Arizona State lost to No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night, and it wasn't even close. The Ducks dominated every facet, led by 36 points after 19 minutes of play and left the Sun Devils lost amid injuries and mistakes in a 43-21 blowout.
ASU now must regroup for a big game against UCLA next Saturday. A win would make the Devils bowl eligible, provide a nice boost of confidence after the Oregon battering and perhaps give them a little momentum ahead of tough road games against Oregon State and USC.
But before looking ahead, we look back at what we learned in Thursday's loss.
ASU is not ready to compete with the elite. Most expected this game to be close for at least a half, and most national and local predictions had the Sun Devils losing by a touchdown or two. Those were obviously wrong. ASU caught some breaks in the first half of the season, particularly with injured opposing quarterbacks and a soft schedule, cumulatively leading to a surprising 5-1 start. There were no doubt some things to be impressed with in that stretch, but in hindsight, the idea that it translated to readiness to hang with Oregon was a bit of a stretch. There's a reason Oregon is No. 3 in the nation: The Ducks are the Pac-12's best. The good news: ASU is probably not as bad as it looked Thursday night. The early losses of defensive linemen Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali hurt a great deal, and again, Oregon is the best team in the conference, if not the nation. Next week's game against UCLA and the following week's game against Oregon State should be more indicative of ASU's true ability.
ASU really is razor-thin. Up until Thursday night, we had only heard coach Todd Graham say how much ASU lacked depth at some key positions; we hadn't yet seen it. Seeing ASU's best all-around player go down made it glaringly obvious just how thin the Sun Devils are. Jake Sheffield couldn't come close to filling Sutton's shoes on the defensive line, and the Ducks took advantage. There is little more to make up for Sutton's absence, which looks like it could be a long-term one, with Mike Pennel suspended indefinitely and Corey Adams out since early in fall camp with a back injury. There was also no one to fill the void when Junior Onyeali went down with a shoulder injury Thursday. Losing him for an extended period of time would be another big blow. If fans weren't on edge about the effect injuries could have, particularly to the defense, they certainly are now. The Sun Devils cannot afford any more losses on the defensive side.
Will Sutton meant more to the defense than we knew. We knew Sutton was the star of the defense, leading the team in tackles for loss and sacks while building a case for All-American honors. What we didn't know was just how central he was to ASU's defensive game plan. Graham made that clear after the game Thursday in admitting that Sutton's loss left the staff scrambling and led to a slew of mistakes as ASU tried to adjust. Let's put it this way: If the ASU defense were a body, Sutton was the heart, central to the functions of all the other parts. Now, with its heart ripped out, the defense must figure out how to go on. The defensive coaches will no doubt be logging long hours this week as they reconfigure the game plan. That is unless Sutton's knee injury is somehow not as bad as it looked as he left the field on crutches Thursday.
So how to replace Sutton, if he is in fact done for the season? Well, Graham said that can't be done.
"Youre not going to replace someone that's that good," Graham said. "You have to move on and maybe make some adjustments."
Though an official diagnosis was pending an MRI, Graham didn't sound encouraged, and the fact that he commented on replacing him doesn't bode well either.
With Oregon scoring six touchdowns in the first 19 minutes of Thursday's game, ASU took plenty of kickoffs. Perhaps lost in the scoring frenzy was senior Rashad Ross returning each of them. Ross had three kickoff returns entering the week, including a 100-yard touchdown return against Colorado last week. Graham said after that game Ross would get more action, and Thursday he averaged 19.7 yards per return, with a long of 25. Jamal Miles, meanwhile, remained the primary punt returner.
Graham said last week the Sun Devils don't need a kicking controversy at this point in the season, and it looked like the drama might be over when he went back to sophomore Alex Garoutte for Thursday's game. But Garoutte missed his first and only field-goal attempt, a 43-yard kick. It came on ASU's second drive and was ASU's last good scoring chance in the first half, as the offense went into a funk afterward. Garoutte has now missed four of his last six attempts, including one block, and is 7 for 11 on the season. Chances are the competition for the top spot between Garoutte and walk-on junior Jon Mora will continue. Mora is 1 for 2 this season but had an extra-point attempt blocked against Colorado.
With a 10-for-18 performance and two interceptions Thursday, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly's pass efficiency rating fell to 168.0. That's still good for best in the Pac-12 and seventh best in the nation, though those rankings may change based on stats accumulated this weekend. Kelly also threw for a season-low 93 yards, though; his previous low was 178 in a loss to Missouri. And Kelly's first interception of the year ended a streak of 102 passes without one.
Junior safety Alden Darby led ASU with 12 tackles Thursday, while junior spur linebacker Chris Young followed with 11. That moved Young into the team lead with 51 on the season. As a team, ASU registered seven tackles for loss Thursday, lowering their average to 9.42 per game (down from 9.83), which would still be second nationally pending results from this weekend. Missouri is third at 8.43 per game (Tulsa is first at 9.86 per game).
Junior linebacker Anthony Jones' fourth-quarter interception, which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown, was the first of his career.
Junior tight end Chris Coyle tallied seven receptions, giving him 35 on the year and leaving him just 21 shy of Zach Miller's season record for a tight end of 56, set in 2004.