The task was never going to be easy for Arizona State. The Ducks featured not only one of the nation's premiere offenses, but a vastly improved defense to complement their quick-strike attack. The Sun Devils were going to need a few lucky breaks and appeared to get one early, forcing an Oregon fumble on the game's opening drive which quickly led to a 28 yard Taylor Kelly strike to Kevin Ozier.
Unfortunately, that's where the good news stopped for ASU as the Oregon offense quickly caught fire, leading to 43 consecutive Duck points and an insurmountable halftime deficit.
"We had great momentum and our defense showed up on their first series and got a big turnover for us and we executed that," said Kelly afterwards. "But this game is a great learning experience for us and we've got to bounce back next week against UCLA."
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, junior defensive tackle Will Sutton, who forced the Oregon turnover, suffered a knee injury on the play and was unable to return, creating a void on the Sun Devil defensive front that the team was unable to fill as the game dragged on and with the Ducks' offense quickly gaining momentum.
"It was kind of like a high-low type of moment," reflected safety Alden Darby. "We were excited about the turnover and the start of the game but then we all looked down and saw Will Sutton, one of our key players on the defensive line, it was sad and kind of brought us down at the same time all in one play."
"Will Sutton, he's one of our impact players," said senior Keelan Johnson. "He's one of those guys on the front line that can get pressure on the quarterback and make everybody's job in the back a lot easier when you don't have to cover as long."
Without Sutton, whose status won't be known until tomorrow, on the field, the Ducks struck for touchdowns on their next six possessions to finish out the half, totaling 454 yards for the game behind the sensational play of running back Kenjon Barner and freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Barner helped break the game open early on the ground with 16 carries for 144 yards and three touchdowns, including a 71 yard score to counter ASU's first quarter touchdown. Mariota, making his first true road start as a college quarterback, nearly matched his backfield teammate with 142 yards on 10 carries and an 86 yard touchdown run.
Despite the overall offensive productivity and long scoring plays from the Ducks, Darby and Johnson said later they didn't feel like Oregon's fast tempo style of play was the result of the defensive breakdowns for the Devils, but rather mental mistakes and panic.
"Honestly, I didn't see their tempo at all," he said. "Everybody talks about how fast they are. They go faster than normal, but I wasn't affected by their tempo at all."
"I think the hype got to a lot of guys," commented Johnson. "With Oregon coming here and being number two overall in the country, they made guys want to play higher than their potential. Some guys played other people's assignments and got away from the things the coaches were trying to do. It cost us in the first half, but coming into the second half we corrected some things."
On a night when the Sun Devil defense couldn't help itself in the first, the Arizona State couldn't come up with any high-octane answers for the Ducks, waiting until The Opening minutes of the fourth quarter before finding the end zone for the second time. Kelly, who entered the game as the Pac-12's leader in passing efficiency, only completed 10-18 passes for 93 yards and two interceptions to go along with his early touchdown toss.
"They were blitzing three and four and dropping seven or eight so they were covering the flats or hooks and deep coverage," he said. "They had a good coverage game for us and if that defense does that I just have to go out and run."
"Protecting the football is a huge thing and taking what the defense gives you," he added. "Whether it's throwing the ball away or hitting your check-downs or run, I've just got to take better advantage of that."
Despite totaling 408 yards of offense themselves, the Sun Devils struggled to sustain drives in the first half while Oregon pulled away. Arizona State demonstrated their mettle by scoring twice late, led both times by backup quarterback Michael Eubank, but still couldn't find a way to threaten the Ducks.
"We are an explosive offense and we will put up some points, but Oregon did a great job defensively and we just have to bounce back next week," said Kelly.
Despite everything, the Sun Devils still find themselves atop the Pac-12's South division and in control of their own destiny. Next week's matchup with divisional foe UCLA at Sun Devil Stadium will provide the team with a chance to rebound from the loss and regain their early season form. Darby insists he remains confident and that the team's goals are no different now than they were before kickoff.
"We can take a lot form this loss, but nobody likes to lose," he said. "There's two ways you can go from a loss; you can either hang your head down or you can bounce back like a champion and still race for that Pac-12 championship. We're not going to let one loss take us down. We're going to bounce back against UCLA.
"We've still got that same goal in mind; a Pac-12 championship. We're going to see them again."