Cory Mccartney
Friday November 2nd, 2007

Breaking down Saturday's key Pac-10 showdown.

1. Dennis Dixon is the Ducks' posterboy, but Jonathan Stewart has been doing the heavy lifting. Dixon, the slick quarterback, has been a revelation in leading Chip Kelly's offense and has put his name near (or at) the top of many Heisman lists. But the key to the Ducks is Stewart, who has recently had to pick up the pace like never before. Through the first six games, Stewart was carrying the ball an average of 16.5 times, sharing time with Jeremiah Johnson. But since Johnson was lost to a season-ending knee injury, Stewart has toted the rock 57 times in the past two games for a total of 354 yards. On the season, he has 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns and his 6.69 yards per carry is tops among FBS' 13 1,000-yard rushers. The Sun Devils have been stout against the run, ranking ninth in the country (89.3 yards per game) and have only allowed one back to hit the 100-yard mark this season (Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard). But if the Ducks are going to dictate the pace -- like they have for so much of the season -- they need Stewart to once again get rolling early.

2. Arizona State has thrived with its back against the wall. The Sun Devils have followed an all-too-familiar script in five of their victories, bouncing back from 14-0 vs. Colorado and 19-0 against Oregon State, trailing Washington State three different times, rebounding from a four-point halftime deficit to Washington (by outscoring UW 31-3 after the break) and trailing Cal by 13 points before outscoring the Bears 17-0 in the second half. In all, the Sun Devils have outscored the opposition 153-29 after halftime. Arizona State is likely to follow suit against the high-powered Ducks, who have gotten on the board first in every game this season. But will Oregon, which is averaging 43.8 points a game (third in the country) and 25 in the first half, put the Sun Devils in an insurmountable hole?

3. Autzen Stadium indeed brings the noise. Oregon's record crowd of 59,277 against USC last weekend still leaves the Ducks' pond ranked 47th among Division I-A stadiums, but nowhere else will ear plugs come in more handy than in Eugene. In the win over the Trojans, the crowd registered 127.2 decibels -- louder than a jet taking off -- setting a national record for recorded crowd noise. But Autzen is more than just a raucous atmosphere; it's also a nightmare for the opposition. Coined "the place where great teams go to die," Oregon has a 42-6 record in Autzen Stadium since 1997 -- but for those scoring at home, two of those losses came against the Sun Devils (in 2002 and '04).

We asked a defensive coordinator from a former Oregon opponent to give us an anonymous scouting report on the Ducks' explosive offense, which ranks fourth in total offense (524.38 yards per game). Here's what he had to say:

"We went in knowing what a great athlete [Dixon] was. We weren't so sure about the arm part. We wanted to kind of stop the running game and make him throw it and he showed us real quick that he can throw the football. I don't know, [how you stop him] is the $64,000 question. He can beat you either way.

"But it's not just him. Stewart's a great running back. The offensive line has gotten better. The receiving corps has matured. They're a total package offensively, no doubt.

"You have to play down-and-distance football. You gotta take away the run game on early downs and force them into passing situations so you can kind of dictate the tempo of the game. I think you have to give them different looks. I think you have to change the look, especially in the option game and try to disguise your coverage and get them into a passing situation.

"If you try and make them one-dimensional, they're good enough to throw the ball on you. I think you have to try and slow them down a little bit and try and outscore them.

"They're one of the best in the country. They have no true weakness, I don't think. I think they're pretty solid. You gotta hope that they're going to turn the ball over and beat themselves some, which option-type teams do sometimes. But they've even showed when they turn it over that they can win ball games."

Oregon 34, Arizona State 24. The game absolutely nobody had highlighted on their Pac-10 calendar before the season started carries Ralphie May-like weight in the BCS and Pac-10 races. There's no denying that Dennis Erickson has worked wonders in Year 1 in Tempe, but this Oregon team has a swagger about it -- on both sides of the ball -- and there's no way the Ducks will lose twice in one season in Autzen.

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