Prior to Arizona State University joining what would become the Pac-10 conference along with the University of Arizona in 1978, Oregon and the Sun Devils had only ever played a single home-and-home series in football. The Ducks flew south to Tempe on November 12, 1966 and the home team won the day 14-10. Arizona State finally made a return trip to Eugene on September 15, 1973 and were rude guests to their hosts, winning 26-20. The schools played seven times from 1980 to 1988 as conference opponents, every game an Arizona State victory. Oregon broke through in the win column in 1989 and 1990, in which head coach Rich Brooks and quarterback Bill Musgrave led the Ducks to their first bowl games since the time of coach Len Casanova. Curiously, both victories over the Sun Devils came by identical 27-7 margins.
Brooks only lost once more to Arizona State, a 24-21 setback in Tempe in 1991, before leaving to take over the NFL’s St. Louis Rams following the 1994 season. His successor Mike Bellotti had the misfortune of going up against some of the best Sun Devils teams of the decade, including the 1996 Pac-10 Champions led by quarterback Jake “the Snake” Plummer. Oregon broke ASU’s 3 game streak in 1998 behind senior quarterback Akili Smith in a 51-19 beatdown.
The Sun Devils came back to Eugene in 1999, but it wouldn’t be nearly so easy this time around. Both offenses struggled in the first half and the teams went into the locker room tied at 3-3. Neither team’s quarterback was able to generate much through the passing game, and Oregon relied on workhorse running back Reuben Droughns to grind out 188 yards on 37 carries to keep them close. But Arizona State took the lead 17-13 with 1:04 left in the game. Desperate to spark his offense with one chance left, Bellotti benched his struggling starting QB AJ Feeley for the second week in a row and turned to sophomore Joey Harrington. The future Heisman finalist answered the call once more, completing 6 of 8 passes to move Ducks 79 yards and found Marshaun Tucker in the end zone with only 9 seconds left on the clock. The Sun Devils were banished 20-17.
As dramatic as the game in Eugene had been, next year in Tempe was what legends are made of. Oregon went into game week undefeated in conference play looking to get back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1994. It was a rough trip for the Ducks long before the game began. Due to bad weather in Phoenix, the team plane was delayed on the tarmac in Eugene for two and half hours. It was 1 AM before the players reached their hotel and they got up at 7 AM to prepare for the 12:30 PM kickoff. Whether the inevitable fatigue of this situation was a major factor or not, Arizona State’s offense looked unstoppable. Sun Devil’s quarterback Jeff Krohn matched the more heralded Harrington blow for blow and the teams went into halftime locked up 28-28.
The Sun Devils took the lead in the 2nd half and were up 49-35 with 5:47 left in the 4th quarter. Oregon responded with a touchdown of their own on a pass from Harrington to Tucker with 3:17 left. Having struggled to stop the Arizona State offense all day, coach Bellotti called for the onside kick but the Sun Devils recovered. The Ducks defense rose to the challenge and got their offense the ball back. Facing 4th and goal from the Arizona State 9 yard line, Harrington found his tight end Justin Peele crossing the field at the 2 and looked like he would lean forward for the score. ASU safety Willie Daniel had other ideas, stopping Peele at the 1 yard line with only 1:22 left in the game. The Sun Devils only needed a single first down to run out the clock, but running back Mike Williams fumbled the ball after passing the line to gain and the Ducks recovered. Harrington went back to Peele on the next play, finding him in the front corner of the end zone. The extra point tied the score at 49 all. The Ducks never led in regulation, but the score had been tied at the end of all four quarters.
In overtime, Steve Smith intercepted Krohn on the first possession. All Oregon had to do was score to escape the desert with a win, but on the ensuing possession Josh Frankel missed a 42 yard field goal. Back on offense in the second overtime, the Ducks put the pressure on the Sun Devils when running back Allan Amundson scored on a sweep to put Oregon up by 7. Arizona State answered quickly on a 21 yard touchdown pass from Krohn to wide receiver Richard Williams. Both teams were reaching the limits of their mental and physical endurance. The Sun Devils’ kicker had been suffering from back pains that had grown worse as the game wore on, so on the extra point coach Bruce Snyder called for a fake kick. Arizona State would win or lose on the ensuing two point conversion attempt. Krohn, the holder, rolled right and lofted a pass to tight end Todd Heap, who was unable to real in a one handed catch. Oregon survived and the road to the Rose Bowl was wide open.
The Ducks 2001 Pac-10 Championship team didn’t repeat their predecessors’ dramatics in 2001, but the Sun Devils seized Oregon’s soul three years in row afterwards. Following offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s “departure” from Eugene after the 2004 season, Bellotti brought in Gary Crowton to run a spread zone-read scheme. This led to a renaissance for quarterback Kellen Clemens and the team as whole, the 2005 squad finishing the regular season 10-1 including the first win over Arizona State for Oregon’s seniors.
Since then Arizona State has struggled greatly in the series, with the Ducks winning 10 in a row. They weren’t all easy though, the 2015 game in Tempe giving the 2000 classic a run for its money. Both teams had explosive offensives and struggling defenses, and the offensive fireworks heated up the desert night. Oregon found themselves trailing 34-41 with 4:30 left in the game but had gained possession of the ball at their own 40 yard line following an interception.
Quarterback Vernon Adams led the offense to the Sun Devil’s 8 yard line, but was down to his last play on 4th and goal with 12 seconds remaining. Dropping back to pass, Adams faced heavy pressure from the Arizona State blitz. Running backwards, he heaved a prayer into the end zone in the vague direction of white Oregon jerseys. Two Ducks players nearly knocked the ball away from each other as they both went for the catch, but wide out Dwayne Stanford held on and forced overtime. The first 4 possessions each resulted in touchdowns, and under the rules at the time both teams successfully kicked extra points. Oregon scored on a controversial touchdown catch to open the third overtime as a field level photographer blocked the replay from being able to confirm whether receiver Bralon Addison had stepped out of bounds before securing the ball. The Sun Devils successfully defended the, now mandatory, two point conversion attempt. On their own possession, Arizona State completed a pass down to the Ducks 3 yard line. Arizona State chose quick passes on their next two plays, and Oregon’s defense finally made a crucial stop. Arrion Springs intercepted a throw that had led the receiver too far, and the Ducks escaped with an improbable 61-55 win.
Arizona State has won two of the last three meetings, beating Willie Taggart’s lone Ducks squad 37-35 in 2017 and knocking Mario Cristobal’s 2019 Pac-12 Championship team out of the playoff race in a 31-28 upset. It is November, and another 1-loss Oregon team has its sights set on the Pac-12 Championship and a playoff berth.