How does USC football match up with their season-opening opponent ASU? The battle between the Trojan offense and the Sun Devil defense should be fierce.
First off, congratulations. You made it. USC football is finally here. After the longest offseason any of us could have imagined, a new season is upon us, and it begins with sky-high expectations for Clay Helton’s 20th-ranked Trojans.
The 2020 campaign begins in the Coliseum against the primary challenger in the Pac-12 South, Arizona State.
This week one matchup could very well be the division title game, so the Pac-12 and FOX decided to elevate it to the “Big Noon Kickoff.” Viewers from across the country can witness what the west has to offer as a result.
While FOX desires a tightly contested battle between elite quarterbacks, Vegas doesn’t see it that way. Oddsmakers at The Action Network have USC favored by 10.5 points heading into Saturday’s tilt.
Fortunately for ASU, it’s 2020, and all bets are off when that first whistle blows.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from both teams this weekend.
When USC football’s offense is on the field…
The good ol’ Trojan Air Raid
Without a doubt, the USC offense vs the ASU defense is the heavyweight fight on Saturday’s card.
First, the Trojan offense returns all but two starters to the ninth-rated unit in the country according to Bill Connelly’s 2019 SP+. Included, of course, is Kedon Slovis, one of the top signal-callers in America as a freshman last season.
Slovis threw for over 3,500 yards, with a 71.9 completion percentage and an excellent 30-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2019. One of his best games came in Tempe when he dismantled the Sun Devil secondary to the tune of 432 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Don’t be surprised when the sophomore once again shines on the national stage.
Even better, he makes his throws to NFL-caliber wide receivers with Amon Ra St. Brown leading the returners. Senior Tyler Vaughns will start outside for USC and redshirt freshman Bru McCoy will make his much-anticipated debut. In the middle of the field, Drake London takes on a Jimmy Graham-type role, running the seams and finding the space in zones on curls and in routes.
Plus, for the first time since midseason last year, USC is ready to deploy their full backfield arsenal with Markese Stepp bringing the power, Kenan Christon and Stephen Carr supplying the speed, and Vavae Malepeai playing an all-around game that keeps any defense on its toes.
The Sun Devils’ new 4-3
To combat the dynamic USC “Air Raid” offense, ASU returns a loaded defense that underwent an offseason shift from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3 scheme under co-defensive coordinators Antonio Pierce and Marvin Lewis.
The Sun Devils’ best unit is likely their secondary where safeties Aashari Crosswell and Evan Fields proved versatile in patrolling the open spaces and stopping the run in the box.
At cornerback, Chase Lucas will attempt to bounce back from a season in which he struggled to stop opposing receivers, and on the other side, of course, is former Trojan, Jack Jones.
The linebackers are led in talent by Merlin Robertson but in spirit by Kyle Soelle, who transitioned from safety to outside linebacker and was named team captain this offseason. In the middle of those two will be ASU’s leading tackler from 2019, Darien Butler.
Meanwhile, the ASU defensive line is led by defensive tackle Jermayne Lole who racked up 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss last season.
How they match up
The plan for offensive coordinator Graham Harrell should be similar to last year albeit with some slight adjustments given ASU’s new defensive alignment.
If the Sun Devils want to play with seven total d-linemen and linebackers, the Trojans should spread the field all day and challenge ASU horizontally. In fact, using Christon’s sprinter speed on jet actions and wheel routes from two back sets could be a nice addition to the Trojans’ offense in 2020.
Despite the relative strength of ASU’s secondary, they will be hard-pressed to match up with USC’s wideouts to the man. There is only so much help a team can provide, and we will likely see opportunities for both McCoy and London to make an enormous imprint on this game. St. Brown and Vaughns will draw ample attention, leaving McCoy isolated on the outside and London matched up with Soelle on the inside.
The only hope for ASU against the Trojans is to consistently get pressure on Slovis with four rushers upfront. We saw BYU and Notre Dame execute this to perfection in 2019, leaving the Trojan receivers little time to get into their routes and exploit their advantages in space.
USC’s best offensive lineman in 2019, Alijah Vera-Tucker, slides over from left guard to replace Austin Jackson at left tackle. Jalen McKenzie figures to be solid at right tackle, so the key for Lole and ASU is to beat right guard Liam Jimmons, center Brett Neilon, and left guard Andrew Vorhees on the inside. If the Sun Devils want to have a chance at keeping 40 points off the board, it starts with interior pressure.