Friday, September 27, 2013
Trojans, Sun Devils looking for first Pac-12 wins
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State stumbled in its first Pac-12 game, falling behind 29-0 against Stanford before rallying late to make the score respectable.
It was ugly, for sure, filled with dropped passes, missed assignments and special-teams disasters.
The Sun Devils can't let it linger, though.
Not with Southern California coming up next, a team that's been their nemesis for over a decade.
"You put it behind and move forward," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously, it's USC, so it doesn't make it that hard. These guys know how important this game is."
It's a big game for both teams; neither wants to start 0-2 in the Pac-12.
Arizona State (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) followed a hard-fought win over Wisconsin by struggling early in its 42-28 loss to No. 5 Stanford.
USC (3-1, 0-1) has been inconsistent on offense so far this season, mostly relying on its defense to grind out wins.
The Trojans lost to Washington State 10-7 on Sept. 7, their first loss to the Cougars at the Coliseum in 13 years, and didn't exactly light it up last week, holding off Utah State 17-14.
Arizona State will be USC's toughest test so far. The Sun Devils are athletic, play fast, can score quickly and are looking to bounce back after a difficult loss last week.
"We're looking at it as a game between another really good team and an opportunity to get better, because the wins will come," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. "If we stick to our script and work hard, we should be happy with the end result."
For two teams that had hoped to play for the Pac-12 South title, this could be a pivotal game, so here are five things to look for when the Trojans meet the Sun Devils in the desert:
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH: USC's offense has been inconsistent, but its defense has been stellar all season. The Trojans have yet to allow an opponent to go over 300 total yards, are 11th nationally in scoring defense at 11 points per game and are averaging nearly 10 tackles for loss per game. They'll face their toughest challenge so far against the Sun Devils, who are averaging nearly 470 yards per game and scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns against Stanford last week. Stopping Marion Grice will be the key. Arizona State's running back leads the nation in scoring with eight TDs and 16 points per game.
WHERE'S MARQISE?: USC's Marqise Lee was an All-American and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver last season with Matt Barkley throwing him the ball. Lee hasn't had as much success with Kessler, at least not in terms of big plays. Lee has 23 receptions, but is averaging less than 13 yards a catch -- it was nearly 15 last season -- and has one touchdown so far. Lee also turned his ankle against Utah State last week, but is expected to play against the Sun Devils. The Trojans would like him and Kessler to get on the same page soon.
USC ON THE RUN: USC has gotten by just fine without Silas Redd, who's been out since suffering a knee injury in spring practice. That's because of Tre Madden. The former linebacker has three 100-yard games so far this season and 455 yards overall. Freshman Justin Davis also has peeled off some nifty runs and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Because of that, Graham said the No. 1 task for Arizona State's defense is to stop the run. The Sun Devils had trouble with that last season and are 81st in the FBS this year, allowing over 182 yards per game. ASU also will be without defensive tackle Jaxon Hood due to a hamstring injury.
NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS: Graham often uses his best players on special teams because of the importance he puts on that part of the game. It has been important for the Sun Devils' season, but not in a good way. Arizona State's special teams have been shaky most of the season and were simply awful last week against Stanford. The Sun Devils routinely gave the Cardinal good field position, punter Matt Haack kicked the ball into the back of a teammate who was lined up too close and quarterback Taylor Kelly had a pooch punt blocked. This a week after a bad snap set up Wisconsin for a touchdown.
RIVALRY SHIFTING?: USC has dominated the series with Arizona State since 2000, winning 11 of 12 games. The Sun Devils could be closing the gap, though. After a string of losses to the Trojans, the Sun Devils pulled off one of their biggest conference wins in years by beating USC 43-22 their last meeting in Tempe in 2011. Of course, USC outgained ASU 447-250 in a 38-17 win at the Coliseum last season, so it hasn't been a complete shift in the rivalry. The Sun Devils would like to change that on Saturday.