Know Your Foe: USC

After three straight losses suffice to say that ASU isn't entering this weekend's game at the L.A. Coliseum brimming with confidence. Yet, the same could also be said about USC which had lost its last two contests. What are some of challenges that await the Sun Devils on Saturday? SCPlaybook's Lindsey Thiry answers questions from Sparky's Huddle members regarding ASU's next opponent.

6-3 and 4-3 in the Pac-12 is probably not what the Trojan fans were expecting at this juncture of the season. Do you see this season as disappointing and what in your opinion has contributed to this?

Thiry: This season is undoubtedly disappointing. USC was the AP's preseason No. 1 team and Lane Kiffin himself even voted his team there. It might've been too early for the media and even coaches alike to crown USC the champs so early on, coming off a two-year bowl ban. On the other hand, there really is no reason why the Trojans shouldn't still be at the top right now. The loss to Stanford, originally looked at as some sort of fluke, proved to not be after the loss at Arizona.

The disappointment has stemmed from having a quarterback who used to be a Heisman favorite, two of the best receivers in the country, and even two 1,000-plus yard rushers who haven't been able to put up the big numbers consistently on offense this season that other teams have. All of the Trojans' wins have been underwhelming for a team picked to win a national championship and what's more ironic, is their best offensive performances have come during games where they actually lost.

Even though it was Oregon, last week was another subpar performance by the USC defense who gave up over 60 points for the first time ever in program history. How much criticism is defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin receiving these days due to his group's recent performances?

Thiry: Monte Kiffin is on the hot seat and Lane Kiffin is on the hot seat for not publicly saying it. A lot is going around about Monte being Lane's dad and Lane's inability to call it out for what it is. All of the talk locally and nationally about USC is the fact that Monte seems outmatched for these spread offenses. Saturday against Oregon saw the lowest point in the history of USC football, as the Trojans allowed the most yards and points in the history of the program, dating back to 1888.

Statistically speaking Matt Barkley is putting up huge numbers, but do you feel that overall he really hasn't played at the level some expected him to and that has contributed to the USC record?

Thiry: He's putting up huge numbers but he also has ten interceptions, three more than all of last season. Barkley however really isn't at fault for this USC record. He doesn't make any of the calls on offense. He might be showing he's not the quarterback that he was pumped up to be at the beginning of the season, but that is usually what happens when guys return for their senior seasons. Unless you're Andrew Luck, stock doesn't typically rise as their game gets put under a microscope.

Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are obviously two big reasons for Barkley's success. Can you talk about what each of them brings to the table and why they have been so hard for opponents to stop?

Thiry: Marqise Lee is a phenomenal athlete. It's not just how he runs his routes and makes unbelievable catches, it's what he does after the catch. His ability to change direction, change speeds, and make acrobatic moves is unbelievable. He is an NFL player stuck in a college game right now (and for another year, for that matter). Above all else, this kid's will to win is unlike anything I've ever seen. After losing at Arizona he was actually so upset about losing that he was crying. Some might see that as a weakness - but in the moment, it was the pure sign of a kid who did everything short of a catching a near-impossible Hail Mary in order to try to win.

Robert Woods is also a great receiver... the crazy thing about this duo is that next to Lee, Woods almost looks average. He's had a "quiet" season this year next to Marqise but his ability to catch the ball is also top notch and he is a very dependable receiver.

With the perceived struggles USC was supposed to have this season with the run game, how significant has been the impact of Penn State transfer Silas Redd and how much has he helped in his own way for Barkley to have the season he's having?

Thiry: Silas Redd has been huge. I can't recall the last time USC had all of its top three backs. Redd, Curtis McNeal, and sophomore D.J. Morgan have all spent time sidelined with different ailments. It's hard to say where they would be without Redd but it might not be too much of a stretch to say they possibly wouldn't be 6-3 without him. The only flaw in his game has been the fumbles. He suffered a stinger at the start of the season and put the ball on the ground a few times since then because of the stinger. Since recovering from that issue, he's continued to fumble the ball... but as Kiffin has said it's not a situation where Redd will get benched for not holding on because McNeal and Morgan have both coughed it up too.

Despite the recent struggles on defense who have been some of the standouts on that side of the ball?

Thiry: Morgan Breslin. Through the first half of the season he was the silent star that emerged from USC that no one expected. Recently, the defense has gone MIA... defensive line Coach Ed Orgeron kept warning the media not to get too high on the defensive line after their strong start because of the games coming up on the schedule and he was right.

Nickell Robey was also a very bright spot in the secondary - no one tested through the first half because the opposite side of the field was such a liability. Oregon came right after Robey and won a few times.

It's hard to say after the Arizona and Oregon game who the real standouts are because the defense completely failed in both tests.

Do you think the impact of the NCAA scholarship sanctions is being felt at all this year? Do you feel those sanctions are really hampering USC considering the caliber of recruits they are still able to attract?

Thiry: They are because of the number of snaps that current players have play. It's definitely hurting their rotations and getting guys rest. This team doesn't have the depth on either the offensive or defensive line that they're accustomed to. As far as recruiting goes, the sanctions appear to have helped. It seems as though the USC scholarship has become more valuable, meaning if a guy picks up a USC offer he's jumping on it right away because it's an "elite" offer to get, seeing as there aren't many to go around.

As bad as the team morale has been in recent weeks do you think that playing a team in ASU that has lost three games in a row is looked upon as a "pick me up game" for USC?

Thiry: With UCLA after ASU, it could be easy for USC to overlook the Sun Devils. That being said, after suffering their worst loss in history, ASU will probably see the best USC team this season. Kiffin and the players usually keep it on a week by week basis, but Kiffin did point out to his players on Sunday that despite the three losses they still have a lot to play for. A win over ASU, UCLA, and Oregon in the Pac-12 title game puts them at the Rose Bowl. They're not playing for a national championship anymore, but Rose Bowl is much more acceptable than Holiday or Sun Bowl.

Is there more to all the penalties this year than aggressive play? What has been Lane Kiffin's response to the penalties, and do you think the staff should be doing a better job curtailing them?

Thiry: There's the biggest head scratcher of the season. Undisciplined and "over-prideful" play has really done this team in when it comes to penalties. What's been the biggest surprise are the personal fouls that have really cost them. Robert Woods said guys have "too much pride" to walk away from after-the-whistle situations. Kiffin showed them a "highlight reel" of every penalty this season to illustrate what each penalty has cost. The team said they didn't really realize how bad it was till they saw it on film and saw what each penalty led to. Against Oregon, they only had three penalties for 25 yards. It would appear that problem is in the past, but this week will tell if they resort back to it.

Fill in the blanks: If USC _______ they will win the game. If ASU _______they will win the game.

Thiry: If USC does puts up a comparable offensive performance to last week they will win the game. If ASU slows Lee/Woods on offense and wreaks havoc for a tired defense they will win the game.


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