STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the pass defense: For how good running back Eno Benjamin and the Arizona running game has been, the Sun Devils boast arguably the Pac-12’s best receiver and potentially the top wide receiver draft prospect in the country; senior N’keal Harry.
Harry has everything you look for in a top wide receiver. He has size at 6-foot-4, 213-pounds, speed to burn, precise route running and great hands, making him an absolute matchup nightmare for the smaller Oregon secondary.
When these two teams met last year, Harry caught seven passes for 170 yards and one score, just out-running, out-jumping and out-catching everything Oregon threw his way.
“Obviously at the receiver position it's about as good as you'll get in the country. I know he's a projected top pick in the draft, and you can see why,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Harry. “Last year he certainly made some monster plays against us, so guys have to be aware of it.”
Frank Darby and Kyle Williams are the other receiving threats for Arizona State, but go about their games in vastly different ways. Darby is a big-play guy, averaging over 19 yards per catch while Williams does the dirty work as possession receiver.
Stopping the actual wide receivers will be difficult for the Ducks given their lack of size and productivity thus far. Deommodore Lenoir is Oregon’s biggest cornerback at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, and although he plays bigger than he looks, it will difficult to make up that much of a difference against Harry.
That’s why the Ducks will look to its defensive line to be its pass defense. Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins must wreak havoc in the backfield, pressuring Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins all game long and making him uncomfortable. If Wilkins doesn’t feel pressure and has time to throw, he’ll pick Oregon apart all game long.
Wilkins, who possesses arguably the strongest arm in the conference, has thrown for 2,449 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. His accuracy and decision-making have greatly improved this year, as he’s completing 65.2-percent of his passes and has thrown just four interceptions.
“Manny Wilkins, his development as a quarterback the last two years has been incredible," Cristobal said. “He makes the right decisions, and the ball's out quick. I think he probably doesn't get enough credit for being a physical guy when he runs the ball.”
What Oregon does have in the secondary are playmakers. Three of the four starters in the secondary have at least three interceptions while the fourth starter, Thomas Graham Jr., leads the team with a combination of 21 passes defended or broken up.
Safeties Ugochukwu Amadi and Jevon Holland have been sensational for the Ducks at the backend of the defense. Amadi has three interceptions, two of which he’s taken back for touchdowns while Holland, a true freshman, leads the Pac-12 with four interceptions.
The Ducks know they’re going to struggle containing the Sun Devils receivers. To make life easier, the defensive line must put pressure on Wilkins and make him uncomfortable, therefore giving Oregon the opportunity for turnovers and extra possessions.