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November 2, 2007

Arizona State at Oregon: Who has the edge?

MORE: Surprising battle for Pac-10 lead | Video preview

Game of the Week: No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 4 Oregon
Oregon run offense vs. Arizona State run defense
EDGE: Oregon Oregon TB Jonathan Stewart has six 100-yard games this season and is seventh nationally in rushing yards per game (130.1). QB Dennis Dixon also is a running threat and has rushed for 492 yards. The Ducks have rushed for at least 182 yards in every game this season and have four 300-yard games. Arizona State is ninth nationally in run defense and Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard is the only opposing player to gain 100 yards against the Sun Devils this season. Arizona State has held three of the past four teams it has played to fewer than 100 yards.
Oregon pass offense vs. Arizona State pass defense
EDGE: Arizona State Dixon has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every game this season and has 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions. Dixon has passed for fewer than 200 yards in four games this season, including the past two. Oregon's leading receiver, Jaison Williams, has only 32 receptions, but five touchdowns. Arizona State has a tendency to give up a lot of passing yards - as four of its past five opponents have thrown for at least 237 yards. However, the Sun Devils have allowed just seven touchdown passes and have 14 interceptions. SS Troy Nolan has five interceptions and LB Robert James has four. The Sun Devils also have 20 sacks.
Arizona State run offense vs. Oregon run defense
EDGE: Oregon The Sun Devils' rushing attack has been inconsistent. Three times they have rushed for 250 yards or more; twice they have been held under 100 yards. The loss of leading rusher Ryan Torain to a season-ending injury obviously hurt, but Keegan Herring has stepped in and gained 215 yards and a touchdown the past two games. Oregon, which ranks 38th nationally against the run, has not allowed a rushing touchdown in three games. The Ducks held USC to 101 rushing yards a week ago. On the flip side, four running backs have rushed for more than 100 yards against Oregon this season.
Arizona State pass offense vs. Oregon pass defense
EDGE: Arizona State Rudy Carpenter has passed for at least 200 yards in seven consecutive games and distributes the ball evenly. That is underscored by the fact that four Sun Devils have at least 23 receptions. Protecting Carpenter has been an issue for Arizona State, and the Sun Devils have allowed 30 sacks. Another issue is Carpenter's sprained right thumb, which could hamper his throwing. Oregon has 21 sacks, with end Nick Reed accounting for seven of those. But if Oregon doesn't get pressure, the secondary looks like well, sitting ducks. Oregon ranks 91st nationally in pass defense. The Ducks have given up 11 touchdown passes in Pac-10 play.
Oregon kicking game vs. Arizona State kicking game
EDGE: Oregon Arizona State freshman Thomas Weber has converted all 15 of his field-goal attempts, which includes a game-winner against Washington State. He's 4-for-4 from beyond 40 yards. The Sun Devils' return and coverage teams are respectable, but punter Jonathan Johnson needs to boost his 38.2-yard average. Oregon's Matt Evensen has hit 10 of 13 field-goal attempts, and punter Josh Syria averages 41 yards an attempt. Syria has had 12 kicks downed inside the 20. Stewart averages 28.9 yards on kickoff returns.
Oregon coaching staff vs. Arizona State coaching staff
EDGE: Arizona State Mike Bellotti, who has been at the Oregon helm since 1995, is the school's winningest coach with 104 victories. Under Bellotti, Oregon has made 10 bowl appearances in 12 seasons. Dennis Erickson, in his first season at Arizona State, has 156 career victories and two national championships. His teams have posted at least nine victories 11 times, and it's just a matter of time before this season makes it a dozen.
Oregon will win if
The Ducks need to establish their running game with Stewart, which will help create passing opportunities for Dixon. Avoiding turnovers, as usual, will be vital. The Ducks had four turnovers in their only defeat, a 31-24 loss to California, and that included two Dixon interceptions. Defensively, the Ducks must get a consistent pass rush because they have a tendency to give up big plays.
Arizona State will win if
The Sun Devils need to score early, or at least prevent Oregon from doing so. Arizona State has trailed by double figures three times this season, but rallied to win each time. If the Sun Devils keep pushing their luck, it may run out on them. Containing Dixon will be the top priority, but they also must limit Stewart's production.
The health of Carpenter's thumb has been a hot topic. He did not throw Tuesday, but Erickson said he was optimistic Carpenter would be ready Saturday. That's probably true, but the Sun Devils rely heavily on their passing game. If Carpenter has problems, Arizona State likely will, too.
The picks
Buchanan's pick: Oregon 31-24
Other Rivals.com expert picks:
Mike Huguenin, college sports editor: Oregon 28-24
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Oregon 31-20
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Oregon 31-24
Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.

Olin Buchanan is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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