When you watch Arizona State play offense, one thing is for sure. They can air it out.
The Sun Devils and junior quarterback Brock Osweiler have had no trouble moving the ball through the air their first three games, but observers can't speak the same for the ground game.
In three games so far, Arizona State's "stand out" running back Cameron Marshall has yet to play to the potential that has been expected of him.
While Brock Osweiler has surpassed expectations, Marshall has gone the other way. With Osweiler's success, one would think that the two would become a dynamic duo. That has yet to really happen.
The question is, is this Cameron Marshall's fault?
The blame usually leans toward the player who needs to produce, but perhaps all the blame lies within the offensive line.
The Sun Devils' offensive line has not been much help to the passing game, so it would be no surprise that the running game would falter as well.
In last Saturdays game against the Fighting Illini, Osweiller was sacked six times. That is just too much. This lack of protection speaks for the offensive line. The numbers alone show that they are lacking protection, and that lack protection is going to result in a less amount of holes for Marshall to get through and succeed.
Once in awhile they will always get an opening, but it needs to become more consistent. Illinois looked fast, but you can bet that USC will be even faster.
While not protecting their own line of scrimmage, the offensive line also was called on multiple holding and false start calls.
Arizona State is notorious for penalties. Dennis Erickson needs to make these players either more mature or teach them how to properly block because the Sun Devils are losing so much valuable yardage every time they get a penalty.
Against Illinois, they were just piling up sometimes within the same drive.
These penalties kill the run. The Sun Devils lose field position with every penalty, and the more they back up, the more they need to throw the ball to make up for the lost yardage.
Due to being backed up and having to make up for the loss yardage, Marshall also saw nine less carries against the Illini versus what he got against the Missouri Tigers. Nine less times, but he actually had eight more yards on his total than from the previous week. I know some will say "Well he got injured so that is why he had less carries," but he actually left both games with injuries.
So is it the penalties that are killing Marshall's success? Or perhaps the Sun Devils have just found this love for their passing game, especially after it erupted against Missouri.
Against Illinois, the Sun Devils threw the ball 45 times compared to 34 times putting the ball on the ground. That is compared to 34 passes and 31 rushes against Missouri in week two where the Sun Devils looked dominating on the offensive side of the ball.
Given all the penalties that the Sun Devils took on in last Saturday's game, it could perhaps be the reason for their unbalanced attack.
The Sun Devils showed success on the offense when they balanced the attack, so if they look to go more balanced against No. 23 USC, they likely could see success once again.
If Marshall is given the opportunity, he needs to capture it. So far this season, he is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and that is not good enough for the back he is capable of being. I know he has two scores, but Marshall is capable of getting into the end zone at will. He is an elusive back, and he has the ability to do big things.
Come Saturday, it will be make or break time for Marshall. He is capable of putting up 100 yard games, so he needs to start doing it to get ASU moving back in the right direction. If he is once again unsuccessful on the ground, perhaps the blame will officially turn to him. If that be the case, the Sun Devils may have to tinker with options in Jamaal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks.
Sun Devil fans, Dennis Erickson and the players are hoping to see a big game out of Cameron Marshall. If he comes out and plays big, the Sun Devils have a good shot at beating USC and claiming a spot back in the Top 25.