ATQ: You failed to mention that Derrick Jones has been suspended for two weeks now, and there is no word yet on his availability for this weekend. Dixon has been slinging the ball to primarily three guys. You may remember Jaison Williams from last year. And while he leads the team in catches, he probably drops even more. I don't really know what happened, but it seems like he drops everything these days. Ed Dickson, the tight end, has probably been the biggest threat, and he finds big seams down the middle. Finally, freshman Aaron Pflugrad has been a huge surprise. He has some of the best hands in the nation. But he is not terribly fast, and is really tiny at 5'9". This is a team that can keep possessions going with the pass, but the deep vertical passing game that you saw against Michigan has been gone since Colvin and Paysinger went down.
PN: I got to see Jonathan Stewart at field level last year, and he's one of the fastest guys I've ever seen. How does the ASU defense shut him down?
ATQ: Pray. Even when you think you have stopped him, he drags you for five yards. The best bet to stop him is to do what SC did—get a couple of turnovers early in special teams, and keep the Oregon O off the field. In all seriousness, you're not going to stop Stewart or Dixon. But what you have to do to slow them down a bit is not let the receivers get any big plays, make clean tackles when you get the chance, and react quickly to the option. If you can do that, you can maybe keep them in the 30s instead of the 50s. With ASUs offensive firepower, that kind of a defensive performance could put them right there.
PN: It's obvious that Dennis Dixon cannot be stopped...as Steve Levy on ESPN might say...you can only hope to contain him. The question is though, is he more of a passing or running threat?
ATQ: I would say that he's more of a running threat. He can definitely throw the ball, but what makes his so unstoppable is the fact that he has so much speed and elusiveness. We saw it time and time again against SC where the Trojans were playing perfect pass defense, only to have Dixon burn them with a scramble. And it's a lot more than scrambling, too. Most of the running plays that we run are read option. If Dixon doesn't like the read on the handoff, he'll pull it out and take it himself. Oftentimes, the opposing players are celebrating a stop of Stewart only to find out that Dixon still has the ball ten yards upfield. You can run a spy on him, but the spy better be damn fast to have any effectiveness. If there is any justice, Dennis Dixon will be your Heisman winner this year.
PN: How does the UO defense stack up against those from previous years? From giving up 28 in a quarter to Stanford to only allowing 17 against USC...it's been all over the board this year.
ATQ: Most Oregon fans think that the Stanford game was a total aberration. We got out to a big lead, and just shut down. The defense, though, really has been all over the board this year. Talent-wise, this is nowhere near the defense we had in, say 2001, although it is much better than what we've had since then. The key is that, while they give up way more yards than I'm comfortable with, they get a ton of turnovers and a ton of sacks. The pass rush is really good and, while our secondary may get burned a bit in isolated coverage, they are going to get enough turnovers to make the system work. That said, the improvement from the first game, in which I was literally terrified of the defense, and now is nothing short of amazing. And this may be only a slightly better than average defense, but with our offense, that's all it has to be. On the other hand, ASU is probably the best offense they've faced this year, so it should be a new challenge for them.
PN: Is there any justice to the fact that, during my freshman year at ASU, I got a duck call confiscated from me at Sun Devil Stadium during our 2003 Duck thrashing? I miss that thing...and it could have come in handy this weekend.
ATQ: Schools taking away noisemakers is beyond lame. That is a terrible injustice, and whoever took that noisemaker away from you should rot in hell.
PN: What's the buzz in Eugene? Tempe is exploding with football fever...I'm sure the same is going on at Oregon.
ATQ: There is always football fever in Eugene, but this is bigger than in recent years. Hundreds of students are camping out for tickets. All everyone in the whole state can talk about is this football team. It reminds me a lot of 2001, but you get the feel that this is even bigger. I think the fact that this was so totally unexpected by most people makes the love affair with the team that much stronger.