Ducks look to extend win streak at ASU
EUGENE — Oregon’s defense gave up an average of 605 yards and 45 points in its last two games against Arizona State.
And the Ducks still won both times.
Willie Taggart’s more balanced team, which scored 56 points and allowed 23 points per game while going 3-0 in nonconference play, will try to extend the program’s 10-game winning streak against Arizona State on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
No. 24 Oregon is first nationally in passes defended (34), third in interceptions (seven) and ninth in third-down defense (21.3 percent).
Jim Leavitt’s defense made a statement by overwhelming Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen during a 49-13 win last Saturday after exposing Nebraska’s Tanner Lee with four interceptions the week before.
“I think they were confident, and then to go out on the football field and actually do it, I think that kind of solidified some things that they were thinking in the first place,” Taggart said of the newfound swagger the unit is playing with after getting beaten up the past two seasons. “There’s nothing like going out in a game and performing well and showing that you can play good defense.
“Our guys each and every week are gaining confidence, and each and every week they’re getting better.”
The Sun Devils (1-2), coming off a 52-45 loss at Texas Tech, are tied for 50th in scoring offense (34.0 ppg) and 118th in scoring defense (37.7 ppg).
“This is going to be the most athletic football team we’ve played this year by far,” Taggart said. “It’s Pac-12 football. It’s going to be a challenge, and we’ll be up for it.”
Nelson on the mend
Charles Nelson had to be carted off the field at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyo., on Saturday night and was on crutches after the game.
Taggart said the team’s top wide receiver has a sprained ankle.
“Hopefully he will be back here soon and be ready to go,” Taggart said.
Nelson leads the Ducks with 15 receptions for 243 yards and a touchdown. The senior also muffed a punt to set up Wyoming’s only touchdown before suffering his injury.
Dillon Mitchell filled in as the punt return man and made six catches for 65 yards against the Cowboys.
“I stepped in where Charles left off,” Mitchell said. “Charles has been such a great wide receiver, and I’m glad I was able to come in and make those catches for Justin (Herbert).”
Taj Griffin, making his first appearance since suffering a torn ACL last year, also helped pick up the slack with a 20-yard touchdown reception.
“When (Nelson) went out we lost an explosive player,” Taggart said. “I don’t think you’ll see much of our offense change. We just need guys to step up. When the quarterback gets them the ball, we expect them to catch the ball and continue to have the success that we’ve had through the season so far.”
Curtains are curtains
Mark Helfrich and his staff used large white sheets and black curtains to shield Arizona State from stealing their offensive signals the past two years.
Taggart doesn’t plan to pack any such props for Saturday’s road trip to Tempe, Ariz.
“If they can pick up our signs and stop us from that, then more power to them,” Taggart said.
“We’re not concerned by that. We have a lot of different signals, and you never know who they’re by. You look over and you’ll see a lot of guys moving and giving signals. Every week it’s someone different. You just never know.”
Early Heisman talk
Herbert and Royce Freeman have gone from “off the board” to having 25-to-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada Las Vegas.
During Oregon’s first 3-0 start since Marcus Mariota’s Heisman season in 2014, Herbert completed 73.2 percent of his passes for 897 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Freeman leads the FBS in rushing touchdowns (nine) and is fourth in all-purpose yards (189.7 ypg).
Late night starts
Saturday’s game will be the first of two late-night starts for the Ducks.
Oregon’s Sept. 30 game against Justin Wilcox and California will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 at Autzen Stadium, the Pac-12 Conference announced Monday.
The game also will mark the return of Steve Greatwood, Oregon’s former longtime offensive line coach who now coaches the offensive line for the Golden Bears.
Taggart said Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins, one of only three quarterbacks in the nation who has thrown over 100 passes this season without an interception, will present Oregon’s defense with a challenge because of his ability to run the ball. … Arizona State senior linebacker Koron Crump, an all-Pac-12 second team selection last season, is doubtful due to a knee injury. … Texas Tech had eight plays of 20 yards or more and finished with 615 yards (7.8 per play) against the Sun Devils’ defense.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Taggart said of his offense scoring 42 points in the first half of all three games but only a total of seven points in the second half of its last two games.
“We’ve just got to continue to get better. It’s great when you can win big and still have a lot to improve on. I know our guys are looking forward to getting better.”