It is a bit ironic, isn’t it? The Pac-12 has flown somewhat under the national radar so far despite the spotlight conference expansion provided heading into the season.
USC being on probation is part of it. Without a national championship contender in LaLa Land, it is convenient for national attention to be distracted. As the conference champion, Oregon’s appearance loss in last January’s BCS game coupled with the opening loss to LSU in the Cowboy’s Classic also makes it easy for a casual fan to dismiss the entire conference as not up to par with the SEC and Big-10. Several teams were less than impressive against non-conference foes as well.
That will change on Saturday when 18th ranked Arizona State shows up at Autzen to take on the 9th ranked Ducks. With ESPN GameDay on hand to showcase the game, much of the football viewing public will see plenty about this showdown between two of the Pac-12 championship contenders.
The Sun Devils are 4-1 overall, but lead the Southern Division with a perfect mark of 3-0.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly’s one paragraph scouting report of ASU?
“The one thing I think is different is he (head coach Dennis Erickson) changed his offense a year ago,” Kelly stated. “He went to more of a spread attack when they brought Noel Mazzone in as the offensive coordinator. They had been kind of a different type of one-back operation before that. But defensively they have been very similar for a long, long time.”
Offensively, it starts with junior quarterback Brock Osweiller , a 6’8’ gun slinger that fits Erickson’s offensive philosophy to a “T”.
“Brock is big and physical,” said Kelly. “You’ve got to wrap him up. You are not going to take him down with an arm tackle. He’s also fairly athletic and was offered a basketball scholarship at Gonzaga as I was told. He can move, he does a good job of buying time in the pocket and keeping plays alive.”
The key for Oregon will be to not allow Osweiller the time to set up in the pocket and find his receivers down field.
“It’s a combination of coverage and not letting him get comfortable throwing the ball on time,” said Kelly. “But when we generate a pass rush, we really need to wrap up when we hit him because he is not going down easily because he is 6’8”, 240 pounds.”
And Osweiller has a plenty of options available to throw to.
“They’ve got really good size in (Gerell) Robinson and (Mike) Willie,” Kelly noted. “And they’ve got kids like Pflu (Sheldon grad, ex Oregon Duck Aaron Pflugrad) and those guys that are just great route runners and have tremendous hands. They always seem to come up with big, big plays when they need to make them. You throw Jamal Miles in there who is just an explosive guy that can really make some plays and as a group they just kind of keep rotating them in.”
Kelly also noted that ASU is probably the best in the conference in terms of ball distribution.
“Osweiller is an equal opportunity guy in terms of getting it out,” he said. ““When they are rolling and humming they got four wide-outs in the game a throw it to all four of them. If you try to take the inside slot receiver away then he’ll bang it out to the outside guy. And all of sudden, you start to play a little bit more with the outside guy, he will start to take the inside guy. I think they are very opportunistic and they do have a group of them can make catches.”
While Erickson has made a name for himself first at Miami and then Oregon State with high octane offenses, all of his really good teams have also had outstanding defenses. This Sun Devil group may be one of the best he’s ever coached.
“This is a typical Dennis Erickson defense, very well coached,” Kelly observed. “Very gap sound. The one thing about this group is they’ve got 30 seniors on this football team who have played a ton of football. They have been there for a long, long time. So they’ve got a great understanding of what their defense is and then even more important they have a great understanding of how offenses are trying to attack them. It is a fast, physical team that creates a lot of turnovers and it is going to be a big challenge for us offensively.”
Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfect is the heart and soul of that defense, and Kelly paid his respects.
“One of the top, if not the top, linebackers in the conference,” he said. “You have got to be aware of where he is on every play. They do a good job with him. Obviously, he’s in the middle of the action most of the time. It now seems like they are blitzing him a little more and making sure that he creates some pressure on the quarterback trying to get some mismatches in your protection. He’s just a tenacious player that plays all out all the time, so you’ve got to make sure you are very aware where number seven is on every play.”
Kick-off is set for 7:15 pm.
— Rick Morgan for EDN