ASU football heads to Oregon seeking first win in Eugene since 2004

The Sun Devils can snap a nine-game losing streak against the Ducks at Autzen Stadium Saturday

Who: Arizona State at Oregon

Where: Autzen Stadium

When: 2 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks

Series: Oregon leads 18-16 all-time

Last meeting: Ducks won 61-55 in triple overtime on Oct. 29, 2015 in Tempe

Here we go again.

Last season, on Oct. 29, 2015, a pair of middling programs in their respective divisions – each trying to climb up to the next rung of the Pac-12 ladder and avoid a mediocre finish to the final third of their schedule – met in Tempe.

ASU football fans know exactly what happened on that Thursday night – a 61-55 triple overtime thriller that they probably don’t want to revisit – aside from the replay controversy (10:56 in video below) that heightened the drama of a game that was arguably one of the wildest in Sun Devil Stadium history. ASU went on to have its worst season under head coach Todd Graham, and Oregon finished 9-4 and a game back of Stanford in the Pac-12 North.

“I don’t think our guys think about last year very much,” Graham said of the marathon shootout loss last season.

On the line this time for the Ducks (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) is a nine game winning streak against the Sun Devils (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) which ties the longest streak either team has held in their rivalry dating back to 1966. In addition, ASU hasn’t won in Eugene since 2004, when former Sun Devil head coach Dirk Koetter matched wits with former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.

“Obviously, it will be a difficult place to play,” Graham said. “But we have to get on the road and play well.”

Oregon has lost four straight, matching the program’s longest single season losing streak since 2002. The Ducks haven’t lost five or more consecutive games in a season since 1996, per College Football Reference.

There’s also pride at stake – as it happens, 2004 was the last time the Ducks finished the year below .500 and missed out on a bowl game. For a program that has been the toast of the Pac-12 and nationally relevant for the last two decades while recording seven straight 10-win seasons from 2008 to 2014, Oregon’s slow start is a paradigm shift in the wrong direction. As a result, head coach Mark Helfrich’s seat is the hottest it’s been since he took over for fan favorite Chip Kelly.

The good news for the Sun Devils, despite their myriad injuries, is that they won’t have to stop Marcus Mariota or Vernon Adams. Freshman quarterback Justin Herbert will likely face off against a reinvigorated Sun Devil pass rush, though injuries to redshirt senior linebacker Salamo Fiso, sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr and redshirt sophomore safety Armand Perry will leave holes in key spots for the ASU defense.

As a result, redshirt freshman running back Jason Lewis has been thrown into the mix at linebacker. While he may not make an in-game impact right away, Patterson said Lewis has “a tremendous upside” for the future.

“At one point, I had multiple All-Conference performers at linebacker,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “They all had one characteristic in common, and it was the fact that they were high school running backs.

“I think he fits that mode, he’s got a great body, a 250-pound athletic guy that can run. And I think he’s excited to play the position.”

In terms of game-planning for Saturday, Patterson explained the challenges Herbert’s dual-threat ability poses. As a runner who can wait to throw until the last minute, Herbert presents an even bigger problem when he can dump the ball off to any one of several explosive players in one of the deepest talent pools of skill position players in the Pac-12.

“He does a nice job spreading the ball around,” Patterson said. “He’s a threat to run, he has great size … I think his accuracy might be a little bit better. I thought he did a nice job. If you allow those guys to maintain that balance, they could be in for a long day.”

The Ducks are fourth in the conference in total offense (3,419 yards) and fourth in points per game, averaging 38.6 points per contest.

“Obviously, they are very talented team offensively,” Graham said. “Their wide receiver corps is great and they probably have the best running back corps in the conference. Offensively they are explosive and they can really hurt you, but their defense has struggled. They are very dynamic on special teams. (Junior wide receiver Charles Nelson) is the best punt-returner and kick-returner that we will face.”

Junior running back Royce Freeman (523 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) is looking to extend Oregon’s streak of nine years with a 1,000 yard rusher to a full decade, and is the go-to weapon for the Ducks in the backfield.

“He’s a little bit banged up, but I assume he’ll be healthy against us, just the way the season’s going,” Patterson said. “He’s the guy – he’s an NFL running back.”

The Sun Devils, meanwhile, are once again keeping their quarterback situation mostly under wraps, though offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins is “doing well” and trying his best to be available Saturday.

“He’s trying to do everything he can do to be ready,” Lindsey said. “Just like he did last week, and it’s proof that he’ll get himself ready and be available, that’s what we’re hoping.”

Oregon’s defense isn’t statistically impressive, allowing an FBS-worst 539 yards per game, but its size and length and 4-3 scheme will all present challenges for whoever is under center Saturday.

“At the end of the day, the odd front makes you want to get into certain sets,” Lindsey said. “It comes down to executing. You’ve got to execute when they mix up the fronts as well as Oregon does.”


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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