USC: Junior Onyeali

A tale of two defenses

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
1:03
AM PT


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."

5 things to watch: USC-ASU

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
9:17
AM PT
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.

ASUUSC2. 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.

Injury updates

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
1:48
PM PT
USC freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson sat out of practice Tuesday because of a sprained left ankle originally suffered late in the fourth quarter of the Trojans' 38-17 win over Syracuse last week.

Dawson, the backup to Chris Galippo at middle linebacker, wore a walking boot to practice Tuesday, just as he did when leaving the Coliseum on Saturday. He said he planned to play Saturday against Arizona State and is calling himself day-to-day for the time being.

In other injury news, senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris sat out of practice because of an undisclosed ailment. He declined to tell reporters after practice what his injury was but said he'd be back shortly. Redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Prater also sat out of practice because of an undisclosed injury, and junior pass-catcher Brice Butler joined him on the sidelines late in the practice session as well.

Guard Martin Coleman, no longer wearing the shoulder sling that kept him out of practice last week, also sat out. Guard Abe Markowitz was limited -- he has not practiced fully since the week of the season opener.

Kiffin indicated that all six of the players could be ready to play by game-time Saturday. Harris has been a starter through three games and one of USC's most pleasant surprises thus far; Butler and Dawson are key reserves.

Of course, USC's injury list pales in comparison to that of Arizona State, who has lost four starters on its defense alone since spring practice. Coach Dennis Erickson announced Tuesday that talented defensive end Junior Onyeali has a torn meniscus and will miss the USC game and potentially the rest of the 2011 season. The Sun Devils will also be without end James Brooks, cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee.

Onyeali, listed at 5 feet 11, 245 pounds, was the Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year in 2010 after he posted 6.5 sacks in just five starts.

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