wyoming.

"A big part was we eliminated personal fouls," Taggart says. "Those are the selfish penalties we just can't have. On other penalties we play hard, some of those you can deal with. We're stressing that we can't have them, and putting an emphasis on it daily paid off for us."

• Oregon has allowed only three sacks. Arizona State has registered 14 sacks through three games, playing their typical aggressive style. But the Sun Devils will be without injured linebacker Koron Crump.

• The Ducks scored seven points in the second half at Wyoming, a week after going scoreless after halftime against Nebraska — of course, they scored 42 points in the first half of those games, and had plenty of cushion in those games.

Co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo says it's an issue of needing to "overcome human nature" of being way ahead and still needing to play aggressively and well.

"Not concerned at all," Taggart says. "It's great when you can win big and still have a lot to improve on."

• Are there punting concerns? After averaging 38 yards on his first seven punts of the season, freshman Adam Stack finished with a 29.7 average at Wyoming thanks to second-half punts of 23 and 21 yards.

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