Sun Devils amped up for game against No. 2 Ducks


Sun Devils amped up for game against No. 2 Ducks

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State has exceeded most expectations in Todd Graham's first season as coach, leading the Pac-12 South after winning five of its first six games.

The real test of how good the Sun Devils are will come over the second half of a season that's backloaded with tough games, starting Thursday night against No. 2 Oregon in the desert.

Everything Arizona State has done to this point is great, but the so-far-unstoppable Ducks represent a huge step up in competition, a true measuring stick that could either knock the Sun Devils down a few notches or be a huge thrust forward for the program.

``This week is a little different deal,'' Graham said Monday. ``This is as good a football team as there is in the country and they have some dynamic players. We are excited for the opportunity.''

The Oregon game has loomed large on Arizona State's schedule for weeks. Some of the Sun Devils' players admitted they had looked past Colorado last week in anticipation of facing the Ducks.

Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) regained its focus after leading by just three at halftime in Boulder on Thursday and ran past the Buffaloes for a 51-17 win.

Now the Sun Devils get their chance against Oregon, one they hope isn't one of those careful-what-you-wish-for moments.

Oregon (6-0, 3-0) has been the dominant team in the Pac-12 under coach Chip Kelly, becoming the second program to win three straight titles since the conference expanded to 10 teams in 1978. The Ducks played for a national championship in 2011 against Auburn and won the Rose Bowl last season for the first time in 95 years.

Good as its run has been, Oregon may have its best team in Kelly's four seasons, even after losing its starting quarterback and its Heisman-finalist running back to the NFL draft.

The Ducks have been unapproachable so far this season, their closest game a 17-point win over Fresno State. Oregon is second nationally in scoring with 52.33 points per game and has done it quickly, with 24 of its 39 scoring drives lasting less than two minutes, including 14 that have taken 60 seconds or less.

The Ducks are third in the initial BCS standings, eighth in total offense (541.67 yards) and have won nine straight games, the second-longest streak in the FBS behind defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama.

Oregon also has dominated Arizona State recently, winning seven straight games over the Sun Devils, including four in Tempe while averaging over 43 points per game.

``It's a big-time matchup,'' Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee said after the victory over Colorado. ``I hope it's going to be sold out. I'm excited to play them; who wouldn't be? We're ready.''

It is expected to be a sellout - a rarity at Arizona State - and the school is calling for a blackout, with everyone in the stands wearing black.

Graham is hoping the atmosphere will at least slow down the Ducks in their first true road test of the season.

Oregon has been good on the road, winning 11 straight since losing at Stanford in 2009, the longest streak in the nation.

The Ducks haven't had much time away from home this season, though, playing five of their first six games in Eugene while the other game, against Washington State, was at a somewhat neutral site in Seattle, where numerous Ducks fans filled the stands.

Facing a strong defensive team - Arizona State is fifth nationally in total defense and ninth in scoring - in what should be a raucous atmosphere will certainly be new to quarterback Marcus Mariota.

He was a redshirt last season, so obviously didn't play, and hasn't had to face a whole of adversity this year as the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Ducks since Danny O'Neil in 1991.

Mariota has been good so far, ranking second in the Pac-12 in passer efficiency (156.43) while completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,301 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions. He's been surrounded by some of the most dynamic players in college football - handing the ball off to Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas never gets old - but Graham is hoping a bit of road rage from the Sun Devils' fans may rattle Mariota.

``The crowd is a factor,'' Graham said. ``I encourage our crowd, when they are on offense to try to break the windows out of the new building over there. Let's get it loud.''

Pull this one off, and the Sun Devils will make some noise of their own.

Quick Links

Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs


Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

Andre Burakovsky will be sidelined for the remainder of Washington's first-round series vs. Columbus, but he isn’t necessarily out for the remainder of the playoffs, Coach Barry Trotz said on Friday.

Burakovsky suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in the Capitals' Game 2 overtime loss and has not been on the ice since.

Trotz said the 23-year-old top-six winger needs “minor” surgery.

That procedure, however, will not preclude Burakovsky from returning to the Caps’ lineup in subsequent rounds, should Washington advance.

“That's why I said minor surgery,” Trotz added, asked if Burky might return at a later date.

This latest surgery is the second for Burakovsky this season. In late October, he had a procedure to repair a broken left thumb and missed the next 20 games.

Since his departure in Game 2, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson have taken turns replacing Burakovsky on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.


Quick Links

Bradley Beal on his struggles, getting an apology from Scott Brooks

USA Today Sports Images

Bradley Beal on his struggles, getting an apology from Scott Brooks

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks remarked after Game 2 and following practice on Thursday that he was partly to blame for Bradley Beal's modest scoring output through two games in the team's playoff series against the Raptors. They weren't just throwaway lines, a coach trying to make his star player feel better for struggling in the playoffs.

No, Brooks truly meant what he said and followed up those comments with an apology face-to-face. Brooks met with Beal and John Wall in between Games 2 and 3 to see how they can get Beal going and reiterated that some of it all was on the coach.

"He apologized to me, which was weird because he's somebody who always holds me accountable for stuff," Beal said after Friday's shootaround. "I guess he figured I wasn't shooting the ball enough and he thought it was his fault. I don't know."

Beal, who is averaging 14.0 points in two games and scored only nine in Game 2, came away from the meeting with a good understanding of what he needs to do to get back on track. After apologizing, Brooks laid out a strategy in hopes that he, Wall and Beal can all be on the same page moving forward.

They need to get their All-Star shooting guard back to form on the offensive end.

"He just basically challenged me. He challenged me to be more aggressive on the offensive and defensive end," Beal said.

What has made Beal's scoring troubles through two games particularly surprising is how well he played against the Raptors during the regular season. He averaged 28.8 points in four games against Toronto and all were without Wall.

Beal shot 50 percent against the Raptors both from the field and from three. So far this series he's shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from long range.

Asked whether there is anything he can draw from the regular season to apply to the playoffs, Beal said it's not as easy as it may seem.

"Those games are different. The matchups are different to an extent. It's totally different in the playoffs because you have more time to prep and prepare and gameplan for us," he said. 

"I think the biggest thing is them being physical. They are real physical with me. Whenever I'm standing around on offense or moving around, they are grabbing me. I just need to be physical back with them. Keep moving off the ball and especially if Kyle [Lowry] is guarding me. Tire him out as much as possible. Continue to be aggressive."

Coaches use all sorts of leadership tactics to motivate players. Perhaps an apology will do the trick.