Season opener against fifth-ranked Oregon
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 17:09
Fall camp is over, and the Arkansas State Red Wolves football team has turned its attention to its first opponent this season: the Oregon Ducks.
ASU will travel to Eugene, Ore. this Saturday for a nationally-televised matchup against the nation’s fifth-ranked team. The Red Wolves have spent the past two weeks perfecting its game plan, a process that began soon after head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff arrived in Jonesboro nine months ago.
“This game’s been approaching since [the coaching staff] got here because it’s the first game. Our players are excited because it’s a really good opponent, and coming off last season our guys are really eager to prove that we’ve got to better,” said offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. “When you play someone that good you really don’t have to do anything to get the guys focused.”
Oregon won the past three PAC-12 titles and return 11 starters from a team that finished 12-2 and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl a year ago. Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has an array of offensive weapons to help him adjust to his role as a starter, including sophomore all-purpose back De’Anthony Thomas, whose explosive freshman season earned him honors as the PAC-12’s co-offensive Freshman of the Year.
Thomas, who plays running back, receiver and also returns kicks, led the Ducks in receiving last year and accounted for 2,235 all-purpose yards along with 18 total touchdowns. He will be the focal point of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly’s no-huddle offense, which averaged 45.4 points and 510.6 yards per game last season.
Yet the Ducks may be just as formidable on the other side of the ball, where they feature a potent defensive line anchored by ends Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart. Safety John Boyett is considered one of football’s best. Malzahn praised Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, calling him “one of the best in the business.”
“It’s good that we got an extra week for these guys. They’re a phenomenal team both offensively and defensively,” said Malzahn. “We got a chance to play them two years ago [when Malzahn was at Auburn], and their defense is better than it was [then].”
The Red Wolves will need a strong performance from both sides of the ball, but the defense will be particularly challenged as it attempts to keep up with Oregon’s break-neck pace. Practicing against Malzahn’s own up-tempo attack has helped defensive coordinator John Thompson prepare his group, but he says it’s still inadequate to demonstrate to players the nature of Oregon’s offense.
“When you go against a scout team, there’s no way you can duplicate the speed and the speed of the game and as fast as they get lined up and as fast as they’re going to run,” Thompson said.
Malzahn says the defense has “a lot of question marks” due to their youth, but that he “has a lot of confidence” in Thompson’s abilities.
The coaching staff has been pumping Oregon’s fight song through the speakers at ASU Stadium during practice to prepare the team for the atmosphere at Autzen Stadium, considered one of the loudest venues in college football. Malzahn says the players have responded well, but that it can’t fully prepare the team for kind of noise they will experience.
ASU will find out just how prepared they are Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.