Arizona State has a tremendous opportunity in front of them Saturday night in the form of the USC Trojans. A win against the Trojans will go a long way for this ASU program.
On the other sideline, USC (5-3, 2-3) is attempting to right the ship and finish the season strong after losing three of their last four games.
But how will these two teams accomplish this task?
First, USC is still USC even without the national rankings and undefeated streak. If you believe the Trojans do not have talent, just ask Oregon’s head coach Chip Kelly, who made a point in counting, how many four and five star recruits USC has on their roster.
Both teams actually have very talented and fast wide receivers and running backs—big plays will be the story of the game.
But the offensive line and defenses of both teams will dictate how this contest shapes up.
USC led by Arizona native, Kristofer O’Dowd, might have the best offensive linemen at every single position in the country, which makes for an incredibly tough obstacle to maneuver, but the Sun Devils are seventh nationally with 63 tackles for loses, including 16 sacks.
ASU will have to cause havoc and chaos in the Trojans backfield to have any success under the lights.
The key players that will need to get this job done are freshman defensive end Junior Onyeali (Pac-10 defensive player of the week), defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Sai’a Falahola, and of course middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict will want to have a huge game against the Trojans. Remember when Burfict was a senior at Corona Centennial, he originally committed to play for USC, until signing at the eleventh hour with Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils.
Hopefully the maturation process with Burfict continues this week, and he can keep his emotions in check in a highly emotional showdown with the USC Trojans.
Number seven’s play could factor into how much success the Trojan’s play-action passing game has, because the Trojans are still a run oriented team that loves the deep ball on run fakes.
USC will want to pound the ball with Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford early, and then look for the deep routes over the ASU secondary.
If Barkley has time, he can carve up a defense.
Big plays were a major story in the last road trip for ASU. California’s Kevin Riley had his best game of the season against the Sun Devils if you exclude the Bear’s first opponent UC Davis.
Barkley can do the exact same thing, and the Sun Devils are well aware of that fact.
Ronald Johnson and true freshman Robert Woods have been Barkley’s primary deep targets, and both have combined for 14 of Barkley’s 21 passing touchdowns.
For the Sun Devils, their offense isn’t exactly chop liver in any capacity.
ASU is averaging 432 yards per game. Add with those numbers, quarterback Steven Threet is nestled in between Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Oregon’s Darron Thomas in total offense.
Threet is averaging just less than 270 yards a game. However, Sun Devil fans hope the turnover bug that plagued ASU until last week, will be considered a “thing of the past.”
Following the Washington State game, I stated, “turnovers would not even be considered a subplot”, in regards to ASU’s 42-0 win. A similar story will be necessary versus the USC Trojans.
If Threet’s numbers are similar to his 26 of 32 for 300 yards and three touchdown performance, ASU will be in pretty good shape.
But once again, the Trojans are not the Cougars.
Unfortunately, ASU’s offensive line will not be lining up against the Cougar’s defense this Saturday either. Those four and five star athletes that Chip Kelly so eloquently pointed out last week will be a cause for concern for the Sun Devils.
Up front on the offensive line, ASU is inexperienced, but have now played together for the past four games.
Sure, that doesn’t sound great, but the Sun Devils have not seen continuity like that in a long, long time.
And don’t be surprised if senior guard John Hargis receives “more action” in this week’s game, as Erickson hinted at on ESPN affiliate KTAR’s Doug and Wolf in the Morning.
But as the season has unfolded, the leader up front for ASU continues to be center, Garth Gerhart. This week, Gerhart will have the herculean task of attempting to contain USC defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and DaJohn Harris, as well as the countless blitzing linebackers that will cross his face.
Both offensive guards Mike Marcisz and Andrew Sampson will play a key role in how affective the Sun Devil’s offense will be on Saturday. If they falter, don’t be surprised to see No. 59 John Hargis trot in at left guard.
The Trojans defensive tackles are that good—a game can be dominated by two 300 pounders. Without success running the football against USC, or pass protecting efficiently the Sun Devils would be in for a long night.
Although, if you listened to Lane Kiffin’s Pac-10 teleconference, the Trojans think that ASU’s defense might be the side that dominates.
Kiffin said, “They can be great. They have shown that in games.” He then added, “When they want to bring it, they can bring it.”
The Oregon Ducks just overpowered the Trojans, and Kiffin didn’t forget about the Sun Devil’s showing against the top ranked Ducks.
“This is a team and a defense that made Oregon punt eleven times, now that is impressive.”
For the Arizona State Sun Devils to even think they have a chance, they absolutely have to “bring it” Saturday night. A nearly flawless performance will be the only way ASU has a shot at pulling off the victory.
Then again, it is not like USC is unbeatable at home either. Heck, the underachieving Washington Huskies notched a victory on the very same Coliseum turf.
The Sun Devils have had their high points this season, and certainly have had their share of low spots. However, a big-time, dominating performance at the point of attack and at the line of scrimmage, could set the stage for another highlight reel game.
Sun Devil fans will hope it’s a highlight reel game for the maroon and gold, and not the hometown cardinal and gold.