Don't sleep on Arkansas State.
In fact, don't sleep on anyone. Even Tennessee Tech is the only chance that week to see the Ducks play college football, and for the players, it's the only chance to develop timing, rhythm, cohesion and execution. Opponents don't matter. The process and the progress do.
But Gus Malzahn's Red Wolves are a bigger challenge than casual fans might assume. For one, they have Malzahn, the former architect of the Auburn offense in Cam Newton's Heisman and National Championship season. ASU has big-time aspirations and a solid resume. Last season they were 10-3 and 8-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. They played Illinois tough to begin the year before losing 33-15, and lost to #13 Virginia Tech by just 26-7. They weren't blown out by anybody, and they return senior quarterback Ryan Aplin, who threw for 3588 yards and 19 touchdowns (plus 16 interceptions) and five of his six top receivers. Alpin's a dual threat, also ASU's leading rusher with 588 yards and 10 tds. This season he'll be joined in the backfield by Tennessee transfer David Oku and sophomore Frankie Jackson, 355 yards last year, 4.0 yards a carry.
Malzahn has something to work with, and he'll relish the chance to match wits again with Kelly as he starts his first coaching job and returns to his Arkansas roots. He's crafty and motivated, a guy who wrote the book (or at least a book) on hurry-up offense. The Red Wolves had a porous defense last season, but their new head coach and his staff are certain to bring some SEC backbone to the unit, led by senior lineback Nathan Herrold and strong safety Don Jones.
The Sun Belt is a conference of periennial SEC victims of the week, staples at alumni feel-good home games that pad the rankings and the bowl aspirations of the vaunted ESS EEE SEE, teams like Troy, Alcorn State South Alabama, and Louisiana-Lafayette. So in one sense you could say Arkansas State plays an SEC-quality schedule.
For the Ducks, the ratings, rankings, reputation and aspirations of the Red Wolves don't really matter. It's a chance to set the tone for a new year. It's a chance to go live, hit and be hit, and show you can execute. Here are the cues and clues Duck fans should be looking for in the season's first college football:
How does Marcus Mariota look?
In the spring game he impressed with his poise and command, but this is his first college start as a redshirt freshman, the first frosh to take the reins at Oregon since Danny O'Neil in 1991. Bet ASU's new defensive coordinator John Thompson, who has 25 years experience in college coaching and has sent 40 players to the NFL, will test Mariota with blitzes and try to mix up coverages for him. How does Mariota handle the pressure of his first start, the expectations, the noise and the responsibility? Does the offense find its rhythm and execute with efficiency?
MM's intelligence, competitiveness and cool, laid-back demeanor will serve him well in this situation. He's an uncommonly focused young man who takes challenges in stride. His first year starting at St. Louis High in Hawaii he passed for 32 tds with just five interceptions. In his first game he took the second play from scrimmage, a keeper on the zone read, for a 51-yard touchdown.
It's crucial that Mariota finds a comfort level and establishes command of the offense in his first three starts. The Ducks start conference play at the end of the month, at home versus new coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona on September 22nd, then their first road game against Mike Leach and the new-look Washington State Cougars at Century Link Field in Seattle a week later.
Will the new receiver group be productive and add balance to the offense?
Two years later, the Ducks still miss Jeff Maehl. Matt Daddy of Addicted to Quack had some telling stats in an article he published yesterday on the receivers:
Besides Huff, our leading returning wide receiver is Rahsaan Vaughn with 14 catches. Hawkins had 5 catches in 2011, Dungy had 2.
- In 2011 our wide receivers caught 115 passes for 1524 yards. 2010, 180 passes for 2284, in 2009 115 passes for 1341 yards
Minus the Maehl Man and Lavasier Tunei, this unit has a lot to prove in 2012, and the Ducks need them to do so. With a thin roster at running back and a new qb, balance is critical. There's no spread in the spread offense without a viable passing threat, and last year Oregon's passing game was De'Anthony Thomas and a cloud of covered. Tuinei had a great Rose Bowl; battling injuries, Huff had a couple of highlight film moments interspersed with a year of frustration, but at times the best the Ducks could do was put the walk ons in to block and throw to David Paulson, who is now also gone.
Fans eagerly awaited the emergence of the fabulously touted recruits Devon Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley, the hope that the passing game could go vertical again like it did against Michigan in The Big House in 2007. But Sumler transferred and Blackmon hasn't yet made the depth chart. Only Kelley cracked the two-deep, and the three starters at wideout are Huff, Daryl Hawkins and Jesuit product Keanon Lowe, seemingly underwhelming choices in terms of recruiting hype and top end speed. Rahsaan Vaughn, the number one rated JC receiver when he signed on a year ago, also didn't make the top six. Eric Dungy did, though, at 6-1 183 not an imposing physical specimen but reportedly the best hands in the group. True freshman Bralon Addison showed up in camp reports and comments almost daily, flashing elusiveness and playmaking ability, leapfrogging Vaughn and several others to land a spot in the opening game rotation. He's an intriguing addition who could have an immediate impact in the Duck offense, a talented athlete who played quarterback and point guard in high school.
Lowe and Hawkins had the best camp and earned the nod from Scott Frost. Oregon is now blessed with a starting quarterback who can make all the throws with touch and has the arm to get the ball deep. Mariota also throws extremely well on the run and has a knack for creating outside the pocket. Will these guys get open and make plays? On paper, it's not a group to rival the receiver talent at USC and elsewhere around the conference, but neither were Maehl or Keenan Howry before them.
Rhythm, execution and rapport in the passing will be critical to the Ducks success on offense this year. Fans don't want Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas taking a pounding inside with eight men in the box for the defense. Against Arkansas State and the other early opponents, Mariota and his receivers have an opportunity to establish a downfield passing game that will make the offense even harder to defend. To do that, these guys have to make plays and show they can be consistent.
Have the young cornerbacks grown from year one to year two?Malzahn likes to spread the field and use multiple formations, and he has a 3500-yard passer and five of his top receivers at his disposal. They are a step down from Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, but Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis have an opportunity on Saturday to showcase what they have learned in the last six months, and if they are ready to build upon the progress and improvement they showed through 14 games last year. It's also a first look at Oregon's front seven, expected to provide more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which improves any secondary.
somethings just have to be said: USC is being herladed as this wonderful newly restored clean decent morally upright program by the sports media coast to coast. They also have a concieted fan base that like many of the perennial power programs have little to do when recruiting except to select what they consider the pick of the litter in football talent coast to coast. Ok, so they have the weather, and the history that allows them to do this regardless of who is running there prgram or what the ethics or values of their prograam may be. Peter Carroll ran awy to he NFL on the back of cheating vis a vis shining example reggie bush, who just returned his heisman trophy. Much like the olympics, where dopers may win today, and not be exposed and found oou as cheats, and thus not give up their gains until a later 'insignificant' time, a time when the spotlight is out, the games are over, so too USC and other immoral and crooked(esp some sec schools, ohio state, miami, et al) will use the cheating(by any means reasonably sure to get away with anyways) to win now, knowing that the worlds atention span for sports is fickle and short , thus they reason well that with little real chance of getting fully exposed, the risks of cutting corners and being unethical are absolutely worth it. Especially if you consider that, like peter carrol or reggie bush, you will get the big fat paycheck rewards irrespective of whether you cheated and later your wins were found illegitimate and nullified. So like dopers, the risks are all worth it. The upside compared to downside is in favor of cheating. Now, the mass sports media looks the other way with amnesia when talking about these 'sanctified' prgrams even after the evidence is there that shows how rotten they truly are. Again, even the scholls benefit so much financially in revenues and fraudulently accrued 'prestige' that itis all worth it to turn a blind eye, and enable and allow cheating to take place. And, the of course form this corrupted environment comes a concieted fan base that has 'entitlement syndrome' where think that they are superior by birthright, regardless of ethics or honesty or cheating. So what is the point? the point is that over and over again we see the stories that point to the corrupted nature and culture of usc and others and yet the media ogles and fawns, as if some paralell unblemished abd clean universe exists that they now operate in!! But i just have to share these links to the lastest, and only the very latest evidences and examples of just how rotten all is and always has been at usc, and a continuation of the corrupted culture there, carroll and onto kiffin, nothing has changed. It really is sickening how te ncaa allows corupt cultures like that at usc to promulgate and permeate the college football and sports world. The ncaa is complicit and thus sustains an environment that makes competitors have to make choices to play by the rules of corrupted programs and institutions that are dominant in football, and other sports, or to lay by the fantasy rules that the ncaa falsley and fruadulently promulgates to the fools who belive in the honesty and decency mirage that they shill and sell the public. It is disguting. here are a few article links to consider for yourselves.
brother armstead sure made a better choice as a decent person to choose to play under kelly and te duck program, in more ways than just football, as i think, you will probaly agree.
Again, just reiterating the fact that our defense last year wasn't exactly "porous." In fact, it was the strength of a 10-3 team. And...it's A-P-L-I-N...not "Alpin."
Alcorn is FCS from the SWAC, they are our tune-up in week four.
The defense lost two to the NFL draft and two more to free agent contracts but the back-ups played extensively. ASU built its defense around QB pressure and stopping the run, I doubt new coordinator John Thompson changes that.
like to get your post game reaction, and assessment of the oregon team now that the game was played. If you would please.
i respect the asu program,, i see the nfl guys coming out,, i am curious,, what chance do you give asu winning the game?? and what final score do you predict??
@nyduck As I noted on our site, the last time we faced a similar talent team with a similar offensive philosophy, we forced two turnovers and four punts and still gave up 52 points (although we had a different defensive philosophy). But we still scored 26 against Cam and Auburn in that game.
In our last 61 games we've given up more than 38 points twice. We gave up 48 to Tennessee in 2007 (and scored 27) and 52 to Auburn in 2010. Cam was in that 2010 game until the final possession.
What happens? I dunno. In theory two high tempo playing each other means lots of scoring but the Auburn-Oregon title game sure didn't deliver that. I know if ASU screws up as many times or more than Oregon, the Red Wolves are in trouble.
Nice article Dale, but it's Robert Woods, not Ronald Woods. :) We don't have a lot of elite NFL style bodies at receiver, but we do have a lot of play-makers and guys that can catch the ball, but Kelley is a legitimate deep threat with size that can get separation. Addison is going to be a nightmare for defenses in the slot, so elusive and dynamic, and Huff should have a big year now that he's 100% again. Hawkins and Dungy will be solid reliable pass catchers, and hopefully Vaughn can get back into the 2 deep. Lowe is a wildcard, we've heard good things but he didn't do a lot in the spring game, excited to see what he brings to the table. Like I said not a lot of draft picks at receiver for us but they should get the job done, and we know Marcus will accurately deliver the ball to them.
I'm not sure where you came up with this line in your article... "The Red Wolves had a porous defense last season." Arkansas State finished the year with the #24 overall defense in the nation. As a comparison, Oregon was ranked at #67. Arkansas State had the 25th ranked scoring defense. As a comparison, Oregon was ranked at #52. Arkansas State finished last year with the 13th ranked rushing defense. As comparison, Oregon finished the year at #54. Arkansas State finished last season as the 69th ranked defense against the pass. As comparison, Oregon finished the year ranked 88th against the pass. The Arkansas State defense finished the year at #19 in red zone defense. As comparison, Oregon was ranked #56 in red zone defense.
After being aware of those stats, I have one question for you, if Arkansas State's defense was porous last season, what would Oregon's be considered as, since Arkansas State's defense ranked higher in nearly every defensive category the NCAA tracks?
Thanks guys for the corrections on Woods and Aplin. However, you can't seriously compare the defensive stat rankings Ark State rang up against Troy State and Louisiana-Lafayette to what the Ducks had in the PAC-12 playing USC and Stanford. Here's a game prediction: the Ducks will surpass 50 points and 500 yards on Saturday night. Oregon's defensive stats are seriously distorted by the fact they play in so many blowout wins. Opponents add a lot of relatively meaningless yards in decided games. This year's defense, led by senior leaders like John Boyett, Dion Jordan and Michael Clay, could be the Webfoots best ever. Good luck on Saturday and thanks for visiting.
@Dale Newton You used the word "porous," in describing Arkansas State's defensive team from a year ago. A quick glance at the NCAA's national defensive stats and rankings from last year doesn't corroborate your choice of adjective in any way.
By the way, I wouldn't bet against Oregon surpassing 50 points and 500 yards on Saturday night. But, that's a testament to Oregon's offense, which can throw those numbers up on almost every defense in the country. Best of luck to you this year!
same questions for you, given what you say,, do you see asu winning outright?? and what final score do you expect to see??
i predict oregon 55 asu 24
oregon football is a very different breeed of cat. I expect asu and asu fans to have a better understanding of that after the game. All respect to asu, but it is going to be difficult to keep up with the ducks for 60 mins. I think, only the ducks can beat the ducks or keep it very close in this game.
@nyduck Your score prediction sounds very reasonable, and about on par with what I would predict. It would take everything going right for ASU and everything going wrong for Oregon, in order for ASU to win this ballgame. All ASU fans know and understand that fact. However, contrary to the writer's assertion, ASU's defense wasn't porous last year, as I demonstrated above.
i don't argue your point,.. and i am really impressed that asu you fans like yourself and arkstfan are the first to post here and engage in discussion on a duck fan site,, love fans like you guys.. knowledgeable and passionate.. great stuff
Any team,ala the ducks, breaking in a new QB first time live game action, knows that unexpected and even some bad things are more than possible to happen,,, appreciate your peerspective,, any other insights into what to expect form your team as far as game plan/strategy, and or players of note to watch on asu and why would be very welcomed too.. regards and good luck on the season overall