USC Preview

Pick a theme, any theme, for this week's showdown with the USC Trojans. The stakes are high for both teams with the winner looking good for a BCS bowl berth. For Arizona State, it's a chance to notch a signature victory in Dennis Erickson's first season in the desert. The Sun Devils have surprised many this season with a 9-1 record but are lacking a signature win.

A nationally televised Thanksgiving victory over the Pac-10 heavyweights from Los Angeles would be just that.

The Trojans will likely have a big say in that, however, as they have posted a perfect 22-0 record in the month of November under Carroll.


2007 Record: 8-2, 5-2 Pac-10
Head Coach: Pete Carroll

Last Week: The Trojans have enjoyed a week off after defeating the Cal Bears on a rain-soaked evening in Berkeley by a score of 24-17.


*Projected Starters

WR Patrick Turner, Jr.
LT Sam Baker, Sr.
LG Jeff Byers, Jr.
C Matt Spanos, Sr.
RG Chilo Rachal, Jr.
RT Drew Radovich, Sr.
TE Fred Davis, Sr.
QB John David Booty, Sr.
FB Stanley Havili, Fr.
TB Chauncey Washington, Sr.
. WR Vidal Hazelton, So.

Mackey Award semi-finalist Fred Davis is the top receiving target for Booty. The tight end has caught 44 passes and is averaging 63.4 yards a game. Davis' five touchdowns also lead all receivers. Receivers Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton, who stand at 6'5" and 6'3" respectively, have three scores a piece and a combined 80 catches. 6'4" redshirt freshman David Ausberry has added nineteen catches and one touchdown.

John David Booty's Heisman candidacy took a big step back after he broke his finger earlier this fall. Booty was sidelined midway through the season but has returned to the starting lineup. The senior quarterback has thrown for fourteen touchdowns and eight interceptions. Booty averages 232.7 passing yards per game. Mark Sanchez started three games in Booty's absence and posted a 2-1 record as the starter. The sophomore has seven passing touchdowns and five interceptions.

Featured Matchup: USC Running Backs vs. Arizona State Linebackers

The Trojans have a small army of capable ball-carriers in the backfield. Overall, USC averages just over 185 rushing yards per game. Chauncey Washington is coming off a fantastic performance at Cal, where he notched 220 yards on the ground. Washington leads the team with 748 yards and eight scores on 148 carries. Reserves Stafon Johnson and freshman phenom Joe McKnight have a combined six scores and add close to an additional 100 yards off the bench as well. Fullback Stanley Havili can also move the chains with his feet and pass-catching abilities out of the backfield. Slowing down the Trojans' ground game figures to be the top priority again for the Arizona State defense this week.


*Projected Starters

DE Lawrence Jackson, Sr.
NT Sedrick Ellis, Sr.
DT Fili Moala, Jr.
DE Kyle Moore, Jr.
SLB Brian Cushing, Jr.
MLB Rey Maualuga, Jr.
WLB Keith Rivers, Sr.

FS Taylor Mays, So.
SS Kevin Ellison, Jr.
CB Cary Harris, Jr.
CB Terrell Thomas, Sr.

Former Avondale's Aqua Fria standout Everson Griffen makes his first homecoming visit. He is the primary back-up to Kyle Moore and has tallied 4.5 sacks, third best on the team. An ankle injury has bothered star linebacker Keith Rivers. The senior, who leads the team with seventy stops, has practiced some but remains questionable for Thursday's game. Kaluka Maiava would replace Rivers in the starting lineup if he's not available. Rey Maualuga has notched sixty-four tackles and three sacks at middle linebacker. Strong-side linebacker Brian Cushing, who led the Trojans in tackles for a loss a year ago while lining up at defensive end, has been slowed with an ankle injury but has managed twenty stops. Thomas Williams is the top reserve with thirty-nine tackles and an interception.

The Trojans' secondary is surrendering just 175.7 passing yards on average and have allowed only six passing scores all season. Taylor Mays leads all defensive backs with fifty-five tackles. Mays is a sophomore that earned several post-season honors last year, including Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year. Junior Kevin Ellison has added forty-seven stops and two picks at strong safety. Terrell Thomas is the Trojans' lockdown corner this season with seven pass break ups and three interceptions.

Featured Matchup: USC Defensive Line vs. Arizona State Offensive Line

The Trojans' front four are among the top units in the country. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson and nose tackle Sedrick Ellis lead an athletic defensive line that could give the Sun Devils fits. The two have combined for over ninety tackles and thirteen sacks this season. Juniors Kyle Moore and Fili Moala each have three tackles for loss. This matchup in the trenches should be one of the game's biggest determining factors. USC can generate a pass rush without having to rely on the blitz. It's up to Arizona State's offensive line, which has been shaky in pass protection this season, and their ability to give quarterback Rudy Carpenter time to throw.


P Greg Woidneck, Jr.
PK David Buehler, Jr.

PR Desmond Reed, Sr.
Joe McKnight, Fr.
KOR Ronald Johnson, Fr.
Desmond Reed, Sr.

Former walk-on Greg Woidneck earned a scholarship this fall and is now the feature punter. Fifteen of Woidneck's 45 punts have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line this season. A punt return for a score has eluded Joe McKnight thus far, but the true freshman has come close. McKnight averages 9 yards per return and his longest of the season was a 45-yard punt return. Desmond Reed returns both kickoffs and punts. The senior averages just over 19 yards per kick return. Freshman Ronald Johnson has returned nineteen kicks for a 25 yard average.


--Establish the Run: The Sun Devils will be looking to slow things down on the ground while on defense, which has been a constant theme all year under Erickson. While the rush defense has improved quite a bit (ASU is third in the conference with a 103.4 yard average), it's still a work in progress. The Sun Devils are also a little dinged up at defensive tackle right now so if USC can put together long, sustained drives relying on the ground game, then they could turn the tables on Arizona State. Sam Baker's expected return to the lineup at left tackle is also a big boost up front in accomplishing that.

--Avoid Penalties: USC is averaging 67.7 penalty yards a game this season, which ranks last in the Pac-10. This is perhaps the one area that has kept opponents in the game a lot longer than normal. It's especially risky on the road. The last time the Trojans visited Sun Devil Stadium, they were flagged twelve times.

--Pressure Carpenter: Arizona State has allowed forty-three sacks, worst in the Pac-10. If ASU is really struggling to protect quarterback Rudy Carpenter, it could be a long night for the Sun Devils. As a team, USC has thirty quarterback sacks this season.


--Rush Defense: Stopping the run figures to be a big point of emphasis for each team this Thursday. The Sun Devils always look to stop the run first on defense and this week is no different. Chauncey Washington and a handful of others to spell him provide another stiff test for the front seven. The most yards ASU has allowed to a single player this season was 128 yards to Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard. The Sun Devils will likely need a similar, if not better, effort to down the Trojans.

--Counter the Pressure: It's a team effort from the offensive line to the running backs to Rudy Carpenter. The Sun Devils need to have an answer for the impending pressure USC will bring on Carpenter. Whether that's through blocking adjustments or play-calling to counter the pass rush, Arizona State cannot afford to have Carpenter sacked a bunch of times once again. Carpenter's thumb injury also puts his health at a premium.

--Start Strong and Remain Calm: Getting into another double digit deficit early on could spell trouble for ASU as the Trojan defense is one of the country's best units. The Sun Devils haven't been fazed by much this season and will have the benefit of a sold out home crowd but they can't allow their emotions to get ahead of them.

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