Know your foe – USC Trojans

Devils Digest invited its Sparky's Huddle members to pose questions to SCPlaybook.com Publisher, Kevin Carden, concerning the Sun Devils' next opponent the USC Trojans. How has USC been dealing with their defeat at Oregon? How have the Arizona players for the Trojans looked so far? Did their last loss reveal glaring weaknesses? Carden answers those questions and more in this article.

Q: (from ASU Major) How is the team (and fan base) handling the first real blow out USC has experienced in the Pete Carroll era?

Answer: The fans were pretty stunned by the way USC was totally dominated by the Oregon Ducks last Saturday, as I think most of the nation was. USC fans have been so fortunate in the Carroll era that it the blowout is really a new experience.

As for the players, the team stepped up after the game and admitted that they got beat by the better team that night, and vowed to come back with a strong week of practice, which they have. USC is very banged up right now as well, which has just added to the uneasiness of the situation.

Q: (from BigESunDvl) What allowed the Ducks' offense to have so much success against the Trojan defense?

A: There are a number of things that contributed to the loss including poor tackling, being out of position and as Carroll said this week, he tried to do too much with his game plan, which caused the players to think on the field instead of just reading and reacting.

Also, you have to give credit to Oregon, they looked incredible in their execution and really caught fire. USC's defense has really been exposed in the last three games that they have played, so it will be interesting to see if they can get back on track against the Sun Devils or if they are just going to have to outscore teams for the rest of the year.

Q: (from Denver Devil) How is the casual USC fan viewing this season's USC team and especially the play of the QB Barkley?

A: USC fans expect to win every game, every year because of the great success they have had under Carroll, but I think most fans realized that after losing Sanchez, Maualuga, Matthews, Cushing, etc… that this was one of the more vulnerable teams that USC had has had in a number of years.

Having two losses this season may not have been totally unexpected, but to have them come against Washington and then in a blowout certainly were surprising.

As far as Barkley, it's hard not to be very impressed with the play and poise of the freshman. He has exceeded pretty much all expectations this season and proven that he is deserving of all the hype. The Trojans struggles haven't been because of him.

Q: (from SoCalDevil666) It has been speculated that Matt Barkley is being featured at the expense of the running game, because he was highly recruited, and Pete Carroll likes him. Do you think that by not running the ball and having Barkley pass more, USC is costing itself the chance to win games?

A: I really don't think that is the case at all. USC has had a good running game and if anything, fans wanted to see more passing early in the year when the play calling was very conservative. Barkley has had a successful year and Carroll is very fond of him, but to suggest that he is featuring the passing game just to showcase his highly-touted quarterback simply isn't the case.

Q: (from BurnningBeer) How much are the Trojan's missing Steve Sarkisian? Although USC's offense clearly has some talent they are currently 5th in Pac10 scoring - could be worse, but this is USC we're talking about.

A: That's a very interesting question because while Sarkisian's offenses were always very productive he was also often criticized at USC. A lot of people felt he abandoned the running game too early in games and would pass the ball, just for the sake of passing the ball and his offenses really had no true identity.

The offense returned 9 out of 11 starters from 2008 and had the potential to be a really good group, but the loss of Ronald Johnson before the season, and breaking in a freshman quarterback really made the play calling conservative for the first 4 or 5 games. Barkley is a very impressive quarterback but he is still just a freshman, so the coaches limited the playbook while easing him into the college game.

Sarkisian also had veteran quarterbacks to work with at USC while Jeremy Bates has come in and had a freshman signal caller, and a schedule that has featured 5 road games in the first 8 weeks, so I think he needs more time to get a real read on his style of play calling.

Q: (from SoCalDevil666) In the USC power run game, since Stafon Johnson's injury, has USC tried to use Stan Havili more, will he factor in the USC game plan against ASU?

A: Havili is usually a big factor in the offense but more so in the passing game than as a runner. He has missed the past two weeks after dislocating his shoulder against Notre Dame, so while he is expected to play this Saturday, I don't think he will be featured as a runner. ASU is really catching USC at a time when several key players like Havili and tight end Anthony McCoy are either going to miss the game or be limited because of injuries.

With Stafon Johnson out, Allen Bradford has really stepped up as USC's power runner.

Q: (from ASU Major) What Arizona recruits are showing well for the Trojans? Which ones have yet to show the potential expected?

A: Kristofer O'Dowd, Everson Griffen and Devon Kennard are the three recruits that USC has from the state of Arizona, and all three were five-star recruits, so they are obviously very talented kids.

Griffen has really stepped up this season under new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and currently has 8 sacks.

Kristofer O'Dowd was a preseason All-American candidate and a terrific center but he recently was replaced in the starting lineup by Jeff Byers. O'Dowd was limited by a knee and shoulder injury that he had previously, but he still has a very, very bright future.

Freshman Devon Kennard has recovered from the knee injury that he suffered at Desert Vista High School and has played in every game and been one of USC's most productive freshmen.

Q: (from AZStateDVL) In your opinion how has Devon Kennard done as a true freshman this year? Has his injury held him back at all?

A: Kennard's injury slowed him a bit at the opening of fall camp but he has been a really consistent performer this season for USC at defensive end. As I said above, he has played in every game and has already worked his way into the regular rotation on USC's talented defensive line.

What stands out about him, along with his talent, is the fact that he is a very hard working kid ad a very intelligent player. I think he has the potential to be one of the better defensive linemen in the Pac-10 by the time he graduates.


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