As a newcomer to Eugene, Oregon Head Coach, Willie Taggart, has done a great job getting settled in and learning about all things Oregon and Pac-12 football. It turns out though; he has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the whole “Pac-12 After Dark” thing.
The Oregon Ducks (3-0) and Arizona State Sun Devils (1-2) will meet tonight in Tempe, AZ for what will be the first in conference match-up of the season for both teams. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and as most fans of Pac-12 teams will tell you, the conference’s night games have earned a reputation for crazy happenings in recent years. This week, Oregonian reporter, Jen Beyrle asked Coach Taggart what he knew about the apparent trend.
“What is it?” Taggart said, seemingly puzzled.
Hopefully Taggart and his staff won’t have to learn about it all the hard way and if Vegas has it right, they aren’t likely to.
Oregon, who has won the past 6 games in Tempe, is currently favored to beat ASU by 14 points (by the way, ASU hasn’t beaten Oregon since 2004). On paper, Oregon, who has had a tremendous start under Coach Taggart, is the clear favorite. Make no no mistake, though, ASU won’t necessarily be a walk in the park.
With their Head Coach, Todd Graham, presumably on the Hot Seat, the Sun Devil’s certainly have something to play for. And, despite what their overall record says, they’ve had really good success against spread offenses as of late (15-6 at home).
The Ducks definitely has the talent to bring some Oregon rain to the desert but there are certainly some key things for Oregon and its fans to keep in mind before assuming victory. . .
Oregon Defense will be Challenged
As much as the Oregon defense has improved over the past year, they will have their hands full tonight.
First of all, The Sun Devils have been perfect this season (8-8) scoring touchdowns when in the red zone. Oregon’s defense, on the other hand, has struggled keeping teams from scoring when in the red zone.
Second of all, one of the reasons Oregon’s defense has been remarkably better this season is thanks in part to a more experienced secondary and their ability to snag the ball in the air. Unfortunately for Oregon, ASU QB, Manny Wilkins, has thrown 0 interceptions in his last 149 attempts.
Let that sink in.
On the bright side, Oregon’s offense is likely to put on high-scoring show due to a little known X-factor called “Tempo.”
As any college football fan knows, the Ducks are known for their speed and they thrive when they can get their tempo going. When tempo is stalled, things tend to get close, as demonstrated in this year’s game against Nebraska. As Coach Taggart explained after that game, the second half woes were largely due to the Ducks struggling to convert on 3rd down which killed momentum.
Against the Sun Devils, the Ducks may have better luck.
ASU’s defense has allowed teams to convert on 3rd down nearly 55% of the time this season. For the record, that’s the worst in the FBS which equals good news for Oregon.
Half-time Lead will be Key
Last, but not least, Oregon must definitely have the lead going into halftime. With all the struggles ASU has had as of late, they DO have a 32-3 record when leading at the half. Fortunately for Oregon, the Ducks have been a first half team this season, in contrast to years past.
Don’t blink Oregon fans, conference play is finally here and now the real test for Taggart and Co. begins. Things “should” go in Oregon’s favor but again, anything can happen when the sun goes down in the pac-12.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl