ASU’s anticipation to storm out of Tillman Tunnel and face Oregon is similar to an exuberant child on Christmas morning.
However, overly excited children often let emotions get the best of them, something the Sun Devils (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) cannot afford to do, as junior safety Alden Darby said.
“When a kid opens a gift and gets overly excited, he usually messes up,” Darby said. “We can’t get like that. We’ve got to stay calm.”
The anticipated atmosphere for Thursday’s bout against the No. 3 Ducks (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) is one full of energy. With several NFL scouts expected to be on hand, the Sun Devils and approximately 70,000 fans will be wearing all black for a nationally televised contest.
It will be an emotional game that ASU wants to feed off of, but also needs to have the discipline to follow the game plan.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “The guys are excited, but we have to stay focused on the job at hand, do what we’ve got to do and get the job done.”
Focusing on the task at hand and ignoring distractions is certainly the right approach, but it is easier said than done.
Upsetting the Ducks and spiking a pitchfork into the middle of the Pac-12 and national championship races won’t be easy.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s not a better football team in the country than what I’m seeing on film,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “The thing we want to do is avoid beating ourselves. (Oregon) capitalizes on that stuff, that’s what championship teams do.”
Oregon’s prolific offense is averaging just over 52 points and 541 yards per game. The Ducks, led by senior running back Kenjon Barner and sophomore running back De’Anthony Thomas, have accumulated 18 plays of 25 yards or more this season.
Oregon’s offense is predicated on speed and getting the ball to its playmakers in the open field, which means the Sun Devils need to fill their gaps and be effective tacklers.
“Assignment soundness is everything,” Darby said. “Read the wrong gap, touchdown. Miss a tackle, touchdown. Over pursue, touchdown.”
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Will Sutton, who has 39 tackles this season (13 have resulted in a loss of yards), also understands the importance of focusing on every snap.
“Tackling in the open field is the main thing,” Sutton said. “We have to tackle in the open field.”
Simply getting the ball to fast, athletic players is only part of what makes the Ducks so effective. Oregon coach Chip Kelly has pioneered an offense that runs plays with rapid frequency.
Since teams are not used to defending an offense advancing the ball so quickly, opponents often wear down late in the game. However, the Sun Devils are outscoring opponents 64-7 in the fourth quarter, and believe they are conditioned enough to keep pace with the Ducks.
“Statistics have shown that we have done a great job in the fourth quarter of locking teams up,” redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. “I think we’re in pretty good physical condition and I think it shows on the field in the fourth quarter.”
Oregon’s offense garners a lot of attention, but the Sun Devils have shown they are capable of scoring as well. Taylor Kelly’s offense is averaging 40.5 points per game, which ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils typically start games fast, outscoring opponents 62-10 in the first quarter, but Graham knows the offense is in for a challenge this week.
“Defensively they are very good, probably the best defense we will face,” Graham said.
Kelly knows the Ducks are a formidable opponent, but believes his team simply needs to play the way it has been.
“(We need to) do what we’ve been doing all year long, (which is) protecting the football and having everyone do their job,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to be great with our reads, running the football and our protections.”
Hype, excess analysis and predictions will all be prevalent leading up to kickoff, but the Sun Devils know a tremendous opportunity, like a present on Christmas morning, awaits.
“It’s Oregon,” Darby said. “Nothing really more to say.”
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