USC Preview

As they try to rebound from a dominating home loss to UCLA, Arizona State will travel this weekend meet the other Los Angeles team, USC as they seek their first win this century in the L.A. Coliseum. The 2014 season hasn’t been a smooth ride either for the Trojans, but what challenges do they present to the Sun Devils? Joe Healey takes a closer look at ASU’s next opponent.

USC Offensive Personnel

Few quarterbacks in the nation have been as efficient this season as Trojan passer Cody Kessler, a player boasting an incredible stat line of 1,107 passing yards with a 72% completion rate with 10 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Kessler emerged last season as a legitimate Pac-12 Conference starter and this year has held his own as well as any quarterback in the league not named Mariota.

Kessler’s job is made easier by the steady running of Javorius “Buck” Allen, an all-around threat who averages 108.2 yards on the ground through four games. Allen has totaled 433 yards with two touchdowns and is also a threat in the pass game as he ranks second on the team with 15 receptions for 164 yards.

Justin Davis, a rusher Sun Devil fans should remember after surpassing the 100-yard mark against the Devils last year, ranks second on the team behind Allen with 142 rushing yards with two scores.

In the pass game, Nelson Agholor was expected to be the next in line to stand out on a national level following the steps of players such as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Though Agholor’s numbers haven’t been on par with the two aforementioned All-Americans, he has been a sturdy threat with 26 catches for 239 yards with three touchdown catches, all team-highs for USC.

A series of standout true freshmen have seen repetitions in the pass game for USC this year, headlined by Juju Smith, who ranks second on the team with 183 receiving yards on 14 catches. Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon has caught four passes for 91 yards with a touchdown, while frosh receiver Ajene Harris has four catches for 38 yards.

Adoree Jackson, one of the most exciting true freshmen in the conference and a name likely to be mentioned frequently Saturday, plays offense, defense and special teams for USC and has caught four passes for 32 yards with a touchdown early in his college career.

Veteran receivers George Farmer (11-89-1) and Darreus Rogers (7-122-2) also figure to be targeted at least a few times Saturday.

USC’s youthful offensive line has no seniors in the projected starting lineup and only one junior – center Max Tuerk. One-time ASU commit Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner, both sophomores, are slated to start at left and right tackle, respectively, with true freshman spotted at both guard roles in left guard Toa Lobendahn and right guard Viane Talamaivao. Fellow true freshman Damien Mama started the first two games at right guard before Talamaivao took over.

USC Offensive Summary

Kessler and Allen form one of the league’s most underrated yet threatening QB-RB combinations as Kessler’s efficiency and Allen’s do-it-all nature can surely make opposing defenses pay.

Agholor brings experience and big-play ability to the pass game, while unseasoned but dynamic all-purpose threats like Jackson and Smith need little room to bring a great deal of devastation to a Sun Devil defense nursing some fiercely wounded pride following the thrashing it received at the hands of UCLA last week.

An area of mild concern is pass protection from the inexperienced Trojan line as USC ranks 93rd nationally with 10 sacks allowed, a figure not aided by Kessler’s general immobility in the pocket.

USC Defensive Personnel

The Trojan defense is headlined by defensive end Leonard Williams, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior assured of a high NFL Draft standing after his USC days are done. On the year, Williams leads USC in tackles with 27, adding a pair of sacks and three pass deflections. A physical, athletic and generally dominant defender, Williams will be public enemy number one for Arizona State on Saturday.

Williams is joined on the line by nose tackle Antwaun Woods and tackle Claude Pelon, while tackle Delvon Simmons is also slated to see substantial action.

On the year, Woods has totaled nine tackles with Simmons chipping in 10 total stops.

J.R. Tavai is used in a pass rush position which has paid off for the Trojans thus far, as Tavai is tied with Williams for the team lead with two sacks while ranking second on the team with four tackles for loss.

At linebacker, Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao occupy the inside positions with Scott Felix (formerly Scott Starr) at outside linebacker.

Pullard leads the linebacking group with 26 total tackles on the year and also has three pass deflections. Sarao has totaled 21 tackles with an interception and Felix has collected 13 tackles including two for loss.

Ultra-talented sophomore Su’a Cravens is listed both as the starting strong safety and second-team outside linebacker, showing the immense versatility Cravens brings to the Trojan defense.

On the year, Cravens has totaled 19 tackles including a team-high five for loss with one sack, one interception and four total passes defended.

In the secondary, starting cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Chris Hawkins are joined by former ASU recruit Gerald Bowman at free safety. Leon McQuay III also sees extensive action at free safety.

Bowman ranks second on the team with 26 tackles with one interception, while Seymour has 14 tackles with five pass deflections. Hawkins has 13 tackles on the year with one interception and McQuay has totaled 10 tackles and one interception on the year.

USC Defensive Summary

A strength in the late-Lane Kiffin years that has continued in the early stage of Steve Sarkisian’s tenure at USC, though not quite up to “Wild Bunch” snuff, the Trojan defense this year is more than a formidable front.

A top-10 team nationally in turnover margin, USC has intercepted seven passes – all by different players –while Williams is one of college football’s most fearsome defenders at any position. Additionally, USC has yet to allow a passing touchdown on the year, a trend Mike Bercovici certainly will have to break multiple times over for the Sun Devils to remain competitive in the Coliseum.

Last time ASU visited the Coliseum, the Trojan defense frequently harassed Taylor Kelly and baited the quarterback in to multiple mistakes, a habit USC hopes to continue with Mike Bercovici in the pocket for the Sun Devils this Saturday.

With power in the front and prowess in the back, the Sun Devil offensive line must buy enough time for Bercovici to calmly orchestrate the offense and not be rushed into hasty decisions.

USC Special Teams Summary

Kicker Andre Heidari has connected on 4-of-6 field goals on the year—oddly with the two misses coming from 39 and 36 yards while making tries from 52 and 53 yards.

At punter, Kris Albarado averages 40.5 yards on 20 punts with a long of 57 yards.

The special teams area that will undoubtedly be taken under the microscope by Sun Devil fans this weekend – kickoff coverage—will showcase high-impact true freshman Adoree Jackson for the Trojans. On the year, Jackson averages 27.8 yards on five returns with a long run of 50 yards.

One of the top overall athletes in the 2014 class, Jackson has every trait necessary to throttle the Devils’ coverage if lessons have not been learned and applied from Ishmael Adams’ decimation of Arizona State a week ago.

Nelson Agholor sees frequent time on special teams’ returns, averaging 15.7 yards on six kick returns and 3.9 yards on seven punt returns.

Final Analysis

Though the Devils have won back-to-back meetings in Tempe, the Coliseum has been a nightmare for Arizona State dating back to last century as not since 1999 and a stellar game by J.R. Redmond have the Sun Devils won on the road against USC.

A tremendously high-risk, high-reward type of game, the Sun Devils enter Saturday battered and bruised after the biggest tail-whipping the program has suffered in a decade. However, though morale has plummeted from prior to the UCLA game, if ASU is able to manage a victory over the Trojans Saturday the exuberance and enthusiasm will undoubtedly return.

In terms of head-to-head matchups against Steve Sarkisian as a head coach, the Sun Devils have had perfect success against the former BYU quarterback as ASU won all three meetings when Sarkisian coached Washington against the Devils in 2009, ’10 and ’13.

Talent-wise, USC brings a great deal to the table as an efficient, effective offensive attack is balanced by a defense with substantial strengths at virtually every position.

First thing’s first, if ASU is able to make some notable semblance of improvement in tackling on defense and special teams and if the Sun Devil offense can employ much better ball security than a week ago, Arizona State can be highly competitive in this game.

How big are those “ifs”, though? We’ll see Saturday as we get a clearer understanding if this team can bounce back from its meltdown against UCLA or if the issues that plagued the Devils against the Bruins are terminal in 2014.

Familiar Faces

• USC LS Peter McBride is an Arizona native and attended Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School, as did ASU’s Tyler Whiley

• USC CB Chris Hawkins and TE Randall Telfer attended Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School, as did ASU’s Alani and Viliami Latu

• USC’s JuJu Smith attended Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School, as did ASU LB Salamo Fiso

• USC S Gerald Bowman attended Los Angeles (Calif.) Pierce College, as did ASU WR Jaelen Strong

• USC LB Scott Felix and OL Nathan Guertler attended Norco (Calif.) High School, as did ASU RB Deantre Lewis

• USC DL Claude Pelon attended Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, as did ASU S Damarious Randall

• USC DT Antwaun Woods attended Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High School, as did ASU QB Mike Bercovici

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