When USC travels to Tempe, Ariz. this weekend to challenge the Arizona State Sun Devils, it will be the final time senior linebacker Devon Kennard does so as a Trojan. For the Phoenix native, this homecoming of sorts will be a bittersweet affair.
"I'm excited to play in front of my hometown for the last time; I will have a lot of friends there so that’s exciting," Kennard said, looking ahead to Saturday. "But I'm going into this like its any other game. We have to execute, and we have to play well. It's a big Pac-12 South game."
So far this season, playing well hasn't been much of a struggle for the Trojans, defensively. Kennard especially is hoping to channel that success in this week's clash. So far this season, Kennard has been a dominant member of the Trojan D-line: he has 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks through four games, as well as USC's only fumble recovery.
"You always wanna play well against your home crowd. They've given me a hard challenge in the past, and I hope they do this year too," he said.
Kennard assures that this game will be no cake walk for the Trojans, and he anticipates an exciting clash between the Sun Devil offense and the Trojan defense.
"I think this is a very explosive offense. If we're not careful, they can score a lot of points on us," Kennard cautions. "We’re just going into the game after a great week of prep. We will have to tackle well in space, and it comes down to just playing well on defense."
That said, this unit has given fans—and the media and players alike—reason to believe in the Pendergast way. Kennard has flourished in defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's new 5-2 scheme, but he attributes his new success not necessarily to his own abilities, but to the leadership he is groomed under.
"It's not just me, its everyone," Kennard said of their dominating play. "It starts with Coach Pendergast and the scheme he's put us in. It's everything he has us doing week by week. We play hard and we play together, and coach Pendergast puts us in position to succeed."
Still, Kennard knows that the Trojans have so much more to accomplish as it heads into the toughest four-game stretch of the season.
"So far we have done pretty well on D, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. We just have to keep getting better," he said.
As if this challenge against ASU weren't enough in its own right, more fuel to the fire has been added, thanks to Sun Devil Carl Bradford's fighting words about the Trojans. Kennard says the players have definitely seen the video, and they are using it as more motivation to play well on the road this weekend.
"We want to show that we can't just be dominated. We know they're going to be ready, and we know they are gonna play their best game of the season," he said. "I'm expecting a battle, and I think that’s exactly what it will be."
The defense has experienced a two-game slump where it hasn't produced any turnovers, despite the constant pressure under which they place opposing quarterbacks. While he hopes they can change that against ASU, Kennard isn't too worried about the lag.
"Turnovers come in bunches. It's something we emphasize every day. We just gotta keep on hammering the rock and eventually we are gonna get those [turnovers]. You can't get frustrated and stop trying," he said.
The Trojan defense will certainly be looking to make a statement against the Sun Devils, and that certainly goes double for Kennard.
When the lights turn on in Tempe on Saturday, Kennard will look to not only impress the Trojan family with his performance, but also to make proud the friends and family cheering for him in the stands who have supported him throughout his college career.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise stated.