Preview: Arizona State at USC
Todd Graham was off to a good start in his first year as Arizona State’s head football coach. His team was 5-1, and suffered it’s only loss at Missouri in the season’s third week. But somewhere along the way, the wheels fell off. His Sun Devil football program begin to freefall in a second half collapse that mirrors Dennis Erickson’s from last year. Sparky has lost three straight, and all to teams currently ranked in the AP top 25. It meets a fourth in Los Angeles on Saturday, as it faces USC in hopes of ending the slide.
It’s homecoming in Southern California, where the Trojans will put Oregon behind them to focus on the next conference foe. USC is a loser of two straight games, and looks to avoid three consecutive losses for the first time since 2001.
Arizona State Sun Devils (5-4)
National Rank: none
Last week: Oregon State 36, Arizona State 26
Arizona State comes equipped with its own version of the spread, and is led by dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly. The sophomore has accounted for 2,161 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He has also amassed 383 rushing yards in his first season as a starter.
The team’s current slide coincides with decreased productivity by the offense, especially in the passing game. ASU averaged 266 passing yards, as it rolled to a 5-1 start, but that number has decreased to an average of 187 yards in three strait losses. Kelly would throw for just 153 yards in the last week’s loss to Oregon State, which marks the second-lowest total of 2012.
Sparky’s rushing attack has held steady through the current slide. The team is averaging 187 yards per game, with a number of players utilized in the rotation. 4 Sun Devils enter Saturday’s game with more than 60 carries on the season, with all four running for more than 300 yards. Senior Cameron Marshall and junior Marion Grice tie for the team lead, with 6 rushing touchdowns apiece. Running backs also account for 11 of the team’s 23 receiving touchdowns.
The Sun Devils check in second only to Stanford in conference in total defense. ASU allows opponents a season average of 333.3 total yards per game, but that number has increased to an average of 454.6 during the skid. DT Will Sutton returned from injury to play against Oregon State last week, and should make for an interesting matchup against USC’s senior center Khaled Holmes.
Arizona State surrenders a lot of yardage on the ground (171.78), but is first in conference and thirteenth in the nation in pass efficiency defense (105.90). The poor efficiency by opponents is credited to a Sun Devil pass rush that ranks second in the FBS with 38 sacks.
USC Trojans (6-3)
National rank: 21 (AP), 22 (Coaches), 19 (BCS)
Last week: Oregon 62, USC 51
After underachieving for most of the season, the Trojan offense finally lived up to its preseason billing. USC wracked up 615 total yards and 51 points in a loss to Oregon, raising the season average to 464.67 yards and 36.78 points per game. The unit has totaled 1,233 yards and 87 points in two recent losses, which places the blame squarely on the defense.
Matt Barkley has thrown 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in the past two games, and his 30 touchdowns on the season lead the Pac 12 and ties for second-most in the nation. Marqise Lee continues to dazzle and build on his Heisman campaign, with 28 receptions, 502 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last two weeks. Lee continues to lead the nation in all-purpose yards, at an average of 223.0 yards per game.
USC is coming off its most embarrassing defensive performance in the history of the program. Against Oregon, it surrendered record highs for points (62), total yards (730) and individual rushing yards (321). This was the follow-up to the 518 yards allowed to Arizona, which has coaches again contemplating a move that would utilize Marqise Lee on both sides of the ball.
A Trojan roster that was short to begin with has piled on the injuries as the season progressed. The effects are beginning to show, as defensive statistics continue to decline. USC now ranks 65th in the nation in total defense (406.44) and 77th against the pass (249.56). The unit is allowing 24.22 points per game.
Analysis: The schedule can be a best friend or worst enemy. Arizona State found the calendar to be a friend in the early going, but as the pages flipped, so did the friendship. The Sun Devils had an early run against poor performers, but has lost three straight to teams currently ranked in the AP poll, and will draw another this weekend. Arizona State has yet to beat a team with a winning record, and will make a fourth attempt against USC.
Expect the Trojans to be more aggressive defensively, after Oregon’s slap to the ego. USC is still firmly in the race for the Pac 12 conference title, but a rematch with Oregon runs through south teams, beginning with ASU. The Trojans have performed miserably against spread offenses of late, but their own unit has also come on strong. Barkley and company should have enough to overcome defensive deficiencies, as USC sends Graham to his fourth straight loss.
X-Factor– Silas Redd– ASU isn’t very strong against the run, and USC needs its leading ground gainer to keep the Sun Devils and their aggressive pass rush honest.
All-Time Series: USC leads 18-10
Streak: ASU has won 1
Last Meeting: Arizona State 43, USC 22 (Tempe)
- Arizona State is seeking back-to-back victories over USC for the first time since 1996-1997
- USC is looking to avoid three straight losses for the first time since 2001
- The Sun Devils are 2-15 over the past 5 seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less
- Arizona State has scored first in 8 of 9 games
- The Sun Devils defense enters Saturday’s game with 82 tackles for loss, which ranks second-best in the nation
- The ASU defense ranks second in the nation in sacks (38), trailing only Stanford (39)
- USC leads the Pac 12 in pass efficiency (164.06). ASU is the conference leader in pass efficiency defense (105.90)
- ASU is the least penalized team in the Pac 12 (35). USC is most penalized (85)
- Matt Barkley’s 30 TD passes are most in conference and ties for second-most in the nation.
- Matt Barkley needs just 15 passing yards to set the conference career record
- Marqise Lee is the national leader in all-purpose running (223.00)