Nearly every narrative about USC’s homecoming matchup with ASU this weekend involves the “Clash of the Titans” theme of Arizona State’s No. 1 Pac-12 pass defense challenging the No. 3 Pac-12 pass offense of the Trojans, and a unit that’s put up nearly 1,000 passing yards the last two weeks.
Even Coach Lane Kiffin mentioned ASU’s exalted pass defense standings when talking to the media this week, and the Visor has the stats to back him up.
ASU is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in total passing yards allowed, passing yards allowed per game, opponent quarterback rating, and opponent completion percentage. But how much of ASU’s low passing numbers are a product of superior players and schematics, and how much are simply a function of scheduling?
The three top passing offenses in the Pac-12 are Arizona, Washington State and USC. ASU has yet to face any of those teams yet. The Sun Devil’s lowest passing total of the season, the 48 they allowed to Oregon, was simply because the Ducks scored so many rushing touchdowns, and so quickly that the game was a blowout by early in the second quarter, and the Chip Kelly was killing clock long before half.
ASU’s next two best performances were the 101 yards allowed to Illinois and 117 allowed to Utah, but neither of those are impressive either. Both are bad offenses and both were stuck playing backup quarterbacks the weeks they happened to play ASU. And both backups, Riley O’Toole for UI and John Hays of UU, threw for more yards than their season average against ASU (101 v. 77 for O’Toole and 117 v. 93 for Hays).
The Devils’ other best performances were against already woeful quarterbacks at Cal and Colorado. Missouri, UCLA and Oregon State are the only solid passing attacks ASU has faced this season and none of them fared much worse than normal against the Devils.
Mizzou averages 194 yards passing. Against the stifling defense of ASU, their total was a whopping two yards lower.
UCLA threw 14 yards below their average on their trip to the desert, but only because they didn’t throw as much as normal. Brett Hundley actually averaged 8.8 yards per attempt against ASU, which is nearly a full yard better than his season average.
Oregon State did throw 40 fewer yards than their average in their win over ASU, but that is attributable to the fact that the Beavers were able to get their poor rushing offense going against ASU’s weak run defense.
That brings us to the likely game plan for the Trojans on Saturday. With the EXTREMELY notable exception of the Arizona game, when Lane Kiffin has seen a team with bad rush defense numbers, he has dialed up rush-heavy attacks. When USC played Washington (No. 11 in rush defense), the Trojans ran twice as much as they threw. Against Cal, it was all power-I, double tight end smash mouth football and USC tailbacks ran for 300 yards.
Well, guess where ASU’s rush defense is ranked? 8th. One spot below Cal.
Even if ASU’s pass defense isn’t really the best in the Pac-12, it’s certainly not below average, but the Devils’ run defense sure is.
Because of that, we can expect Kiffin’s game plan to look a lot like it did against other poor defenses: Power-I and run, run, run, run, run…then throw deep.
Look for what could be a great day for the Trojans’ offense on Saturday, built on the rush offense. Not because ASU’s pass defense is exceptional, but simply because their run defense is anything but.