True freshman defensive end Junior Onyeali has started the past three games, and last week he had three sacks and four tackles for loss against Washington State.
Onyeali doesn't have prototypical size for the position -- 5-foot-11 and 233 pounds -- but he has jazzed up Arizona State's pass rush with his speed and energy.
"You're talking about a pure speed rusher that gets up the field and is just tenacious," coach Dennis Erickson told the Arizona Republic.
Onyeali and the defense take on a potent offense this week when the Sun Devils travel to play at USC. Onyeali earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Cougars.
"Obviously he's not there yet," Erickson said. "(But) he's a defensive end that's a little undersized, maybe not even a little undersized, but he can run around and fly."
Arizona State needed the boost because it had only seven sacks through six games. Now, the Sun Devils, who are 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-10, have nine sacks in the past two games -- against Cal and Washington State.
Arizona State will look to continue its momentum -- and continue its postseason push -- Saturday at USC. The Trojans are only 5-3 overall and are struggling on defense and with depth in the first season of coach Lane Kiffin, but Erickson is saying that USC is about as dangerous as ever.
"I don't see a lot of difference from when I watched them on tape a year ago," he said.
--Arizona State is coming off a 42-0 victory over Washington State, which marked the ninth shutout in the Sun Devils' Pac-10 history.
--The Sun Devils have lost 10 consecutive games to USC, dating to a 1999 win in Los Angeles. Counting a 2007 victory at UCLA, Arizona State has won only twice on the road against the L.A. schools since 1996.
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Arizona State 17-9 (last meeting, 2009, 14-9 USC).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Arizona State seemed to get back on track last week, with QB Steven Threet picking apart the Washington State defense and, most importantly, not throwing an interception. That has been his biggest problem in his first year as the starting quarterback, but otherwise he has usually looked to be confident and in command. Arizona State might not have a star in the receiving corps, but the Sun Devils are solid and have depth at that position, while freshman running back Deantre Lewis has given the running game a boost with his speed.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Arizona State looked good against Washington State -- including holding the Cougars to a net total of 8 rushing yards -- but the Trojans are not the Cougars. USC has multiple weapons on offense, starting with sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley. He has two superb big-play targets at receiver in Robert Woods and Ronald Johnson. Arizona State, which is making more big plays on defense in recent weeks, is allowing 340.5 yards per game. To its credit, this is a defense that did force high-flying Oregon to punt 11 times.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arizona State at USC, Nov. 6 -- The Sun Devils, at 4-4, are looking for three more victories to ensure bowl eligibility because only one of their two victories against FCS teams will count toward the postseason. (Although the possibility exists that a 6-6 Arizona State could get a waiver in that regard if there aren't enough teams to fill the 70 bowl slots). In any case, the Sun Devils can't count on that right now and they will be looking to smack a USC team that could be emotionally vulnerable following a 53-32 loss to Oregon.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Watch the turnovers. Arizona State has the overall talent to match up with USC, and the Devils might have the emotional edge this week, running into a Trojans team that might be running out of motivation. Arizona State doesn't want to give up anything cheap and give USC easy momentum. The Sun Devils, though, are only tied for 107th nationally in turnover margin, at minus-.88 per game. Discipline, in terms of turnovers and penalties, has not been Arizona State's strong suit.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Steven Threet -- He is coming off a highly efficient performance against Washington State, as he completed 26 of 32 passes for 300 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, in less than three quarters. He isn't very mobile, so he'll have to make good, quick decisions against a talented USC defensive front.
WR T.J. Simpson -- He has been a go-to guy of sorts in an Arizona State passing game that nicely spreads the wealth. Simpson has 10 receptions for 177 yards in the past two games. That's a far cry from the first six games of the season, when he made six receptions for 104 yards.
LB Vontaze Burfict -- He committed to USC before changing his mind and signing with Arizona State in 2009. The sophomore has the kind of raw talent that brings to mind recent USC greats at the position, although he is still learning how to control his play and his emotions. The big hitter has 59 tackles, including 6.5 for loss.
ROSTER REPORT: --Senior OG Jon Hargis, who tore an ACL in the spring, returned to the field against Washington State last week, playing in the fourth quarter.
--DT Bo Moos suffered an MCL injury against Washington State and is expected to miss two games.
--DT Saia Falahola was the only senior to start on offense or defense for Arizona State last week.
--LB Shelly Lyons suffered a broken foot against Cal on Oct. 23 and is out for the season. He had 22 tackles.
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