TEMPE, Ariz. — When asked about Oregon's nine-game winning streak, Shane Lemieux did a pretty good job of maintaining a poker face while toeing the company line.
“That’s the thing, man, we think about 1-0,” said Lemieux, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve got Arizona State this weekend. I don’t even know who we’re playing next week.”
The savvy left guard’s subtle grin was the tell: Of course Lemieux and his teammates are aware the regular season concludes with Oregon State on Nov. 30 at Autzen Stadium.
Credit coach Mario Cristobal and his staff for keeping No. 6 Oregon focused on the task at hand throughout a perfect Pac-12 season, which continues with one final true road test against Arizona State on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium (4:30 p.m., ABC).
The Ducks (9-1, 7-0) have clinched the North Division and a spot in the conference title game but must beat the slumping Sun Devils (5-5, 2-5) to remain in position for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s an honor to be placed in that conversation,” said Cristobal, who made an appearance on Tuesday’s ESPN playoff rankings reveal show. “There is nothing but positivity to it, especially when you handle it the right way and you attack processes and practices like the way we did (Wednesday).”
Studying Arizona State’s talented roster made it easy for Oregon to turn the page after last week’s 34-6 trampling of hapless Arizona.
Jayden Daniels, the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback, is completing 61.4% of his passes for 2,236 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-foot-3 freshman has also rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
Running back Eno Benjamin (801 rushing yards) and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (964 receiving yards) have combined for 17 touchdowns.
“I’ve seen him quite a lot. He’s a good quarterback, he’s a good dude,” said freshman cornerback Mykael Wright, who played on the same seven-on-seven team as Daniels in high school. “We’ve faced mobile quarterbacks this year, so our defense will be able to handle him.”
Arizona State has an extremely young offensive line, which includes 17-year-old LaDarius Henderson at left tackle.
Oregon’s veteran defense, which is ranked 10th nationally in points allowed (14.8 per game) and 14th in yards allowed (306.1 per game), will try to contain Benjamin and force Daniels into making some mistakes under pressure.
The Ducks lead the nation with 17 interceptions (11 different players with at least one pick) and have held six opponents under 10 points (five without a touchdown).
Andy Avalos’ deep unit has had 19 different players credited with at least a half-sack and 27 different players credited with at least a half-tackle this season.
“During that bye week we made a big leap as a front seven in our fundamentals and technique,” senior defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg said. “I think that really showed in the last game. If we continue to do that, we might be able to hem (Daniels) up a little bit.
“They have a great offense, a great running game. If we can stop them it would help our secondary a lot.”
Arizona State’s defense is allowing 23.5 points per game (39th) and 380.2 yards per game (56th).
Coach Herm Edwards — true to his “You play to win the game!” mantra from his New York Jets days — went for a 2-point conversion last week instead of kicking an extra point that likely would have led to overtime.
The Sun Devils did not make the try and lost 35-34 at Oregon State, extending their losing skid to four games.
“I see a very experienced, well-coached and very talented football team that plays really good football,” Cristobal said.
Oregon has not lost since the 27-21 defeat to Auburn on Aug. 31 in Arlington, Texas, picking up wins at Stanford, Washington and USC on the path to the Dec. 6 Pac-12 championship in Santa Clara, Calif.
In road games this season, Justin Herbert has completed 72.7% of his passes for 764 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. The senior quarterback has 33 touchdowns and three interceptions in 14 career conference road games.
Oregon’s starting wide receivers are all making big plays down the stretch.
Juwan Johnson has 16 receptions for 263 yards and four touchdowns over the last three games. Johnny Johnson set the tone for the win over the Wildcats with a 73-yard touchdown reception on the second snap. Jaylon Redd leads the team with nine touchdowns.
The Ducks lost freshman receiver Mycah Pittman to a broken arm suffered against Arizona.
Herbert didn’t seem to miss a beat when standout tight end Jacob Breeland went down with a season-ending knee injury against Colorado or senior receiver Brenden Schooler decided to transfer after the win at Washington.
“What’s really neat is he knows what he’s got ahead of him,” Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said of Herbert’s NFL future this week. “I don’t think it’s affected him. There’s a lot of guys that it does. You look at all the money he’s going to be making, and start worrying about getting hurt and all of that. Shoot, if you watch the last game, the team they were playing, they were around his knees a bunch.
“They were getting good pressure — didn’t faze him. That says a lot about his character, and how important this team is to him.”
The Herbert-led Ducks are looking to become the first team to go undefeated in conference play since Oregon went 9-0 in the Pac-10 in 2010.
Darron Thomas passed for 260 yards and two scores and Oregon forced seven turnovers during a 42-31 victory at Arizona State that season en route to the BCS national championship game.
But Cristobal’s team doesn’t appear to be looking ahead to the Civil War against the improved Beavers, a likely clash of Pac-12 titans against Utah in the title game or even the possibility of a College Football Playoff appearance.
“We’re just super excited and super blessed for the position that we’re in,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said. “We understand that a lot of hard work still needs to be done to get to where we want to go.”
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