USC is headed to Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils in what will be the Trojans’ first, true road test of the season.
While the season opener against Hawaii was a road game, the setting was not what you would expect from an opposing crowd.
Kickoff on Saturday won’t come until nightfall, allowing plenty of time for the Sun Devil faithful to spend the majority of the day building up to an “enthusiastic” welcoming for the hated Trojans.
USC has enjoyed overall success against the Arizona State. However, their last visit to Tempe resulted in a deflating 43-22 loss, which ended the Trojans’ 11 game winning streak over the Sun Devils.
1. Maintain composure
There is no love lost between the Trojans and Sun Devils.
This sentiment was epitomized when Sun Devil linebacker Carl Bradford recently said, “I just want to kill them,” when discussing this weekend’s matchup with the Trojans.
Sun Devil fans can create an uncomfortable setting for the opposing team and the Trojans will need to block out the noise and focus on their game plan (yes, Lane Kiffin will/should have a game plan).
If the Trojans begin to come unglued and get flagged for penalties, or their play suffers because of the hostile environment, it could make for a long evening.
2. Find an offensive rhythm
After putting together a complete game against Boston College, the Trojan offense reverted back to its old, stagnant self against Utah State.
The regression can be attributed to dropped passes, untimely penalties, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the play calling.
If the Trojans can find a healthy balance of run and pass plays, the offense should once again hit its stride and make the Trojans a tough team to beat.
Considering the Sun Devils are giving up an average of 24 points a game, a number aided by shutting out Sacramento State, should the Trojans reach the 24-28 point range, you’d have to like the their chances of walking away with a victory.
3. Improve pass protection
The book is out on USC — they will try to beat you with the run and their defense.
Against inferior teams, this strategy has proven to work just enough; the Washington State game notwithstanding.
Sensing this, Arizona State may choose to often play with eight men in the box and force the Trojans hand. If that happens, USC must be able to complete passes downfield and make the Sun Devils respect their passing game.
The pass protection thus far has been sporadic and if the passing game has hopes of getting going, the protection needs to improve.
If Cody Kessler isn’t afforded time to go through his progressions, it could lead to hurried throws and interceptions, or sacks.
Any of which will feed energy to the already expected raucous crowd, which in turn can result in USC becoming unraveled.
4. Disrupt ASU passing game
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has thrown for a minimum of 300 yards in each of the Sun Devils’ first three games.
However, after passing for five touchdowns against Sacramento State, Kelly has declined a bit against tougher competition — throwing for a combined three touchdown passes to go along with three interceptions against Wisconsin and Stanford.
On the surface, Kelly appears capable of giving the Trojan secondary fits, though Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton was thought of in a similar light and his success was nonexistent.
Given how stout the Trojan defense has been against the run, if they are also able to contain the Sun Devils’ passing attack, frustration could begin to set in for the Arizona State offense.
5. Control the tempo
Arizona State runs a spread offense and will look to utilize the hot desert air to their advantage.
When on defense, the Trojans must continue to win first and second down, which is something the front seven has been excelling in.
When USC has the ball, they must be able to sustain drives and give their defense ample time to rest. Of course, sustaining offensive drives ties into having a balanced attack. Sensing a theme?
If USC is able to limit the amount of time Arizona State’s offense is on the field during the early portions of the game, the defense could have enough left in the tank for a late defensive stand, should it be necessary.