Two teams coming off very different performances last week, both Arizona State and USC are still capable of winning the PAC 12 South – and a win this week will go a long way towards to ensuring that. The Trojans have the home-field advantage, but ASU had an extra couple of days off to prepare for the game.
Arizona State’s Offense Vs. USC’s Defense
Like many defenses built around strength and discipline, the Trojans struggle with mobile quarterbacks. They cover all the receivers, keep the runners in check, but when the defense has to cover 11 guys instead of 10, they have problems containing the QB too. However, therein lies a big concern for the Sun Devils – Taylor Kelly likely won’t be available. Mike Bercovici played well at times last week against UCLA, passing for 488 yards and three TDs, but he also threw tw0 interceptions, and fumbled once. His lack of mobility allowed the Bruins to come after him, without the threat of backbreaking runs. When DJ Foster fumbled early last week, head coach Todd Graham gave up on the run game. USC’s run defense is tough (ignoring their play against BC), and will look to force Bercovici to the air again, where their athletic secondary will pose problems, even for Arizona State’s receiving corps. Last week, the Trojans held prolific Sean Mannion of Oregon State to just 123 yards passing.
Key Player: RB DJ Foster – with no running game, those passing downs get that much tougher.
USC’s Offense Vs Arizona State’s Defense
With Steve Sarkisian running the show at USC, expect the Trojans to try and establish the run game early. They happen to have a couple of good runners to carry the load too. Javorius Allen is the starter, but Justin Davis has had his share of carries this season. The pair have a combined 575 yards on the ground so far. Arizona State will need to be careful here, as they have struggled this season defending the run, allowing 204 yards per game. They’ve had particular problems the last couple of games, conceding over six yards per carry to Colorado and UCLA, and if USC can pound the ball, it could be a long day for the Sun Devils. Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler has proven himself capable of carrying the game on his shoulders, and he’s an accurate passer with plenty of talent at receiver (Nelson Agholor, anyone?). If he gets to pick his targets, ASU could be in trouble, especially considering the vulnerability they displayed against UCLA. The Sun Devils may want to amp up the pass rush for this game. They haven’t been great this season (just seven sacks), but if they can pressure Kessler, he doesn’t have the mobility to get out of trouble.
Key Player: DE Marcus Hardison – he’s been good so far, but needs to make some more plays in the backfield. Stuffing the Trojans starts up front and he needs to lead the way.
Arizona State – kicker Zane Gonzalez has made five of six field goals, but has missed a couple of PATs, which could be a factor in a close game. Punter Matt Haack is good, but the coverage is suspect. The same goes for the kicking unit which has already allowed a TD. Kick returns haven’t stood out.
USC – Andre Heidari has missed a couple of field goals this season, but also nailed a 53-yarder to beat Stanford. Punter Kris Albarado has been okay, but the coverage has had some concerns, as had the kicking unit, which has also allowed a scoring return. Adoree’ Jackson looks like a dangerous kick returner.
This is a key game in the PAC 12 South, and will also have some impact on both team’s national ranking, something that has taken a big hit with recent losses. Last year, Arizona State tore apart the Trojans, a win that ultimately led to the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. Perhaps USC will let the Sun Devils win out of gratitude, but the likelihood is very different. Last season, Kelly was running the show, but Bercovici doesn’t share his skill set. USC will have last season on their minds, and are coming off a confidence-building beat down of Oregon State. They’re not national championship material yet, but they are building into a strong team, and should beat Arizona State by a score of something in the vicinity of 28-17.
*Section Photo credit to AP Photo; Featured Photo (above) credit to Stephan Savoia, Associated Press