Earlier in the week, ASU coach Todd Graham said he spent his life dreaming of an opportunity similar to the one that presented itself Thursday night. Five plays into the game, the coach’s lifelong dream turned into a horrific nightmare.
Two plays after ASU (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) took a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly to redshirt junior receiver Kevin Ozier, Oregon senior running back Kenjon Barner raced 71 yards to give the No. 3 Ducks (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) an 8-7 lead that would not be relinquished.
Barner’s touchdown was one of four Oregon scoring drives of three plays or less and the Duck’s defeated the Sun Devils 43-21 in a game not nearly as close as the score indicates.
“The bottom line tonight was that we were overmatched and had some things happen that can’t happen,” Graham said. “You have to give credit to (Oregon) coach (Chip) Kelly and that team. There’s no doubt they’re one of the best two teams in the country, and they showed that tonight.”
With 72,004 fans dressed in black for the nationally televised contest, the Sun Devils began the game with a lot of emotion.
All week, the team talked about playing within its emotions and not letting the national stage have an impact. However, redshirt senior safety Keelan Johnson believes the atmosphere may have affected his team.
“I think the hype got to a lot of guys,” Johnson said. “With Oregon coming in and being No. 2 (according to the Associated Press Top 25) in the country, they made the guys want to play higher than their potential.”
On Oregon’s second snap from scrimmage, ASU redshirt junior defensive tackle Will Sutton stormed into the Ducks’ backfield and forced a fumble.
The play gave the Sun Devils and their fans an emotional jolt, but Sutton left the game with an apparent knee injury and did not return.
“Losing Will was very disruptive and we did a poor job being prepared being prepared for that as a staff,” Graham said.
Sutton’s status is unknown and he will have an MRI on Friday.
Without Sutton, the Sun Devils’ defense was not the same dominating unit it had been in the first six games.
The Sun Devils allowed the Ducks to accumulate 454 yards of total offense, 406 of which came on the ground.
The Ducks scored on seven of nine first half possessions, but were held scoreless in the shutout. Although Oregon, mainly used its backups after halftime, Graham was pleased with the way his team continued to fight.
“I’m proud of our guys and how they responded,” Graham said. “They came in at halftime and we had no bad body language and went to work. We never gave up. We never quit.”
Offensively, the Sun Devils put up 408 yards of total offense, but were unable to find a rhythm all night.
After scoring on its opening possession, the Sun Devils’ offense did not score until freshman running back D.J. Foster scampered into the end zone with 4:47 left in the fourth quarter.
“Their coverage and lining up guys everywhere (gave us problems),” Kelly said. “We have to get better at working with that. We are an explosive offense. We will put up some points, but Oregon did a great job defensively.”
The loss is certainly a disappointment to the Sun Devils, but at 3-1 in Pac-12 play, ASU controls its own destiny and believes it can rebound and achieve its lofty preseason goals.
“We’re not going to let one loss take us down,” Darby said. “We are going to bounce back at UCLA. We still have that same goal in mind, Pac-12 championship. We are going to see (Oregon) again.”
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