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A tale of two defenses

9/25/2011

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State was missing three starting defenders due to injury and a fourth played only some of the game.

But it didn't matter on Saturday against USC. The Sun Devils, led by dynamo middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, produced four turnovers and appeared to perfect the bend-but-don't-break defense the Trojans themselves attempt to employ.

"They found a way to play great defense with the guys in there," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. "They didn't make many mistakes, didn't give us many chances."

"Even with their injuries on defense, once again they showed up."

The Sun Devils were missing linebacker Brandon Magee, defensive end Junior Onyeali and cornerback Omar Bolden, all out for extended periods of time. Safety Eddie Elder didn't start, either. And USC actually outgained ASU, 402-392. But Burfict was at times dominant and the Sun Devils secondary was better than advertised.

Meanwhile, the Trojans' D, playing by far the best offense it's faced this year, struggled, unable to produce pressure on Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler and unable to prevent the Sun Devils from big gainers on a regular basis.

It was a bad combination.

"Obviously this is the first time that we were really challenged," said middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who played every meaningful defensive snap. "We were in a hostile environment. Before in this season, we had only been down for about two minutes. So this was the first time we were really down and we had to deal with some adversity."

Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson's game plan was simple: Have Osweiler throw the ball early to prevent USC's talented defensive line from affecting the game. The Trojans got just one sack in the game, in first half, ands hardly pressured the 6-8 signal-caller in the second half.

"They completely eliminated our pass rush," Galippo said. "We were talking before the game about how big a game it was gonna be for our defensive line, and I think they knew that too.

"The quicker that you get the ball out of the box was the better for them, really, and they did a good job of making us miss in the open field."

On the fourth play from scrimmage, Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall broke through the USC front seven and then blew by safety Jawanza Starling in a one-on-one open-field situation, running into the end zone for a touchdown and putting the Trojans behind from the start.

Those tackling issues, reminiscent of USC's 2010 season, came up again and again throughout the game.

"There were a lot of quick passes, and we just had to come up and make tackles," Starling said. "But I think we missed too many tackles and didn't do our keys right and gave them all their plays."

And, like last year, the USC defense didn't produce a single turnover. With the Sun Devils' four, that was more than enough to make the difference -- combined, of course, with the Trojans' 87 penalty yards, 45 of which were assessed to safety T.J. McDonald.

"Turnovers and penalties," Erickson said when asked how his team won the game. "That is about what it boils down to in every football game. Tonight was not any different because they had chances.

"They were moving the ball down two or three different times and turned it over."