X'S AND O'S.
Oregon is at a decided disadvantage in one respect tonight against Arizona State at Autzen Stadium. The Sun Devils are plus-8 in turnovers (10 interceptions, four fumble recoveries defensively), and the Ducks are a paltry minus-1 (three pass interceptions, one fumble recovery defensively). The team that gives the least and gains the most probably will win this game.
When Oregon is on offense, take your eyes off the Ducks and watch number 7, ASU's all-American linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, a 6-3, 252-pound junior who has made 29 tackles (five for loss), four sacks, one interception, three pass breakups and four pass deflections. He is truly the heart of a rough, physical defense that at times last season gave Oregon fits before succumbing under an avalanche of offensive turnovers.
Burfict will take you to the ball. Keep track of which Ducks are trying to block him. In the run game, it could be an interior offensive lineman or tight end. When he's rushing the passer, it could be a lineman or, heaven forbid, a running back. Last year Vontaze jumped over the pass block (attempted) of an Oregon running back and landed squarely in Darron Thomas' face.
Fans will also remember that Burfict had to be helped off the field five times and was back in the game immediately for the next play last year. It was obvious the Sun Devil defenders were faking injuries (nine) in an attempt to slow the Oregon offense; ironic that they were cramping while the team from cooler climes was not.
The more success Burfict has against the Ducks, the more Oregon will struggle. His Achilles' heel is an occasional lapse of discipline that results in late hits and unsportsmanlike penalties. ASU coaches were complaining earlier in the season that Burfict had lost some of his aggressiveness in trying to avoid penalties, so there has been some tension there. Coach Dennis Erickson's teams, at several different colleges, have never been shy about ringing up foolish penalties in an effort to intimidate. As you watch Burfict, rate him in the discipline category.
Talkin' football: look for inspired play by two former Sheldon Irish players now with ASU: Aaron Pflugrad, who has caught 26 passes for four touchdowns (and played two years for the Ducks), and Bo Moos, who has a variety of tackles and two fumble recoveries. A rich tradition of irony pervades the great game of college football as hometown boys often come back and make a statement about being passed over by their former favorite team. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.
Former player, coach and TV commentator Ken Woody is The Register-Guard's college football analyst. Look for his pregame analysis each game day morning.