Tuesday, September 20, 2011
First look: Arizona State
By Pedro Moura
USC enters Saturday's game against Arizona State 3-0, but the Trojans might as well be playing their season opener in Tempe this weekend, according to their head coach, Lane Kiffin.
That's because this game will be their first away from the friendly confines of the Coliseum. And with that departure from the familiar to the unknown comes a new set of challenges they must overcome.
"Going on the road's kind of like starting all over," Kiffin said this week. "Really, there's two obstacles you face with an inexperienced team or any players who haven't played before. The first obstacle that you face is their first game at all, their first college experience, that being at home. We've gotten through that.
"Now, we have a whole other obstacle, and that's going on the road. That changes a lot."
Tempe isn't the ideal place to work out road jitters. On paper, the Sun Devils are the second- or third-best team the Trojans will face away from home this year, after only Oregon and perhaps Notre Dame. They haven't lost at home to a team not ranked in the top six nationally since November 2009, and they're coming off a close loss at Illinois on Saturday.
And, on paper, USC is bound to have road struggles, at least at first. Across their offense, the Trojans have just seven years of starting experience at the college level. They will start three new linemen and probably two true freshmen. And that concerns Kiffin, who has constantly referenced his young players' penchant for errors early on.
That's gotten better in the last week or two, he has said. But the process gets restarted on the road. And the offensive line's play is crucial against the Sun Devils this week, where Kiffin will need them to play together in order to execute his traditional road game plan.
"We've gotta go back to basics and make sure that we're doing our fundamentals really well as we go into a hostile environment," Kiffin said. "Whenever you go on the road, good road teams usually pack two things: they bring their running game and they bring their defense.
"For as long as football's been around, those have been great road teams that can do that and hopefully we will be able to."
That's what USC did in its best road win under Kiffin last year, at then-No. 18 Arizona in November. Marc Tyler ran for 160 yards, the Trojans forced and recovered two fumbles and limited the Wildcats to 51 total yards on the ground.
But that was two hours southeast of Tempe, in Tucson. This week, the Trojans will attempt to channel that effort and funnel noise -- Top 40 music -- into their practice field to prepare for the Sun Devils, using players like Max Wittek and Anthony Sarao to emulate ASU's Brock Osweiler and Vontaze Burfict.
That's how they figure they can best appropriate what Arizona State does differently and ready their players for Saturday's game -- especially their young players, like freshman receiver Marqise Lee and redshirt freshmen linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
"The actual practice itself isn't that different," Kiffin said. "Obviously everybody uses crowd noise, but that's really the only change. It's really more about not putting too much on the young guys. As we've expanded their roles here in the first three weeks, you've gotta cut back for the first road game and not make some of your guys try to do all kinds of stuff and really hone in on what they do well."
"Because it can get out of whack."