LOS ANGELES -- Arizona State junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict generally is considered one of the elite players in the Pac-12 Conference, and for good reason. He's a fiery and intense player who plays with a physical style that has many projecting big things for him at the next level.
USC is very familiar with his style of play, as this will be the third time facing Burfict as a member of the Sun Devils, but for some Trojans, the relationship goes even deeper than that.
In 2007, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and center Khaled Holmes were part of a Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei team that defeated Burfict and Corona (Calif.) Centennial 51-37 in a memorable game at the Santa Ana Bowl. Burfict and Centennial returned the favor in 2008 when both he and Barkley were seniors, as Centennial won a rematch 47-35.
After that 2008 game, in which both players were USC verbal commits at the time, there were many who believed that Burfict had made some tackle attempts that were considered cheap shots at Barkley's knees. Burfict has carried that reputation into the college game with a long string of personal foul penalties.
USC left tackle Matt Kalil also has a history with Burfict, as both are from Corona. Kalil, who attended Servite HS in Anaheim, said he took summer-school classes with Burfict and some of ASU's other Corona products. Kalil also made headlines in the Arizona media this week with some statements he made about how the Trojans intend to prepare for Burfict.
"Vontaze is a great player, but he likes to keep going sometimes after a play," Kalil said. "You've got to keep your head on a swivel during a play and after with him. If I see him standing around, I'll drill him. I drilled him a couple times last year, so I'm sure he'll be looking for me to get a little revenge."
The Trojans worked this week in practice on having the scout-team defense give a few extra slaps after the play was over to get some of the younger offensive players used to what they might face in the game.
"I just tell the young guys they need to stay composed and focused," Kalil said. "That's what leadership is all about."
Kalil knows the Trojans also will be facing a wild crowd in Tempe, one that will be ready for the Trojans in a loud, night game atmosphere.
"They are going to have a blackout with the crowd all wearing black, and they're going to be crazy," Kalil said. "I tell our younger guys to hone in on the quarterback's voice -- don't pay attention to anything else. You can't let the other noise get in your head."
Markowitz out for the year
The Trojans got bad news this week when an MRI revealed that junior left guard Abe Markowitz has a fracture in his left foot and will miss the rest of the season. This is a blow for both the Trojans and Markowitz.
For Markowitz, it will be the second season in a row that he will be forced to sit out after previously missing the 2010 season with a fracture in his right foot. That injury happened the week before the season opener against Hawaii and forced Markowitz to miss the return trip to his home state.
Markowitz went through rehabilitation throughout the offseason and emerged as the clear leader to start at left guard. He injured the foot during camp and hoped to be able to come back, but the recent diagnosis confirms that he will not return.
In his absence, the Trojans have started three different players at left guard in the first three games. With Markowitz officially out, true freshman Marcus Martin will get his second consecutive start on Saturday against Arizona State.
"Marcus has one game under his belt now, so that is important," Kalil said. "It feels really good for me to have the same guy next to me for two games in a row, that will help us get more comfortable as we go along."
USC junior defensive end Devon Kennard played his high school ball at Phoenix Desert Vista, so he is very familiar with the Sun Devils and the atmosphere the Trojans will have to contend with Saturday.
"The Arizona State campus is 10 minutes away from my house," Kennard said. "I went to all the games when I was being recruited, so I'm really familiar with the campus and a lot of the players.
"It's the most exciting game for me this season, just to be in front of the home crowd. There's going to be a ton of my family and friends out watching the game. I played there my freshman year, too. I saw a lot of signs -- Forget you, Devon Kennard, and things like that -- so I'm expecting that and excited for it."
Kennard understands that this is not a social visit and that his USC defense will be tested by an ASU no-huddle offense that has the potential to be explosive.
"First of all it comes to stopping the run, and once we do that, then they're going to start throwing the rock," Kennard said. "They have a really good passing attack, so as defensive linemen, we have to rush the passer and get after the quarterback with some pressure."
Kennard is also aware that the Illinois defense sacked ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler six times last week in a 17-14 Illinois victory.
"Our coaches brought it up, but we have to do it," he said. "It doesn't matter too much what Illinois did; we have to go out there and try to duplicate that. But they're coached too. They're going to be fired up and upset that they gave up so many sacks.
"We feel like we have a really explosive and talented front four, and this is a great opportunity to show that. ESPN, prime-time game, big-time players make big-time plays in those situations, and that's what we're looking forward to doing."
Versatile Shane Horton
True freshman Lamar Dawson has been the primary backup to Chris Galippo at middle linebacker, but Dawson will be sidelined this weekend with a sprained ankle. With temperatures expected to rise above 100 degrees, it will be important to spell Galippo at times, and Lane Kiffin said on Thursday that weakside linebacker Shane Horton could move over to take some reps in the middle.
"We've got Will Andrew available, but we could also see Shane Horton slide inside at times," Kiffin said.
Horton is not big at 200 pounds, but he is a savvy senior who has responded well in past situations when taking over for injured teammates. Horton replaced the injured Malcolm Smith against Stanford last season and ended up leading the team with 10 tackles.
Lane Kiffin knows all about the kind of effect a big crowd can have on a game at Sun Devil Stadium. Kiffin was on the USC staff in 2005 when the Trojans came to town riding a huge win streak but fell behind the Sun Devils early on a hot afternoon in Tempe. The Trojans came back to win that particular game, thanks in part to a dominating second-half rushing performance by LenDale White, but Kiffin says the key for USC this year will be the ability to maintain focus.
"It's a classic loud place to play," Kiffin said. "You've got a huge student section; you've got the heat. I remember there is a long walk to the locker room too.
"For us, it's a matter of not allowing any distractions. Just focus on playing well and getting a win. No matter what happens, they are going to keep playing. We saw that last year against Oregon, when their offense had seven turnovers but their defense kept going out there and playing hard. We know we're going to see a similar type of effort from them on Saturday."
Barkley enjoys this type of game and says it reminds him of his first road game as quarterback of the Trojans.
"These guys are aggressive and they come downhill hard," he said. "Their crowd is going to be fired up, and I love games like that. I remember being on the bus heading to the Ohio State game. It seemed like every student was out there mooning us and throwing beer at our bus, it just went on forever. I love it, I feed off that kind of stuff."
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.