Chris Jenkins

Three Tines to Victory: Oregon

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This week, the ASU Sun Devils travel to Eugene, Oregon to take on the Oregon Ducks. Although the Ducks are in the midst of a 5-game losing streak, and are 2-5 on the season, they are ranked 51st in the S&P+ ratings, 20 spots ahead of ASU. S&P+ gives the Sun Devils a 32% chance of victory, and a projected margin of defeat of 7.9 points.

It may seem odd that Oregon is the favorite in this game, given the two teams’ records. However, two of Oregon’s losses were close ones to good teams (Nebraska and Colorado), one of which the stats say they should have won easily. They also have losses to two other good teams (Washington and Washington State), and a close loss to a mediocre team (Cal) on the road. According to footballstudyhall.com, they have 3.5 second order wins, which is to say that given their stats against their opponents, they would be expected to have won 3.5 games. That they only have two wins to this point indicates that they have been the victims of some bad luck, or just aren’t making plays when they need to.

ASU, on the other hand, is the opposite. Despite a 5-3 record, the Sun Devils have the same number of second order wins as Oregon, 3.5, which would indicate that they have been the beneficiaries of some good luck and some timely playmaking (like the interceptions at the end of the Cal game). So, rather than think about this game as a good 5-3 team taking on a miserable 2-5 team, we should see this as a game between two pretty even teams, with the road team having some serious injury issues. This isn’t to say that ASU doesn’t have a chance in this game – they definitely do – they just need some things to go their way. Here are the three most important:

First Tine to Victory: Improved Offensive Line Play

It is unknown who is going to start at quarterback for the Sun Devils on Saturday. Manny Wilkins has at least three different injuries he’s dealing with, and from what the media has been able to see this week, he didn’t participate much in practice. Even if he is able to play, he won’t be 100%. If Dillon Sterling-Cole starts, he will be making his first career start as a true freshman on the road at Autzen Stadium, a notoriously loud venue. Either way, the ASU quarterback will be facing a less than ideal situation, and will need the help of the offensive line in order to be successful, both in pass protection and in the run game.offensivelinewsuvasu2016-38

This could be a challenge, however, as the o-line is dealing with its own injury issues. Left guard Sam Jones missed last week’s game, and is doubtful this week. Center A.J. McCollum also missed last week’s game due to personal issues, and has not been at practice this week. This won’t help a unit that has struggled the last several games. ASU has only averaged 2.7 yards/rush over the last five games, and the o-line’s adjusted line yards has steadily declined throughout the season, leaving them ranked 97th this week.

All is not lost, however, as the Oregon defense is horrible. They give up 5.9 yards/rush, ranking 122nd in FBS, and allow a rushing success rate of 52%, which ranks 125th. Their pass defense isn’t much better, giving up a success rate of 48% (121st). These success rate numbers indicate that their defense is consistently poor on a play-to-play basis (as opposed to ASU’s defense, which has a good success rate, but gives up too many big plays).

If ASU’s offensive line can get their stuff together, they should be able to take advantage of Oregon’s week defense. If they can run the ball, and keep whichever quarterback from spending too much time running for his life, the Devils should be able to score some points in this game.

Second Tine to Victory: Force Turnovers

As poor as Oregon’s defense is, their offense is still quite formidable. They rank 7th in offensive S&P+, and average 6.3 yards/play, ranking 19th. Against ASU’s defense, which has been especially bad on the road, the Ducks will likely be able to rack up some yards. The Sun Devils’ best hope is to get some stops through turnovers, ideally at key points in the game, much as they did in wins against Texas Tech, Cal and UCLA. Additionally, if the turnovers were able to set up easy scoring opportunities, that might dig a hole too deep for the Ducks to get out of, especially with a defense that struggles to get stops.

Third Tine to Victory: Jump on the Ducks Earlytimwhitewsuvasu2016-218

Oregon’s season has been a huge disappointment so far. They are on a five-game losing streak, there are rumors of players not giving their best effort, and head coach Mark Helfrich is on the hot seat. Their poor defense seems to be getting worse, as they’ve given up more than 50 points in each of their last three games. This is the type of situation where a team can start to lose focus, and any amount of adversity could be too much to overcome. If ASU were to jump out to an early lead, the Ducks might not have the resolve to mentally stay in the game.

Conversely, Oregon is still a team with a fair amount of talent, and a good offensive unit. If things start well for them, they could gain some confidence, and a focused Oregon offense would be hard for ASU to stop.

With the recent losses and injuries, ASU’s hopes of winning the division have disappeared, but a victory at Oregon would set up the Sun Devils for a decent finish to the season. If the Devils start the game well, get some turnovers, and get some good o-line play, they will have a decent shot to do so.

About Chris Jenkins

Chris Jenkins

Chris is a long time Sun Devil fan who has had season tickets for 20+ years. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2004 with a degree in economics, and later returned to get his master’s degree in accounting, the field in which he currently works. His football passion is analysis of schemes and stats, and his football experience includes being the backup quarterback of his high school football team, and a moderately successful 1-year stint as the offensive coordinator of his little brother’s Pop Warner team. He currently resides in Goodyear, AZ with his wife and 4 children.

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