Saturday, November 10th at 3:00 p.m. ET will be a day that shapes the remainder of the Pac-12 season. In a battle of underachieving teams, the 5-4 Arizona State Sun Devils will travel to Los Angeles, Calif. to play the 6-3 USC Trojans.
Both teams have three losses in the Pac-12 and remain one game behind UCLA for first place in the Pac-12 South. Both teams must win this game to remain in contention for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game.
For the Trojans to keep pace in the South division, they must end their two-game losing streak. In order to do so, there are five steps USC must take to defeat the Sun Devils.
Fortunately for head coach Lane Kiffin and company, the path to success will be outlined in the following slides.
Since tight end Randall Telfer joined the USC Trojans in 2011, they are 6-2 in games in which he catches for a touchdown. Unfortunately, it appears as if quarterback Matt Barkley has abandoned his lead checkdown option for more passes over the top.
Although effective with the likes of Marquis Lee and Robert Woods downfield, this strategy has resulted in 10 interceptions in nine games. It has also served as the primary reason the Trojans have been struggling to win games.
Time to return to what works best.
After hauling in 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns in 2011, Telfer has just nine receptions for 74 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Telfer has somehow been looked over, despite the fact that he stands at 6'4" and 255 pounds, runs well and presents a matchup nightmare for any linebacker or safety.
As the Trojans face off against a premier pass rush, they'll need to take advantage of his ability to come off of the edge and haul in checkdown throws. Upon doing so, they'll take at least one pass rusher out of the mix.
When it comes to protecting Matt Barkley, the Trojans must do so by any means necessary.
Once D.J. Foster gets outside, he's gone.
One of the future stars of the Pac-12 is do-it-all running back D.J. Foster.
For those unfamiliar with his work, consider him to be Arizona State's De'Anthony Thomas.
As a freshman, Foster has a combined 103 touches for 856 yards and six touchdowns. He's posted averages of 5.5 yards per carry and 14.3 yards per reception, which offers insight into just how explosive the 6'0" back from Scottsdale, Ariz. truly is.
Which is exactly why the USC Trojans defense cannot allow him to get outside of the tackles.
Against the UCLA Bruins, Foster finished the game with a collective 168 all-purpose yards. He led the team in both rushing and receiving, picking up 61 yards on 13 carries and 107 yards on seven receptions.
Foster also hauled in a 7-yard touchdown reception with 1:33 remaining, giving ASU a 43-42 lead.
For the Trojans to shut down Arizona State's underrated pass attack, they must contain D.J. Foster. He will outrun any linebacker tasked with covering him and can out-muscle a majority of cornerbacks.
This calls for senior safety T.J, McDonald to step up and lead a group effort to keep Foster inside. If they're unable to, expect a long day for the USC defense.
Through nine games, the Arizona State defense has compiled 38 sacks, 12 interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. As a result, the Sun Devils' defense has overcome their tendency to allow big numbers as they create scoring opportunities for their offense.
As for why this has happened, look no further than the Sun Devils' stout front seven.
Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Brandon Magee and Junior Onyeali have combined for 27.5 sacks. Magee on his own has five sacks, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
Collectively, the Sun Devils have the type of pass rush that can fluster Matt Barkley.
A prime example of this was when they got to poised freshman Cody Vaz, forcing the Oregon State Beavers QB to have the worst game of his young career. After completing at least 61.5 percent of his passes in every game prior, the Sun Devils' D-Line hit Vaz often and forced him into a 42.4 completion percentage.
They also roughed Vaz into throwing his first interception of the season.
Although Barkley is no freshman, he has thrown six interceptions in the Trojans' three losses. This has come by virtue of Arizona, Oregon and Stanford utilizing disruptive pass rushes to knock him out of rhythm.
If the Trojans are looking to escape their battle with Arizona State and remain in contention for the Pac-12 South, they must prevent the Sun Devils' vaunted pass rush from getting to Barkley.
Should they fail in said endeavor, a third consecutive loss could be on the horizon.
Over the past three weeks, the Arizona State defense has allowed an average of 258.3 rushing yards per game. It goes without saying that ASU ended up losing each of those outings.
For the USC Trojans to reach the maximum level of success against the Sun Devils, it is imperative that they exploit their suspect run defense.
The key to achieving said feat is to return to the style of play which led the Trojans to victory in the first place. Although Matt Barkley is more than capable of lighting up the ASU defense, it is Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal who will be of the greatest value.
Thus far this season, USC is 3-0 in games in which Redd rushes for at least 100 yards. Considering they've lost two consecutive games while opting to air it out, why not return to a proven formula?
Redd should see at least 20 carries, while McNeal should surpass his season high of 11.
With Taylor Kelly capable of lighting up the scoreboard at quarterback, the Trojans must do all they can to keep the Sun Devils' offense off of the field. Running the football is the perfect way to achieve said feat, with Redd and McNeal combining for between 35 and 40 carries.
After all, the more you pass, the more you leave Matt Barkley exposed to the ASU pass rush.
During games in which quarterback Taylor Kelly has not thrown an interception, the Arizona State Sun Devils are 5-0. In games in which he does, however, ASU is 0-4.
If that's not insight into what it takes to defeat Arizona State, what is?
Kelly is one of the most dynamic players in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils' quarterback has thrown 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions, compiling 2161 yards on a completion percentage of 65.5.
Just don't think that the sophomore QB is invincible. Don't assume the Trojans defense have proven they can perform, either.
In order to force Kelly into committing turnovers, the Trojans must rediscover their pass rush.
Through six weeks, defensive linemen Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Wes Horton and George Uko had combined for 18.5 sacks. Since then, they've taken the quarterback down just two times in three weeks.
If the Trojans plan on stopping Taylor Kelly from going off, they had better get him to the ground. If they're unable to, it will be a long day in Pasadena.