By REED NELSON
The best three things seen and heard today, in descending order: 3. R. Kelly is a Hip-Hopera genius who will never, ever (ever) stop making Trapped in the Closet installments. Ever. 2. A German guy jumping into a frozen pool. 1. Arizona State’s giant, concrete “A” donning a wonderfully green Extreme Makeover.
Apparently, while the Sun Devils slept, a few of the 1,600-or-so traveling Oregon fans decided to enhance their Tempe experience by painting the ASU “A” bright green.
While the names of these crafty students are unknown at this point (though Twitter and/or Facebook will undoubtedly be the undoing of that enigma), their brave actions have already been commended on the Interwebs and the television.
ESPN’s College Football Live featured the prank for the opening of the show. When the search term “green asu” is entered in Google, 426 articles about the A’s cosmetic alteration appear at the top of the News feed.
So much for an amicable Thursday night.
Let’s be real, though: It was never going to be amicable. These two teams enjoy each other’s company in the same way that a mongoose and a snake might get along. The rivalries modestly decorated tradition includes some of the most soul-crushing, season-altering losses that either of these teams have endured this side of Reagan, and the blood always starts to boil in the desert.
No. 3 Oregon should have a Chip on its shoulder (intended the hell out of that one) the size of, as the great Lil Wayne once said, “A Funyun” given their recent ranking demotion.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has to be wondering what his 5-1 team needs to do to get into the Top 25. The short answer? Beat Oregon. The long answer? Beat Oregon.
Marcus Mariota, the most criticized freshman stud since Matt Barkley, is supposedly facing his first road “test,” given that the ASU faithful seem to consider his performance against Washington State, at CenturyLink a.k.a. Amp-On-Eleven Field, a home start. How will he handle the crowd? Will he be able to make the adjustment’s on the fly that Oregon’s Mach-16 offense requires? Should Chip Kelly consider extending a scholarship offer to Felix Baumgartner given his ability to stay calm at high speeds?
And Taylor Kelly… You Mr. Kelly. Who are you? Are you really the nation’s fourth leading passer? Is your passer efficiency rating really just a mere 4.8 points lower than Geno Smith, a player whom just last week, was thought to be made of bronze? Are you really as good as your 14:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio would indicate? Or have you just benefited from a schedule that has yet to pit you against a winning football team? Does your two-interception game against Missouri, the lone half-decent team that you’ve played (and the one team that has beaten you thus far) matter? Or was that an enigma? You are a tricky one, Kelly. I can’t quite figure you out.
Given the plot-lines, subplots, cutaways and scrolling program alerts, this game figures to be one of the more compelling Devil v. Duck series installments in years.
Let’s avoid the trident and get gizzard deep in this week’s preview.
Trap game? Really? How on earth can this be a trap game when everyone, including the game’s participants, are aware of the magnitude/potential for upset? And furthermore, how can ASU simultaneously host Oregon in a “trap game” and also represent “the best team Oregon has faced this season,” as most analysts are touting them? I wrote earlier, “The iceberg wasn’t a Titanic Trap, it was just there…” and I stand by that statement. A trap game is a reeling Arkansas team getting stunned by Louisiana-Monroe. A trap game is the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Nick Saban refused to take Utah seriously. A trap game is Michigan losing in 2007 to Appalachian State, a team armed with a quarterback that eventually made an NFL roster (and was named Armani). What it’s not is an annual matchup against an in-conference opponent that has started the season 5-1. You know what’s a trap game? Mousetrap. That’s a trap game.
Bruce Banner Theory
Oregon should be mad. The BCS should have made them angry. Head coach Chip Kelly would tell you otherwise, but then again, this is the guy who denied his personal influence upon the Patriot’s No-Huddle attack AFTER Bill Belichick discussed that influence. He could spin a “Death Penalty” into an “Improvement period” if he had to, and we’d let him. But don’t let the understatement fool you, Oregon is mad. If not about their No. 3 ranking, then about the notion that the computers have enjoyed Oregon State’s season more than Oregon’s. That Collin Klein’s Houdini Act against Iowa State last weekend carried more weight than Marcus Mariota’s three 35-point first halves already compiled this season. Look for Oregon to try and take some of their anger out on a team that many are calling “Oregon’s toughest challenge yet,” which ASU probably is. If Oregon plays like they’re competing against not only ASU, but the MLB Playoffs and Thursday Night Football, then ASU is done. Finished. Riddled with wounds and gasping for breath while clutching a USPS Mail Box outside of Fenway Park. If they don’t let “the other guy” out, and they allow Taylor Kelly to establish his confidence at home, then this one could play out incredibly close. And considering that ASU is unranked (the best of the unranked, but still unranked) a win over the Sun Devils merely preserves Oregon’s chances, it probably won’t improve them. A loss or a tight win, however, coupled with a Florida win or a Kansas State win, and Oregon might take another hit from the computer.
Feed the Beast
In the last few weeks, its looked as if coach Kelly has been setting up the run with the pass (a strategy that directly undermines like, 90 years of general coaching understanding), which is awesome, except that De’Anthony Thomas seems to be having trouble finding space. The larger Kenjon Barner has been able to run between the tackles effectively this season, shedding would-be tacklers better than any Oregon back since LeGarret, but DAT has been a different story. When the Mamba is in space, he is the most exciting player in college football. Point, blank, period. When he gets claustrophobic, however, its like watching a Jack Russell freak out in the back seat of a station wagon. Barner is the workhorse, or, to continue a metaphor, the station wagon. He is the utilitarian car, the one that gets you to and from work. DAT is the finicky Italian-made sports car that you only take out on the weekends. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of time for DAT, but recently it seems that Chip has been trying to drive DAT to work. Handing the ball to the kid three times in a row doesn’t help anyone (see: Noel Devine, WVU, Jack Dempsey, Fla., Trindon Holliday, LSU), and on occasion it stalls an otherwise blinding attack. My prescription: More cowbell, of course, but also even more Kenjon. If Barner is allowed to take this game over, he will. ASU has made it very clear that Oregon’s offense hasn’t face anything as stingy as their defense. Well, ASU, only six teams in the entire country have faced an offense this potent, and it hasn’t ended so well for them. Moving on.
Taylor Kelly and Todd Graham: A Bromance
Who would have guessed that Brock Osweiler and Dennis Erickson would leave Tempe, and in their place would land the copacetic companionship that those two were searching for all along. ASU QB Taylor Kelly is the nation’s fourth most efficient passer, improves throughout the course of a game in an embryonically similar way to the way that Eli Manning evolves and adjusts throughout a game (note the root word “embryonic.” He’s still young), and rarely makes a mistake. In fact, if you discard the Missouri game, he’s the nation’s leading passer. Granted, you could say that about the top ten QB’s in the country, but the point is this: He’s good and Todd Graham trusts him. Once again, the pressure and responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Oregon’s battle-tested defensive secondary. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Avery Patterson and Terrance Mitchell have all exceeded expectations following John Boyett’s season-ending injury, and will be looking to provide the Ducks defense with a pick-six for the third straight week. If they take too many chances and gamble too early, too often, however, this game could turn into a good ol’ Western shootout.
Burn the spread
ASU, a perfect 6-0 against the spread this season, is facing their strangest line of the season. Sure the Devils are a good team, but Oregon has been beating down opponents by an average of 32.2 points per game and are favored by a measly touchdown. Something’s got to give.
I still love this, and it’s personal. I just wanted everyone to see it again. It harkens back to the University of Utah baseball team painting the BYU “Y” red in 2004, only to get charged with felonious vandalism. A few of those guys were my coaches that summer during the U’s annual camp. They were busted when one of the dimmer participants in the awesome prank chose to develop the photos at photo store owned by a member of the LDS church (for those of you who have never been to Utah, that’d be like a Protestant developing pictures of him taking a piss on St. Peter’s Bascilica within the walls of the Vatican). Stupidity aside, I always loved this prank. After 2004, BYU students guarded the Y like it was the Missile Silo in the week’s leading up to the Holy War, thwarting our efforts to replicate the prank a couple of times. That’s why I love this. Nothing could be more emasculating as a student than waking up and realizing that your school’s icon now belongs to your opponent.
On that note, well done, you unnamed assassins of peace and order, you Virtuosos of Vandalism. Thank you.
Prediction: Oregon 38, ASU 21