Arizona State heads to Oregon this weekend needing a win to stay alive in the Pac-12 South.
If the Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) can take care of the Ducks on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, then win at rival Arizona in the regular-season finale, the team will go to the league championship game. Or, the Devils could seal a trip a week early if they win at Oregon, combined with a Utah loss at Colorado and an Arizona loss at Washington State.
Basically, there are still a lot of moving parts to the South Division race. What is for sure is that the Sun Devils have those coveted six wins.
“It is fun to say that you are bowl-eligible,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “It is like getting in the playoffs for the NFL. We always say that it is a race to 10 in the NFL. If you can get to 10, things start looking really good. You will probably make it into the playoffs and if you win a few more, you can maybe win your division. In college, if you win six, you are eligible for a bowl and if you win more, then bigger bowls appear. Our players are well aware of that. It is a good thing.”
The Sun Devils are coming off a 31-28 victory over UCLA for their third straight win. It gave them bowl eligibility.
The Ducks (6-4, 3-4) are also bowl-eligible but have stumbled with three losses in their last four games. Saturday’s game will be Oregon’s last at home this season before the Civil War against Oregon State on Thanksgiving weekend in Corvallis.
A victory against the Sun Devils would assure that Oregon finishes above .500.
The Ducks are coming off a 32-25 loss at Utah last Saturday.
The Sun Devils will be without freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson for the first half against Oregon after he was flagged for targeting UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight in the third quarter of last weekend’s game.
Robertson has 66 tackles, five sacks, an interception and a recovered fumble this season.
“He is standing with me with a baseball hat,” Edwards said. “Let him get a couple of plays called and then as soon as he can go in, I’m going to shove him in there real fast.”
The waiting is the hardest part
The game in Eugene comes at 7:30 p.m. local time, after three straight daytime starts for the Sun Devils. Then there is the temperature, which Saturday night at kickoff is expected to be 43 degrees.
“I have played in some really cold, cold games and they don’t cancel them, you just play,” Edwards said. “When you start talking about all that stuff, it’s just why? You are going to play so why worry about it?”
It all starts at the line
The Sun Devils have running back Eno Benjamin, who leads the Pac-12 with an average of 129.5 yards a game. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said part of what makes ASU’s rush tough to defend is a stout offensive line.
“Those guys have done a great job opening up holes for Benjamin and all their backs and giving the quarterback time to throw the ball,” Cristobal said. “Formationally, they do a lot of things, they do unbalanced stuff, they do the tackle over stuff, they do some things that present schematic issues if you’re not ready for them.”
Receivers on display
The game will feature two of the top receivers in the league: Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. Mitchell is ranked 10th nationally with an average of 100.2 receiving yards a game. He set an Oregon record with five 100-plus-yard receiving games this season. Harry is averaging 92.8 yards receiving a game, ranked 17th nationally. He has 22 career touchdown receptions to rank fifth on ASU’s all-time list. He has had at least one catch in all 35 games with the Sun Devils.
Sure, they’re cute
“One of my daughters is excited about going up there because she likes the mascot. She likes the duck. I told her, ‘You are not pulling for the duck are you?’ She said, ‘No daddy, I don’t pull for the duck but I like the duck.’ What do you tell a 12-year-old?” Edwards said.