Sun Devils end Ducks playoff dream
There will be no College Football Playoff for the Oregon Ducks.
The Rose Bowl is still a possibility, but on a night that Justin Herbert played one of his poorest games in a Ducks uniform and freshman Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels torched the Ducks secondary for game-changing deep pass plays, Oregon fell 31-28 to the Sun Devils in Tempe, Arizona.
The Ducks almost got off the mat after falling 17 points behind in the fourth quarter. But Daniels hit Brandon Aiyuk in stride for an 81-yard touchdown on a third-and-16 play with 3:54 left that put ASU up 31-21 and proved to be the difference.
Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) has clinched the North Division and will play in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 6. First comes next week's Civil War against an Oregon State team that will be playing for bowl eligibility after a gut-wrenching Saturday night loss at Washington State.
But the Ducks' No. 6 ranking, dreams of a playoff berth and hopes of becoming the first Pac-12 team to go 10-0 in conference games went poof on a night when Herbert was uncharacteristically poor for much of the night.
"Obviously a tough night, a physical battle," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "They made a lot of big plays. We came back and started rolling the latter half of the football game, but certainly got going too late."
Arizona State (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) snapped a four-game win streak with an inspired effort and big plays from Daniels and his talented receiving group.
Daniels completed 22 of 32 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He completed his first 12 passes, most of them to wide-open receivers. Aiyuk had seven catches for 161 yards and Darby four catches for 125.
ASU running back Eno Benjamin ran for 114 yards on 31 carries and caught five passes for 54.
Herbert, the Ducks senior, played more like a freshman until coming alive in the final 10 minutes to try to rally Oregon. He threw interceptions to gift Arizona State 10 points early in the third quarter.
Until he led three lightning-quick drives to try rally his team, Herbert was making bad decisions, throwing into coverage and too often throwing flat-footed.
Herbert finished 20 of 36 with two touchdowns and the two interceptions for 304 yards. Until the late drives, Herbert looked out of sorts on many of his throws, and perhaps missed having the injured Jaylon Redd for a target.
Johnny Johnson III, playing near his home town, caught 10 balls for 207 yards and two touchdowns. But Juwan Johnson, a big playmaker recently, had only three catches for 41 yards against an ASU defense prone to giving up big plays.
The Oregon running game looked like it would be able to dictate the game. But the momentum shifted when a blitzing corner back stopped C.J. Verdell on a fourth-and-1 from the Sun Devils' 6.
Verdell, who appeared to re-injure his arm or shoulder in the fourth quarter, finished with 99 yards on 18 carries. Travis Dye had five carries for 58 yards. But after running the ball well on their first two drives, Oregon netted only 154 yards on the ground.
Despite their offensive struggles, the Ducks trailed only 10-7 at halftime and 13-7 after three quarters.
The Oregon defense was on the field a lot in the first three quarters and did buck up a number of times to keep the Ducks in the game — including limiting the Sun Devils to a field goal that made it 24-7 with 8:42 left in the game.
Oregon woke up on offense, going 75 yards in three plays and 59 seconds to a 10-yard Cyrus Habibi-Likio TD run and 66 yards in 43 seconds to a 24-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Johnson III.
Suddenly, it was a 24-21 contest with 5:24 left.
When Daniels was sacked by Bryson Young and Austin Faoliu at his own 19, it appeared the Ducks would bet the ball back with all of the momentum.
But Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir bit on a Aiyuk fake near the first-down line and the receiver blew by him to grab a perfect ball from Daniels.
The Ducks responded again, going 61 yards in 1:42 with Johnny Johnson scoring on a 17-yard screen play.
But Camden Lewis' onside kick was recovered by Arizona State and the Sun Devils ran out the clock.
Ultimately, it wasn't the finish that had the Ducks kicking themselves.
Oregon took a 7-0 lead by going 80 yards on 11 plays on its second possession, Habibi-Likio carrying five yards for the opening TD.
But Daniels hit Frank Darby for a 57-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7, at that point the longest play the Oregon defense had allowed all season. That was a sign of things to come.
Still, the Ducks next drive went 69 yards in nine plays to the Sun Devils 6. But when Verdell was stuffed on fourth-and-1, it knocked the steam out of Oregon.
A couple of times Oregon — which averaged 5.5 yards per carry — moved the ball across midfield with strong running plays behind its experienced offensive line. But first-down incompletions on pass attempts put the Ducks into second and long and ultimately stalled promising drives.
"When we are a good offense is when we have balance," Cristobal said. "That's always been the key to it. We were running the ball well, so we figured we could throw it too. We were just, we were off."
Other than the big pass plays by Daniels — the Oregon defense did stand up in some key moments, including limiting ASU to field goals in all three of the Devils' trips inside the red zone.
But Arizona State wore on the Ducks defenders, running 74 offensive plays to 64 for the Ducks and dominating possession during the middle two quarters.
As a result, instead of the Ducks offensive line wearing down the Sun Devils defense, it was ASU that built a 36:25 to 23:07 advantage in time of possession and put an end to Oregon's playoff dream.
ARIZONA STATE 31, OREGON 28
Oregon 7 0 0 21—28
Ariz. State 7 3 3 18—31
ORE — Cyrus Habibi-Likio, 5 run (Camden Lewis kick), 6:32
ASU — Frank Darby 57 pass from Jayden Daniels (Christian Zendejas kick), 4:45
ASU — Zendejas, 25 field goal, 3:40
ASU — Zendejas 28 field goal, 12:13
ASU — Darby 26 pass from Daniels (Eno Benjamin pass from Daniels), 12:43
ASU — Zendejas 22 field goal, 8:42
ORE — Habibi-Likio 10 run (Lewis kick), 7:43
ORE — Johnny Johnson III 24 pass from Justin Herbert (Lewis kick), 5:24
ASU — Brandon Aiyuk 81 pass from Daniels (Zendejas kick), 3:54
ORE — Johnson III 17 pass from Herbert (Lewis kick), 2:04
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