USC Preview

Possibly down its starting quarterback, ASU takes to the road a second time in as many weeks to face USC, as they try to snap a three-game skid. The Devils will face a fast and physical Trojan defense, which ranks fourth nationally in total defense. On paper, it's a matchup which heavily favors the Trojans if ASU can't find some quick answers for an offense struggling to reach the end zone.


2008 Record: 3-1, 1-1 Pac-10
Head Coach: Pete Carroll

Last Week: Scoring 41 unanswered points, the Trojans bounced back with a 44-10 rout of Oregon at home.
*Projected Starters

WR Patrick Turner, SR
LT Charles Brown, JR
LG Jeff Byers, SR
C Kristofer O'Dowd, SO
RG Alex Parsons, JR
RT Butch Lewis, SO
TE Anthony McCoy, JR
WR Damian Williams, SO
QB Mark Sanchez, JR
FB Stanley Havili, SO
TB C.J. Gable, SO

Similar to his counterpart across the sidelines, quarterback Mark Sanchez's availability this week is also in question after suffering a bone bruise in his knee last week in the Oregon win. Sanchez, the Pac-10's passing efficiency leader, has tossed 1,069 yards and 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions this season. The junior signal-caller has done a very nice job of distributing the ball to a variety of targets surrounding him.

If Sanchez is unable to play, Mitch Mustain will step in under center. Mustain, who came to Southern California by way of Arkansas, has appeared in three games this season. He's 6 of 9 passing, including two touchdowns and one interception.

Arkansas transfer Damian Williams has emerged as Troy's top receiving threat this season, which is a welcome sign for a unit that lacked a big punch a year ago . Williams, who earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors in 2006, leads the group with 20 receptions and four touchdowns. He's averaging 77.5 receiving yards per contest which also tops his team. Split end Patrick Turner isn't far behind Williams with three touchdowns on 15 catches this season. Sophomores Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry have combined for another four scores. Johnson and Ausberry are averaging 25.0 and 24.7 yards per catch respectively.

Junior Vidal Hazelton, who caught a pass in every game last season, was slowed last week with an ankle injury and is currently contemplating a redshirt year. According to reports, the coaching staff doesn't believe Hazelton's injury is season-ending, which would nix a redshirt by the coaches. The drop on the depth chart has been a bit discouraging for the junior. Although he has just four catches so far, true freshman Blake Ayles looks like the next big thing at tight end for the Trojans.

Opposing defenses always have to account for speedy sophomore Joe McKnight anytime he lines up in the backfield. They've done a fairly decent job of limiting his big-play capabilities so far but you can't help but feel he's overdue for a breakout game. McKnight's 202 yards and 50.5-yard average per game on the ground is best among Southern California's stable of talented tailbacks.

The rest of the carries will likely be split between C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson. Gable averages 6.1 yards per carry while Johnson has two rushing scores, both top marks for the unit. Junior Allen Bradford figured to be in the rotation as well but a hip injury now makes his status uncertain in the near future. Expect to see fullback Stanley Havili, as well as McKnight, utilized as receivers at some point.

*Projected Starters

DE Kyle Moore, SR
NT Christian Tupou, SO
DT Fili Moala, SR
DE Clay Matthews, SR
SLB Brian Cushing, SR
MLB Rey Maualuga, SR
WLB Kaluka Maiava, SR
FS Taylor Mays, JR
SS Kevin Ellison, SR
CB Cary Harris, SR
CB Josh Pinkard, SR

Among several other things, one of the biggest strengths of the USC defensive front seven is the unit's versatility. Injuries don't become much of a problem while position battles are kept fresh throughout the season.

The latest tinkering came this week with Kyle Moore moving inside to tackle from defensive end, joining Fili Moala on the interior while Clay Matthews and Everson Griffen were lined up on the edges. The possible shake-up means that tackles Christian Tupou and Averell Spicer need better performances and quickly. Spicer started the first three games of the season before a pair of personal fouls in the Oregon State game helped relegate him to reserve status. Both he and Tupou have one solo tackle a piece.
Senior Fili Moala is, however, a steady veteran on the interior for the Trojans. Moala has notched 14 stops, including three for a loss, this season. Defensive end Kyle Moore has teamed with Everson Griffen, who lost his starting job last week, for three and a half of the defense's 12 sacks.

Carroll has reported that middle linebacker, Rey Maualuga, will return to the lineup this weekend after suffering a knee sprain two weeks ago at Oregon State. The ubiquitous senior led the team in tackles last season with 79 stops. Strong-side linebacker Brian Cushing has a nose for the ball and knack for making plays. His four and a half tackles for loss tops the Trojan defense, which, a s a unit, ranks first nationally in that category with 35 total.

Senior Kaluka Maiava is a rock on the weak-side with 28 total stops, the second-best mark on the team. Junior Luthur Brown is expected to return from injury this week and adds depth with his ability to play all three positions.

Southern California's secondary boasts seven defensive backs with starting experience. Three-year starters Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison lead the group with a combined 58 stops. Mays' 19 solo stops paces the team while Ellison's four pass break-ups are also tied for the team lead.

Cornerbacks Cary Harris and Josh Pinkard have added another three pass break-ups. Following knee injuries that have slowed him the last two seasons, Pinkard's return to the lineup has been a positive sign for reserve Kevin Thomas, another defensive back also returning from injuries. Thomas has five solo stops and one interception in four games off the bench.


P Greg Woidneck, SR
PK David Buehler, SR

PR Stafon Johnson, JR
Joe McKnight, SO

KOR Ronald Johnson, SO
C.J. Gable, SO

Senior kicker David Buehler is a perfect 4 of 4 this season on field goals. After making a 20-yard field goal at Virginia, Buehler did not have any attempts against Ohio State or Oregon State. The senior returned to action last week by connecting on all three attempts in the Oregon win. Former ASU walk-on punter Greg Woidneck carries a 36.5-yard average on 14 punts this season, four of which have been placed inside the 20-yard line.

Frustrated by recent fumbling issues, sophomore tailback Joe McKnight may share time returning punts with Stafon Johnson. McKnight has compiled 47 yards on seven punt returns while Johnson has 19 yards on three returns. Kickoff returns are shared by sophomores Ronald Johnson and C.J. Gable. Johnson has the team's biggest return of the season with 50-yard kick return. He's averaging 19.8 yards per kickoff return.


1. Big Plays: The Sun Devils need to create big plays, period. This may be a heavy burden to shoulder for backup QB Danny Sullivan, who's likely to start in his first ever ASU game on Saturday. Nonetheless, it's tough for the underdogs to pull off the upset if they're not forcing turnovers and dictating the pace of the game. On defense, ASU has just four takeaways so far this season and, overall as a team, the Devils are minus 4 in turnover margin. Not only does the offense need to take care of the ball better, but the defense can play the role of equalizer if they can cause the opposition to cough up the ball more often.

2. Four Full Quarters: We have yet to see ASU put together a complete game on both sides of the ball. Notching a big win, especially on the road, won't happen until the Sun Devils turn it around in this department. The ASU offense just doesn't have enough firepower right now to come back from large deficits so it will be up to the defense to keep them in the game until there's a breakthrough on the other side of the ball. Holding the Cal offense to just three first downs in the second half last week was a step in the right direction.

3. Be Physical at the Point of Attack: In last month's upset of the Trojans, Oregon State was able to dictate the game in the trenches on both sides of the ball. ASU doesn't have the same road-grating run-blocking types but they've got to match the intensity across the line of scrimmage.


1. Attack the Secondary: The ASU run defense has been somewhat solid thus far but, in pass defense, the Devils have struggled as opponents have been able to move the chains through the air. The Devils are giving up an average of 196.4 passing yards per game, which ranks sixth in the conference. In recent history, ASU has a bit of a problem defending teams with a balanced attack like Southern California's.

2. Keep the Penalties Down: The Trojans are averaging 86 yards in penalties per game, the most in the Pac-10 this season. Thus, they cannot keep ASU in the game with silly infractions, particularly those of the personal foul variety. The tendency to commit several penalties is a distinction USC may be able to get away with in most blowouts, but will drive coaches crazy no matter what the scoreboard says.

3. Follow the Blueprint: Arizona State's offense hasn't been able to solve the cover-two, namely because they've struggled to run the ball with consistency. Until they can, opposing defenses can drop the safeties back into coverage to clog passing lanes and take away the deep ball. USC has more than enough horses on defense, along with a proven ability to stop the run, to give the ASU offense fits once again.

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