USC Preview

The win against Missouri two weeks created the momentum that was supposed to carry the Sun Devils throughout the 2011 season, but an error-filled loss to Illinois last week has certainly eroded the confidence of the Sun Devil nation. This week in their Pac-12 opener ASU will host USC with another chance to galvanize their fan base and kick-off league play in impressive fashion.

Game Date and Location (Kickoff Time/TV): Sept. 24, 2011 at Sun Devil Stadium (7:15 p.m. MST/ESPN)

Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (Third year as college head coach/second at USC; 18-11 overall/11-5 at USC)

Conference: Pac-12 (South division)

2010 Record: 8-4 (5-4 Pac-10; Ineligible for postseason)

Honors Candidates: QB Matt Barkley, Jr.; OL Ryan Kalil, Jr.; S T.J. McDonald, Jr.; CB/PR Nickell Robey, So.; WR/KR Robert Woods, So.

Key Departures: RB Allen Bradford; DT Jurell Casey; WR Ronald Johnson; OL Tyron Smith; CB Shareece Wright

Current Head-to-Head Streak: 11 by USC (Last ASU win: 26-16 on Nov. 6, 1999 in Los Angeles)

Last Meeting: In 2010, USC dramatically defeated ASU 34-33 at the Coliseum by way of a 29-yard field goal by Joe Houston with 3:06 left in the game after Torin Harris returned a blocked PAT for two points moments earlier. ASU had taken 33-29 lead with 6:59 to play on a Jamal Miles nine-yard touchdown reception, but the ensuing extra point blunder ended up drastically turning the tide for the Trojans. ASU had a shot at a go-ahead field goal attempt, but Thomas Weber's try from 41-yards with 1:34 left was unsuccessful.

ASU quarterback Steven Threet had a game-high 228 passing yards, while both he and USC quarterback Matt Barkley had three touchdowns and two interceptions. Trojan back Marc Tyler tallied 119 rushing yards on 12 carries and ASU wideout T.J. Simpson was the game's leading receiver with eight catches for 95 yards. ASU's Omar Bolden and USC's Michael Morgan both took interceptions back for touchdowns, while Sun Devil LeQuan Lewis added a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to help ignite ASU's ultimately unsuccessful comeback.

2011 Schedule

9/3/11 Minnesota (W, 19-17)

9/10/11 Utah (W, 23-14)

9/17/11 Syracuse (W, 38-17)

9/24/11 at Arizona State

10/1/11 Arizona

10/8/11 BYE

10/15/11 at California*

10/22/11 at Notre Dame

10/29/11 Stanford

11/5/11 at Colorado

11/12/11 Washington

11/19/11 at Oregon

11/26/11 UCLA

*-Game played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.

2010 Results (2010 Record/Head-to-Head Score)

at Hawaii (10-4) (W, 49-36)

Virginia (4-8) (W, 17-14)

at Minnesota (3-9) (W, 32-21)

at Washington State (2-10) (W, 50-16)

Washington (7-6) (L, 32-31)

at #16 Stanford (12-1) (L, 37-35)

California (5-7) (W, 48-14)

#2 Oregon (12-1) (L, 53-32)

Arizona State (6-6) (W, 34-33)

at #18 Arizona (7-6) (W, 24-21)

at Oregon State (5-7) (L, 36-7)

Notre Dame (8-5) (L, 20-16)

UCLA (4-8) (W, 28-14)

Offensive Preview

A starter since the day he stepped on campus at USC, Matt Barkley, a former blue-chip quarterback recruit, has improved in each season he's played for the Trojans and now stands as one of the nation's most effective passers.

Through three games, Barkley ranks 15th in the nation in passing yards per game (297.3), and 28th in pass efficiency (157.44), while also standing among the national leaders with nine touchdown passes on the year to only one interception.

Barkley is a different kind of threat than what ASU has faced thus far in the early stages of the 2011 season; Missouri's James Franklin and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, though capable passers, were more threatening as runners, while Barkley is the prototype pocket passer.

In this change of pace lies a potential challenge for the Sun Devils, as though Barkley won't hurt ASU with his feet, he's much more likely to burn the Devils through the air than any quarterback that the team has faced in 2011. Basically, the key issue from a defensive perspective is for ASU to find ways to pressure Barkley and interrupt his concentration.

With redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins out due to injury, the Trojans—much like ASU—suffers a substantial drop-off in experience when dipping to the quarterback depth, as walking junior John Manoogian and true freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are the reserves behind Barkley.

At running back, the return of senior Mark Tyler after an early-season suspension has proven very helpful to the Trojans, though the team as a whole has not been massively effective on the ground, ranking 79th in the nation averaging 131.3 yards per game.

Tyler leads the Trojans with 154 yards and one touchdown on 39 carries, while Curtis McNeal, a legitimate big-play threat, has gained 115 total rushing yards but boasts an impressive 8.8-yard average. Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, a star track athlete in high school, has gained 95 yards on 27 carries while could-be superstar Dillon Baxter, a sophomore seemingly always in USC's doghouse, has totaled 31 rushing yards on eight carries.

At fullback, converted tight end Rhett Ellison is one of USC's more reliable receivers, while one-time ASU recruit Soma Vainuku is listed as his top reserve. USC uses its fullbacks as blockers and receivers more than rushers, and Ellison thus far has tallied eight receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown.

It doesn't take a football technician to know that sophomore Robert Woods is USC's standout skill position player, as last year's Pac-10 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year is on pace for Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Crabtree type of numbers.

Through only three games, Woods has an incredible 33 catches for 361 yards and four touchdowns—including a school-record 17-catch effort in the season opener. His receptions total is good for tops in the country, ahead of veteran receivers such as Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. This level of performance is no surprise, as Woods was a five-star recruit that earned the aforementioned early honors at USC, but his efforts are amazing nonetheless.

On Saturday, Woods will have to have a major bull's eye circling his No. 2 jersey, as the Devils have to be very well aware of where he is on every play or it will be a long day for ASU's secondary. Thankfully—at least compared to the past two opponents—the defensive backs do not have to account for a running quarterback, giving Osahon Irabor, Deveron Carr and company tunnel vision on guarding Woods on passing plays.

Behind Woods, USC has an interesting combination of unaccomplished veterans and unseasoned—but talented—rookies. True freshman Marqise Lee, a four-star prospect and former teammate of Woods at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High, is the team's second-leading receiver—though by a Grand Canyon-like margin—with nine receptions for 129 yards and one touchdown.

Senior Brandon Carswell and junior Brice Butler, a pair of players that have drastically underwhelmed as Trojans, have combined to catch 11 receptions for 110 yards thus far.

Sophomore De'Von Flournoy and redshirt freshman Kyle Prater—a former top-five overall recruiting prospect that has had repeated injury issues—are other scholarship receivers listed on the active depth chart but neither has recorded a reception through three games.

Though the run game hasn't been spectacular and no wide receivers outside of Woods' Herculean efforts have emerged, USC may have found a few legitimate targets among its young tight ends, as redshirt freshmen Xavier Grimble (eight catches, 84 yards, two touchdowns) and Randall Telfer (five receptions, 91 yards, one touchdown) have been impressive. If ASU is found keying too closely in on stopping Woods, Grimble and Telfer have the talents to find plenty of holes to work with and use their athleticism downfield.

Sophomore Christian Thomas has bounced between defensive end and tight end during his young career and is listed third on the depth chart behind Grimble and Telfer.

The Trojan offensive line is a noted work in progress, with only two veteran starters back from last year's squad. Left tackle Matt Kalil, a Playboy All-American, is the top honors candidate of the group, while junior Khaled Holmes mans the center position after being a starting guard last year. Right guard John Martinez and right tackle Kevin Graf are in their third years as Trojans but first as full-time starters, while true freshman Marcus Martin is listed as the top left guard.

Behind the starting five, USC's remaining offensive line depth chart consists predominately of walk-ons, true freshmen and first-year junior college transfers—a clear residual stain of the Trojans' NCAA sanctions.

USC Offense in a Nutshell

Barkley to Woods—can it be limited? Woods will be targeted well over a dozen times, and if he's winning the vast majority of those battles, the Trojan offense will be difficult to slow down. Also, though Woods is the clear standout, running back Marc Tyler in the run game and USC's athletic youngsters in the pass game can take advantage of openings ASU provides.

To win this exchange, ASU will need a consistent combination of backfield pressure on Barkley and tight coverage on Woods—an endeavor much easier said than done.

Defensive Preview

Overall, USC's defense is of a mid-level caliber, ranking 41st in the country by allowing 317.3 yards per game. Their defense, however, is very disproportionate as the rush "D" is solid at 28th in the nation (88.0 yards per game) but the pass defense, as it was last season, is far below par, rating 75th in the country (229.3 yards per game).

Up front, the trio of Wes Horton, Phoenix native Devon Kennard and Nick Perry rotate as the top defensive ends, with Kevin Greene also included in the depth. So far, the top trio has been active though not spectacular in pursuit of quarterbacks, with three sacks among them—two for Perry, one for Horton and zero for Kennard.

In total, the Trojans have done a good job at getting to quarterbacks with nine total sacks, coming from the efforts of eight defenders.

Rounding out the defensive line is starting tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris, as well as former five-star prospect George Uko. Tupou and Harris have combined for 14 tackles. Armond Armstead, one of USC's most versatile linemen, recently was placed on the redshirt list after battling health issues for several months.

USC's starting linebackers rank one-two-three on the team in tackles, starting with redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard, the Trojans' WILL ‘backer that has started his career in impressive fashion with a team-high 23 stops. Chris Galippo, a player clearly worthy of playing at USC, mans the MIKE position and is second on the squad with 18 tackles despite a considerably disappointing career in which the former number one middle linebacker prospect has bounced in and out of the starting lineup.

Dion Bailey, a transplant from safety, is USC's starting SAM linebacker and rates third on the squad with 16 tackles.

Behind the typical starting trio of Pullard, Galippo and Bailey, veterans Shane Horton (six tackles, 0.5 tackles-for-loss) and Marquis Simmons (one tackle) are two of the top outside linebacker reserves, while star true freshmen Lamar Dawson (three tackles) and Tre Madden (three tackles, one tackle-for-loss) are also in the mix for playing time. USC's secondary—a sizeable liability—includes a certain future pro in free safety T.J. McDonald (15 tackles, one fumble recovery), but on the whole the unit has some major flaws. Cornerback Torin Harris (15 tackles, two pass breakups) has USC's only interception thus far—a game clinching pick against Minnesota in the opener—and is joined by Nickell Robey (13 tackles, two pass breakups), a starter since his career started as a true freshman last year, in the starting lineup. Junior Jawanza Starling (five tackles) occupies the strong safety position for the Trojans and also is a member of USC's baseball team. The Trojans' secondary depth consists of cornerbacks junior Tony Burnett (12 tackles), redshirt freshman Anthony Brown (two tackles) and junior Isiah Wiley (one tackle), while at safety, Drew McAlister and Marshall Jones (one tackle) backup McDonald and Demetrius Wright (seven tackles, 0.5 tackles-for-loss) sits behind Starling.

USC Defense in a Nutshell

After what happened against Illinois, the clear focus when ASU has the ball is for the Sun Devils to avoid having Brock Osweiler effectively attacked from all angles. USC undoubtedly will feature a similar game plan because of the success Illinois had and ASU's duty will be to have a redeeming performance by the offensive line. If Osweiler has time, the matchup of ASU's pass offense versus USC's pass defense greatly favors the home team, but much like last week, if Brock is frequently harassed that advantage will be greatly nullified.

Special Teams Preview

True freshman Andre Heidari kicks for the Trojans and thus far has connected on two-of-three attempts, making tries from 26 and 47 yards and missing one from 46. Kyle Negrete handles punting duties and has had unflattering overall results with a 35.5-yard average on 11 punts.

Robert Woods, a First-Team All-Pac-10 member as a kickoff return specialist last year, has been contained thus far in 2011 with only a 21.8-yard average on four runs, while Curtis McNeal only averages 15.2 yards on his four returns.

Woods and Nickell Robey have shared duties on punt returns with minimal productivity, totaling only 42 yards on eight returns.

Conclusion

The comparative evaluations in this matchup may very well boil down to one conclusive factor—the quarterback that suffers the least amount of pressure has a very strong chance to guide his team to victory.

The ASU offense to USC defense matchup is all about whether the Devils can protect Brock; with the Trojans' recent deficiencies in pass defense, if Osweiler has time in the pocket the gains can come early and often. However, if ASU's No. 17 is rushed and knocked around, the Sun Devils may not have enough gas in the tank of the run game to be fully effective on offense.

When USC has the ball, creating discomfort for Barkley has got to be objective number one. If Barkley is rushed, there may not be quite as much pressure on the Sun Devil secondary to limit Robert Woods. But, if Barkley has the time to pick-and-choose his targets, ASU will be asking for trouble.

Keys to an ASU Victory

Get Barkley on the Run

If Barkley is allowed to progress in the pocket, ASU will be at a substantial disadvantage. Though he's smart enough to think on his feet, he won't beat teams while on the run, so if ASU's pass rush—which likely will have to include the linebackers—can harass Barkley, ASU's stock soars.

Be Titebond

OK—lame joke, but ASU needs to stick to Robert Woods, as does the popular brand of wood glue. The Sun Devil pass defense cannot be considered great, so maybe a "one for the ages" performance is needed, but from a game-planning perspective, No. 2 has to be public enemy number one.

Keep Brock's Eyes Forward

Last week, once Osweiler took his share of blindside hits—a couple of which resulted in turnovers—and a total of six sacks, he appeared much more cautious than ever in the pocket due to a natural fear of unseen pressure. The Sun Devil line needs to help Osweiler stay comfortable in the pocket so that his concerns are entirely focused downfield and not toward the defenders hovering in front, beside and behind him.

Avoid Special Teams Blunders

Whether it's shanked punts, makeable field goals that are blown or muffed returns, ASU has had its share of special teams conflicts this year. In a predictably close game, the Devils have to execute in ever facet to emerge victorious.

Injury Report and Lineup Notes

• Defensive end Junior Onyeali had knee surgery and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action. Davon Coleman will start in place of Onyeali with Gregory Smith, Jordan McDonald and Gannon Conway as the top reserves.

• Though limited in practice, running back Cameron Marshall is expected to start.

• After showing concussion symptoms, safety Eddie Elder is expected to play but it is uncertain whether he will start.

• Wide receiver J.J. Holliday and defensive tackle Mo Latu may make their season debuts on Saturday.

• Offensive lineman Aderious Simmons will dress against USC but is unclear whether he will play or not.

• Defensive lineman Joita Te'i is at least a week away from being available and running back Deantre Lewis remains unavailable.


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