USC Defense – Loaded with Talent, Good Scheme

Any coaching staff facing the Trojans, does not look forward to facing a well-oiled offense, that poses a danger each time they handle to ball. However, planning against USC's defense is just as an unenviable task. In this exclusive Devils Digest interview, ASU's quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich talked about the USC defense, as well as Sam Keller's play thus far.

"They're just tremendously talented in every way," Helfrich said of the USC defense. "They're sound, their scheme is good, and they have the right guys playing in it. We just gotta to do our deal, play our game, play to our strengths, worry about improving on what we were able to do so far, and get a little lucky here and there."

According to the Sun Devils passing game coordinator, there's not just one significant attribute that helps the Trojans' defense be the dominant unit they are. "They're well coached and they have a lot of talent, and that's a petty good combination," Helfrich stated. "They do a good job balancing everything – whether it's their pressure stuff, playing zone, mixing in man-style coverage just to throw you off enough. They gamble a little bit, which other people wouldn't do, because they know they know they can make up for it just X against O." Helfrich added that he doesn't see considerable differences in the defense USC ran in years past and the scheme currently employed in the 2005 season. "Their general structure has continued to be the same and it's very good."

Aside from having another successful game, Sam Keller, Helfrich's main pupil, took quite the physical punishment from Oregon State defenders. Naturally, Keller's position coach wasn't pleased with what was taking place, but did point out the message that his signal caller was broadcasting. "Sam is a tough dude," Helfrich remarked. "We were talking through out the game how much that does for our team, and our team has responded to that. We don't want that to happen, but when it does we know we have a guy that will stand in there, and hopefully we can protect him quicker through out the rest of the year."

The ASU quarterback's progress hasn't gone unnoticed by his coach, and he attributes that to a few factors. "Just playing helps him see different things and different situations that come up," he explained. "Still, he hasn't seen enough. His leadership and charisma are carrying him and he's playing very well."

Facing the #1 team in the nation and the defending national champions should help any player to get ready in the most efficient matter for the game. Helfrich said that he has definitely seen that with the Sun Devil quarterbacks this week. "I think our group has stepped up in their preparation," he said. "We were embarrassed last year and that wasn't fun. As far as the day-to-day part of it, other than everyone having a little more bounce in their step, I think we're going about this in a similar fashion to other weeks."

In between the various practices and meetings, there has been a plethora of media requests thrown at Keller's way. Nevertheless, Helfrich isn't worried about this turning into a distraction that can diminish the quarterback's play. "Sam's personality is such, that he would say: ‘Cool, there's just more people (to talk to)' and just have fun with it," Helfrich stated. "But when he's between the lines, he just plays and competes. That's a good part of his personality, because I don't think that part (the media) affects him that much."

The ASU's quarterback's coach agrees that Sam's upbringing, with father Mike being an NFL player and a football executive for several years, has helped him with his football skills. There is also one obvious intangible that was probably instilled in Keller at a very young age and one that has undoubtedly aided him in his recent success. "Sam's just loves to compete, and when the lights go on that guy wants to be a part of whatever goes on," said Helfrich. "Whether it's a pick-up hoops game, talking smack or playing football – he's gonna have fun with it and try to win."

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