Stats don't measure value of Burfict

Trojans offense must limit Vontaze Burfict's impact, a challenge exacerbated by first road game for young offensive line and skill players.

The numbers don't jump off the page.

17 tackles. Four sacks, three coming in a pummeling of UC Davis. One pass breakup. No forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries and no interceptions.

But then you watch Arizona State middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict play and he jumps off the television screen.

Big, built more like a defensive end at his listed weight of 252 pounds. Fast, able to cover the entire field sideline-to-sideline. Physical, shedding blocks with ease and punishing the ball carrier at the point of attack.

The junior from Corona (Calif.) Centennial has also almost single-handedly kept the Sun Devils (2-1, 0-0 Pac-12) defense respectable in the face of a wave of injuries and attrition. Top cornerback Omar Bolden tore his ACL in spring practice. Linebacker Brandon Magee, just as productive as Burfict last season, was lost to a torn Achilles. Defensive end James Brooks up and quit the team. His replacement, Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year Junior Onyeali, is sidelined up to six weeks with a knee injury.

Still, they probably did enough to win at Illinois, limiting the Illini to 240 yards of total offense and forcing three turnovers.

"It really is unbelievable to go through the injuries they have gone through over the last six months and you watch the film and it still looks like the best guys in the country," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "You still put on the film and they are still getting a bunch of three and outs and shutting people down."

It's a credit to Burfict, the one-time USC commit, and the challenge the 23rd-ranked Trojans must handle Saturday evening in hot and raucous Sun Devil Stadium (7:15 p.m., ESPN), their first road game of the season.

USC (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has done everything possible this week to prepare for Burfict, including having freshman linebacker Anthony Sarao mimic him on the scout team, right down to his penchant for extracurricular activity after the play.

"You always wanted to watch out for No. 7, because he'll kind of do his own things sometimes too that's outside the books," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "You're not prepared for it. It's not in the scouting report."

Barkley even went as far as calling Burfict a dirty player. Left tackle Matt Kalil vowed to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Are they trying to get inside Burfict's head or get the attention of officials? Probably.

It might also work. Burfict did have a critical personal foul to extend the game-winning drive last year at the Coliseum, shoving a receiver well after the play. Coach Dennis Erickson even went as far as benching him after a rash of penalties, but Burfict has been on his best behavior on the field so far.

Barkley, who has been nothing short of exceptional with nine touchdowns against one interception and is completing 69 percent of his throws, will be tasked with limiting Burfict's impact when possible.

His bigger challenge with be keeping the inexperienced offensive line and receivers under control in hostile territory, where Barkley says he thrives, pointing to silencing the crowd at Ohio State in his first road start.

"It's the best feeling ever," he said. "That's always your goal – to make the away crowd just go away."

Burfict will be trying to do the opposite, energizing an expected capacity crowd of 71,706, presumably with one of his trademark big hits.

The trick, per freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee, is to make it count.

"If he gets a shot on me, he gets a shot on me," Lee said. I'll make sure I catch the ball. I'm not just going to get hit for nothing."


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