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September 26, 2010

'Red zone' unfriendly territory for Sun Devils

Search for a common theme to understand why Arizona State's offensive drives continuously stall out in or near its opponent's red zone and you'll probably end up scratching your head.

The Sun Devils have failed to come away with points in just about every way imaginable over the course of their last several games: Missed field goal; interception; lost fumble; turnover on downs.

There have been physical mistakes, mental mistakes, bad luck, some might even include another category: Act of God.

But stall out they have. Like a pilot not giving his plane enough thrust on liftoff, the Sun Devils have come crashing back to earth in back-to-back weeks despite having a structurally sound vehicle with which it could soar.

Nothing was more clearly evident Saturday during ASU's 42-31 loss to Oregon at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

Entering the week ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in red zone efficiency, the Sun Devils took a step in the wrong direction, failing to score three times in the red zone. On four other occasions, ASU moved the ball past the Oregon 40-yard line only to come up empty.

"It's frustrating because we know we have a pretty good team," coach Dennis Erickson said.

Saturday it was all about turnovers. There were seven all told, including four interceptions by junior quarterback Steven Threet, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, and three of which came in the fourth period.

"It's very disappointing to play well and then make a couple plays that cost the team the game," Threet said. "You're not going to win the game when you turn the ball over seven times. I think that it's plain and simple. It's the only way to look at it."

Threet completed 30 of 53 passing attempts for 387 yards and three touchdowns but those numbers are a bit deceiving. He threw the ball behind receivers consistently all night -- a number of which were caught -- and missed on several important throws, none more clear than a crossing senior receiver Kerry Taylor for what would have been a sure touchdown in the second half.

Then there were the four interceptions, which directly contributed to at least one Oregon touchdown and kept ASU at arm's distance from the Ducks late.

Sophomore running back Cameron Marshall hasn't shown a tendency to put the ball on the turf, but lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line and failed to attempt to cover a dropped lateral.

Reporters questioned Erickson and several ASU players following the game about the inability to put points on the scoreboard despite easily moving the football -- including 597 yards of total offense Saturday -- and they didn't want to chalk it up to youth or an unfamiliarity with winning.

"Attention to detail, focus, however you want to put it," Threet said. "It comes down to we made too many mistakes. However we solve that, it has to get corrected."

Junior wide receiver Mike Willie, who had five catches for 74 yards including two touchdowns, used the word "finish" a good dozen or so times in the few minutes he was at the post-game press conference.

"It hurts deep, because we had them in our back pocket," Willie said. "We could have put them away. We let them back in with a couple of turnovers, and you can't give a good team opportunities. We gave them some opportunities and they turned it up."


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