Friday, September 23, 2011
5 things to watch: USC-ASU
By Pedro Moura
1. The whole road thing: It's USC's first road game, and that's the focus of the week for the squad. Last week's focus -- it's all about us, not about Syracuse -- worked out well. Will this one? That depends on a few factors: (1) how a young offensive line responds to constant crowd noise at Sun Devil Stadium, (2) how freshmen linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard keep up against a sharp, smart quarterback and (3) how USC's young offensive targets Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer do in a new environment. In general, the Trojans need to avoid rookie-type and mental mistakes, as Kiffin has preached all week. The problem is that they've been making those mistakes all year thus far. It doesn't matter how well the team plays in general if USC commits too many penalties. Those have a way of messing things up.
2. The Tempe temperature: Weather.com projects it to be 99 degrees at kickoff and at least 87 until midnight. Compare that to USC's mid-70s temperatures for the Trojans' first three games. The heat is going to be a factor, as it'll likely force USC to use more substitutes than usual and rotate players in and out on a frequent basis. It could mean cramping and all that, but it could also mean Marc Tyler will get the chance to run over a run-down Sun Devils defense late in the game, just as he did in Tucson last year against Arizona. ASU also has a lot less depth on its defense than was expected heading into the year, with long-term injuries sidelining defensive end Junior Onyeali, linebacker Brandon Magee and cornerback Omar Bolden.
3. Barkley: USC's quarterback, junior Matt Barkley, hasn't had his best games against Arizona State in the past and actually had his worst-ever collegiate game in Tempe as a freshman, when he passed for only 112 yards while completing just 7-of-22 attempts. That game, he said this week, was "terrible." In retrospect, he said he didn't know if he was "sick," "tired," "lethargic," or "dead." The Trojans barely won that game, getting big boosts from former safety Will Harris and receiver Damian Williams, who boosted Barkley's passing totals with a 75-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
4. Burfict: Is there a more exciting opposing player the Trojans will go against all year than ASU's Vontaze Burfict? Maybe Stanford's Andrew Luck or Oregon's LaMichael James -- that's really it. Burfict is a lightning bolt of a defender, a guy who tends to make things interesting. USC's players -- and coaches, actually -- have talked all week about the junior middle linebacker, trying to rile him up via the press so that he will presumably take action early on in the game and get called for a personal-foul penalty. Here's the thing, though: The Trojans might be just as likely as he is to get a foul called on them. Matt Kalil straight-up said he plans to drill Burfict.
5. A 6-8 quarterback: You know how it's fun to watch a top-flight offense go against a top-flight defense? That's sort of what this game will be like, only on a much more minute level. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is tall, very tall, and surprisingly mobile, which typically allows him to get off passes in unusual situations. But USC's defensive line is particularly adept at reaching up and knocking down passes at the line. Who will win this battle within the battle? The safe money's on the 6-8 Osweiler, but Nick Perry and Co. will put up a fight. And USC's defense will likely have some trouble with Osweiler all around, as the junior has made significant strides this year and posted a dominating performance two weeks back against Missouri.