The Sun Devils are a talented squad, make no mistake. They are way over due to come out and play the kind of ball, Dirk Koetter is known for generating. What has Koetter puzzled is where all that talent that got his squad picked so high in the pre-season went...
"I don't think there's a (Pac-10) team that we can't beat," Koetter said. "There's also not a game where we can't be beat. The biggest challenge now is we have high expectations, and we're not meeting them. The pressure's going to come hard from outside. The No. 1 thing is we have to realize nobody is going to ride in on a white horse and save us. We have to be our own cavalry and save ourselves. If we crack from the inside, we have no chance."
The Sun Devils are 2-2, but the only reason they've put up any wins, is due to scheduling. ASU was smart enough to bring in a couple patsies in Northern Arizona and Utah State. Koetter's mindset was to get his team warmed up with two "scrimmages" prior to playing Iowa and Oregon State. Considering the scorching heat still simmering the Phoenix basin, "warmed" shouldn't have been an issue but for the Devils, it was - they showed up to both games nothing hotter than ice cold. Against the Hawkeyes, who the Trojans treated like door mats in the ‘03 Orange Bowl, ASU did not put up an offensive point, recording a defensive safety as their only score. They followed that less than sizzling performance by turning the ball over six times against the Oregon State Beavers for another huge loss. Now, with heads spinning, they get to face what should be the best team they've seen all season. I say "should be," only because the Trojans have yet, as well, to find their team's identity.
Defense wins championships and for SC that was supposed to mean big things in the 2003 season. Big things, indeed, as of right now, nobody has given up more yards than the Trojan secondary. USC is last in the Pac Ten in pass defense and that could be the difference in this Saturday's matchup. Thus far in ‘03, three of SC's opponents have torn the Trojan secondary wide open. What was a strength coming into the season has now become the Trojans' Achilles heal. This becomes a tremendous concern for Pete Carroll and his defense because ASU's Andrew Walter, although not a mobile quarterback, has the best arm in the league. Carroll was in senior cornerback Marcell Almond's ear all day during the Trojans' first loss to Cal. Carroll's passioned pleas didn't seem to sink in with his senior leader, or for that matter, with any of SC's all star secondary. Carroll's continued to get in the face of his men all week, in preparation for the Sun Devils. One has to hope that he got through, or it's going to be a long day for USC.
To complement the sort of shut down defense Carroll is known for producing, you need to have a ball control offense. Against Cal, the Trojans couldn't control their bladders, much less the ball. Coach Chow decided to ride the arm of a still not seasoned Matt Leinart and the plan backfired. SC's qb, much like his entire team, was not in sync and his misfires left the Trojan defense on the field, all day long. To beat ASU, USC must run the ball. SC's young backs have struggled as of late and because of that, third stringer Lendale White should see increased playing time. Through this season, White and his counterpart Chauncey Washington have proven to be the two hardest runners for the Trojans. Sophomore Herschel Dennis and freshmen sensation Reggie Bush need to stop thinking and start doing. In martial arts there is a saying we enjoy "those who hesitate, meditate - horizontally." Bush and Dennis have reached a near state of Zen and need to awake if the Trojans hope to find the end zone against the Devils.
So, what started out as the Pac Ten game of the year, now features two teams who just aren't playing to their abilities. With ASU's turnovers and SC's sieve secondary, this game could become a comedy of errors, but odds are it will prove far more dramatic. One of these two teams is bound to find their stride this Saturday. They are both far too talented to continue being so inept. It might seem harsh that the Trojans, a 3-1 team, be included in that description, but in all honesty USC has yet to play good football.
It took the ‘02 version of the Trojans roughly four games to get things in order. From that point on, they went on a terror. This new group for USC is equally as talented, they just aren't as mature. Unfortunately, time is up on this squad. They either click this weekend or Sparky will put a fork in them. Personally, I think the Trojans come out fired up and don't stop bringing all they have until the last seconds of the clock tick away. Carroll and Company are outstanding coaches, but they're facing another up-and-comer in Dirk Koetter and because of that, they have their work cut out for them. Odds are, they're up to the task.
SC 34 ASU 24