The Trojan football program is venturing down a road it has avoided for a very long time. Since 2002, USC has always followed up a loss with a string of victories to continue the Trojans unmatched success for the past seven years. However, USC has not suffered a loss of this magnitude in the Pete Carroll era. The 47-20 loss to Oregon was the first time the mighty Trojans got severely outplayed and out-coached in all phases of the game.
In the past, one could review the game and say the Trojans were just unlucky or if they played with a little more discipline they would have won. Not this time. If anything, the amount of injuries the Trojans suffered on the defensive side of the ball is a clear indication of how manhandled they were by the Oregon offense.
Saturday’s game against Arizona State will provide great insight into the psyche of both the coaching staff and the players. Was the Oregon game just a set of unfortunate circumstances they can easily put behind them and continue Pete Carroll’s perfect November record and put themselves in contention for a BCS bowl game? Will the Trojans fight though injury issues like they have in years past and put together a great performance or will the shaken confidence of a defense that has given up over 1500 yards of offense in 3 games lead to a debacle in Tempe?
Arizona State is not going to make it easy on the Trojans. They are led by the best defense in the Pac-10 and are fighting for Head Coach Dennis Erickson’s job. This is also the second of back-to-back road games for the Trojans which are always tough.
However, this is a game the Trojans should win and be able to gain some confidence and swagger back on the defensive side of the ball. ASU has one of the worst offenses in the Pac-10 and doesn’t possess a game-breaker close to the ability of Jacquizz Rogers, James Rogers or LaMichael James.
Keys to the game…
1-Trojans need to pass to set up the run: Cal Quarterback Kevin Riley threw for 351 yards last week in a narrow 23-21 victory over ASU. ASU does a great job of applying pressure and making it difficult to run with one of the best run defense’s in the country. The Trojans should come out throwing the ball to send an early message to ASU’s secondary which is susceptible to mid-range throws.
Once ASU’s defense is worried about the pass, the Trojans should have success running the ball with McKnight and especially Bradford provided his knee is okay. Bradford fits the mold of Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart who ran for 125 yards against ASU.
More keys after the jump plus an injury update…
2- Protect Matt Barkley: ASU has a variety of blitz packages that can be confusing to opposing quarterbacks. The offensive line and running back/full-back have to pick up the blitz which will give time to Barkley for the mid-level throws.
3- Keep it simple defensively and stop the run: ASU runs a weird offense that combines elements of the spread with a pro-style offense. Some coaches have commented that they don’t have a true identity on offense which is leading to the problems they are having. USC needs to play a solid base defense with occasional blitzes that should rattle the ASU quarterback who is not very mobile.
4- Take advantage of ASU’s undisciplined play: ASU has a few hot-heads (LB Burfict being one of them) and is penalized regularly. The Trojans need to take advantage of this and not get caught up in the way ASU plays.
5- Win the Turnover battle– Unless USC has truly gone from the best defense in the Pac-10 to the worst, ASU will need some costly SC turnovers to win the game.
Quick Injury Update:
*Tight End Anthony McCoy is out for the second week in a row and did not make the trip.
*Linebacker Malcolm Smith also out and did not make the trip.
*Linebacker Jarvis Jones is most likely out for the game with a sprained neck.
*Defensive Lineman Everson Griffen (Turf toe) and Nick Perry (knee) are questionable but should play.
*Fullback Stanley Havili should play.