USC has been every team’s nemesis in the Pac-10 for the last decade. Yet just last Saturday, as the Coliseum torch was lit at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Oregon Ducks dominated the final stanza and earned the spot as the conference’s torchbearer.
The Arizona State Sun Devils want to be included in that conversation. However, beating the Washington schools will only get a program so much praise.
Winning statement games has always been an elusive feat for the Sun Devils. Each and every time that ASU has had an opportunity to knock off a highly-ranked opponent, somehow, someway, the Sun Devils have faltered.
Just this season ASU “gave away” two, maybe three games in unfortunately memorable ways.
But think back to when USC was at their height of dominance. In 2005, the Trojans rolled into Sun Devil Stadium with a No. 1 ranking in both polls and a 25-game win streak that started back in ’03 on Frank Kush Field.
With ASU boasting a respectable No. 15 ranking, ESPN’s College Gameday was on hand—and the Sun Devils came out and put on a show.
Well, at least early on.
The score read: ASU 21-USC 3 at halftime. Dirk Koetter led the Devils on the sidelines, Terry Richardson returned punts, Sam Keller tossed touchdowns, and Keegan Herring rushed.
Those are a handful of long lost Sun Devil names, and maybe the second half had a bit to do with why they are long gone.
Keller was sacked five times and gift-wrapped the Trojans a road victory in the sweltering heat with five interceptions.
Then again, the ASU defense that day was pounded by the rushing tandem of Reggie Bush and Lendale White—both ended the day over 150 yards.
A 38-28 loss was the result.
That was then. A lot has changed on both sidelines, and Saturday the stage will be shifted to Los Angeles.
This game has huge implications for ASU. It is pretty simple: With a 4-4 record, the Sun Devils need three wins to guarantee a bowl berth.
With Southern California, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona left on the schedule, this game seems to be on the “winnable” side.
USC just came off of their so-called “bowl game” against Oregon. So, normally, that would mean their season is over.
Sure, USC is on probation, but it is still USC. Although this year’s version is a slightly diminished Trojan unit, the talent and ability are still evident.
If you are Dennis Erickson, you have to be happy that Pete Carroll is not across the field calling the shots. In the past, USC’s vaunted defense came out and dominated the Sun Devils.
The name Monte Kiffin would scare most NFL offensive coordinators, but since returning to the college game, opposing coaching staffs and offensive game plans have torched the Trojan defense.
To give you insight as to how dismal USC’s defense has been under Kiffin, the Trojans rank 98th in the country, sandwiched between Ball State and UNLV. Ouch.
However, their offense is a major reason why USC still has a winning record at 5-3.
The name is not Matt Leinart at quarterback—but the signal-caller is still a Santa Ana Mater Dei product named Matt.
Matt Barkley has completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,133 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Trojan offense is averaging 278 yards passing and 200 yards rushing a game. This contest will be a major test for the Sun Devil defense, just seven days after their shutout against Washington State.
Obviously USC poses a much bigger threat than the Cougars, but the mentality and confidence must remain constant for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State might have learned something last week. The opposing team’s uniforms or colors do not matter if your execution is precise.
Last week ASU looked to be—and was—unstoppable, hence the 42-0 drubbing. From the first whistle until the game was long out of reach, the Sun Devils set the tone.
On the road, as opposed to playing at home, that mindset is even more important.
Imagine walking out of the long, winding Coliseum tunnel to 80,000 fans booing, and then taking the field with the fiery passion of…a Sun Devil, controlling the game from the opening kickoff until the torch has long burned into the night.
A win for Dennis Erickson’s ASU program against USC means so much more than a fifth victory in 2010.
Beating USC in the Coliseum would be a first since 1999. To accomplish that feat with 54 players on the Sun Devil roster with ties to the “Golden State” would plant a major seed in the fertile area of Southern California.
Beating Stanford and UCLA on the road in 2007 was nice for recruiting, but the luster that radiates from defeating the USC Trojans is far different.
Erickson stated, “It’s a business trip as far as we’re concerned.” He continued to say, “it would be nice to go down there and play well.”
Of course, “it would be nice,” but after the last road trip to California, the last word on anyone’s mind was “nice.”
The difference between the Cal road trip and the Wazzu home game was intensity.
A business trip mentality is nice because execution and precision have to be the focus to be successful.
“It would be nice” to see that style for four quarters on the road in a hostile environment against one of college football’s most storied programs of all time.
If ASU wants to be included in the conference’s elite, then they simply must take care of business at the Coliseum Saturday night.
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