Arizona State Sun Devils (4-4, 2-3) at USC Trojans (5-3, 2-3)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson (Year 4: 23-22)
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Time: 7:30 PM PDT
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Spread: Arizona State (+7)
USC finishes its 3-game home stand after falling to No.1 Oregon last weekend in a marquee game. The Trojans held a lead with four minutes into the third quarter, but it slipped away as the defense ran out of gas and the offense couldn’t establish a rhythm. At 2-3 in Pac-10 play, the Trojans have been essentially eliminated from finishing first in the conference and may be in a fragile emotional state. Saturday’s contest presents an opportunity for the squad to get back on track and salvage a successful campaign in Lane Kiffin’s first year.
USC’s defense stopped Oregon early in the first and second halves, but they ran out of energy and Oregon was able to expose them. The Trojans won’t have to keep up such a fast pace, so conditioning won’t be such a factor. 2009 was a dismal year for the Sun Devils in terms of offense, turning in one of the worst campaigns in school history. ASU managed to outscore its opponent by a mere 1 point per game, despite having a stellar defense, en route to a 4-8 record. The secret to the success in 2010 is the emergence of Steven Threet. Under new coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Sun Devils run a variation of the spread attack and like to throw the ball. Although Threet has been effective in scoring by throwing 14 touchdowns, but he is turnover prone. The transfer from Michigan has thrown 13 interceptions even though he has completed 62.5% of his passes. Last week, USC’s front seven did a nice job of limiting the run, which was a focal point throughout the week in practice. This week, the focus will shift primarily to the passing game. The secondary has been shaky, prompting Lane Kiffin to contemplate replacing Jawanza Starling at safety. For USC to be effective, the defensive backs must step their game up like Marcus PSP. By winning the turnover battle, the Trojan defense can limit the time they are on the field and allow the offense to shine.
Arizona State led the conference in total defense in 2009, but the unit isn’t quite as strong this year. They allow 23.3 points per game as well as just over 341 yard. However, Vontaze Burfict–the 2009 Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year–is a beast at linebacker for ASU. He originally committed to USC, but later changed his mind and has had an appreciable impact for the Sun Devils. Add to that equation a 300-pound agile lineman in Lawrence Guy, and running the ball could be a problem for USC. This week, Lane Kiffin was very critical of his offensive line, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the challenge. It may sound obvious, but USC’s offense runs at an optimum level when their is balance. Running the ball effectively keeps the defense on its heels and makes it easier for Matt Barkley to slip it in there. Speaking of Barkley, the expectation is that he will have a pretty successful game Saturday. The coverage won’t be as tight as it was last week, which means Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods will be able find seams more easily.
Right now, USC needs to come out mentally focused. Lane Kiffin must rally the troops and prevent a letdown against a team that is inferior on paper. With a tough two-game road trip looming, Saturday’s contest could go a long way in determining whether USC bursts in 2010 or rebounds to turn in a respectable record.
Stats of the week:
Final Score Prediction: USC 31– Arizona State 28