TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Oregon lost a fumble on its second play, setting up a touchdown and a quick 7-0 deficit.
Cause for concern? Yeah, right.
Arizona State could have scored three quick touchdowns and the Ducks probably wouldn’t have been worried. Shrugging off their early miscue as if it never happened, the second-ranked Ducks ran over Arizona State in an overpowering first half, turning what was supposed to be a duel in the desert into a statement-making 43-21 victory over the Sun Devils on Thursday night.
“They came out and scored, but the one thing I love about this team is that they don’t flinch,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “We talk about playing a full game and this team bounced back.”
Facing its first true road test, Oregon turned one of Arizona State’s biggest games in years into another we’ve-seen-this-before Ducks’ rout.
The Ducks (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) had their way against what had been the Pac-12’s best defense, racing to a 36-point halftime lead and rushing for 406 yards for their nation-leading 12th straight road victory.
Kenjon Barner got Oregon started with a 71-yard touchdown two plays after Arizona State’s opening score, finishing with 143 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
Freshman Marcus Mariota held up in his first game in a hostile environment, running for 135 yards and a touchdown, passing for another score, even catching a TD pass from his backup.
Oregon’s defense did its part, too, chasing quarterback Taylor Kelly all night while holding the Sun Devils in check until its reserves gave up a couple of long drives late.
Hoping to move past No. 2 Florida in the BCS standings, the Ducks picked up a big road win against a gritty opponent to open a season 7-0 for the fourth time in school history — and second in three years.
“We just came out and did what we have to do,” said Barner, who eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the third straight game and fourth time this season. “We came out and executed well. We made big plays, plays that we’re supposed to make.”
Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) got the start it wanted, scoring a touchdown on its first play after Oregon’s fumble.
The Sun Devils wilted after that, unable to make up for the early loss of star defensive tackle Will Sutton or find a way to slow down the Ducks as they raced past.
Kelly, the Pac-12’s pass efficiency leader, threw two interceptions that set up Oregon touchdowns in the first half and had 93 yards on 10-of-18 passing while running for his life seemingly on every play.
Arizona State’s defense, its anchor through the first six games, allowed 454 total yards, including 48 more rushing than it had the previous four games combined.
With a chance to make a statement of their own, the Sun Devils didn’t come close.
“We do have a good football team, but we got beat by a really, really good football team tonight,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, they’re one of the best, if not the best team in the country.”
Sun Devil Stadium hadn’t been the stage for a game like this for some time, maybe back to 2005, when Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and No. 1 Southern California beat the Sun Devils 38-28.
Oregon had become the standard for success in the West, winning three straight Pac-12 titles, last season’s Rose Bowl and earning a trip to the BCS title game the year before that.
The Ducks may be even better this season, again scoring points quickly and in bunches, with an improved defense to go with it.
Arizona State was one of the surprises the first half of the season, winning five games and nearly pulling out a sixth under Graham in his first season.
To swat down the Ducks on national TV would be a big boost to the Sun Devils, a we-have-arrived moment that would turn the spotlight full blast toward the desert.
More than 70,000 fans showed up for this highly anticipated duel, creating a “black out” with their synchronized black shirts.
The Ducks quickly made it look like they were attending a funeral.
Arizona State at least got off to a good start, recovering a fumble by Mariota on Oregon’s second play, scoring 7 seconds later on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Kevin Ozier.
The game had barely started, but that was about it for the Sun Devils, who lost Sutton for the game and possibly longer to a right knee injury on Mariota’s fumble.
Two plays later, Barner ran up the middle, hesitated for a second and raced 71 yards for a touchdown.
Then it was Mariota to Bralon Addison for a 6-yard touchdown. Mariota was on the receiving end for the next score, catching a 2-yard pass from backup Bryan Bennett, who wriggled the ball forward while in the grasp of two defenders.
The first of Kelly’s two interceptions, by Boseko Lokombo, set up Barner for a 1-yard scoring run. Mariota then raced up the middle 86 yards for a touchdown, the longest run by a quarterback in school history. Barner scored again on a 1-yard run, again after an interception, this one by Avery Patterson.
Oregon led 43-7 at halftime and had 329 yards rushing, 29 fewer than Arizona State allowed against Colorado, California, Utah and Missouri combined.
“We got hit by a hammer,” Graham said.
The Ducks coasted through the second half, resting many of their starters as Arizona State scored two touchdowns.
It didn’t matter at that point.
Oregon had done enough during its overpowering first half to beat the Sun Devils for the eighth straight time and keep its head of steam going toward what it hopes is another Pac-12 title, maybe even a BCS title game berth.