The Devil's Advocate
by Tom Daniels
Many USC fans believe that this is the Saturday the Trojan team gets well. To translate, ASU will provide SC with it's first conference victory. In looking at how the two squads have matched up against common opponents and their comparative team health, I don't know why so many Trojans have such an easy feeling about this matchup. It is my opinion that ASU will give the USC Trojans one "devil" of a time this coming weekend.
Pete Carroll must agree because the first words out of his mouth at the last MMQB luncheon was "Arizona State is a really good football team." Either Carroll is learning to set up his fans for that "just in case" scenario, or he truly believes that the Sun Devils are an offensive juggernaut. I think it's a bit of both and I also think SC fans should really listen to their coach's comments.
Let's look at ASU's offensive productivity. The Sun Devils have averaged 45.5 pts per game. SC hasn't even scored 40 in any of their games. Of course we can look at ASU's opponents and attribute any success to the level of their competition. However, both SC and ASU have played two common opponents in Stanford and SJSU. The results were the same for both. Both lost to Stanford and both won against SJSU. The difference, however, is in points scored and points allowed. Against SJSU, ASU scored 53 pts and allowed only 15. While against Stanford, ASU gave up 51 but managed to put up 28. ASU's offense is rolling while SC's is still trying to find the keys.
So why has ASU been so successful offensively? The key is the offensive line. ASU has four seniors starting for them this year. In four games they have allowed only three sacks. Four of their wide receivers each have had four touchdown games. And their running game, which can rotate three unique running backs with their featured player being Delvon Flowers. Flowers was a player that John Robinson wanted badly, but had to pass on because of academic issues. He is big, fast, elusive and catch out of the backfield. ASU's running game has been prolific enough to open the lanes for a wide open passing attack. Right now they are second in the Pac Ten in almost every offensive category.
SC's offense, on the other hand, has yet to show a complete, balanced game. I don't think people have really looked at the losses SC suffered in personnel this season and then measured that against our lack of cohesion. We lost our co-starter at tailback, our starter at flanker, three rotation players on the line and a solid fullback. To not have Chad Pierson, Marcell Almond or Mal MacKenzie has handicapped Norm Chow's offensive schemes more than anyone can imagine. Then add Butler, McGuire, Guenther and Jones to that list and get dizzy because we're spinning out of control. If anyone imagined the worse case scenario for SC's already thin ranks, they couldn't have conjured up this reality. What could've been our own version of the three amigos in Stevenson, Allmond and Kelly is now down to one bandito and he is barely living up to the hype. Then realize that we are playing with one back. No offense to Charlie Landrigan, he and Carson Palmer actually bring more game week in and week out than any other player on the squad, but he wouldn't be starting if Chad Pierson were healthy. To even be competitive this weekend, offensively, SC is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat and they are going to have to do it playing mistake free football, something they have yet to accomplish.
Okay, Okay, I know. What about SC's defense. ASU has not faced a defense as ferocious as SC's yet. This is true, when talking about our projected defense for the season, but that squad no longer exists. Let's not even discuss the revolving door that has been our linebacking unit. Where oh where is Darryl Knight now?
Let's look at what could have been, Knight, Simmons, Tago and Pryor: all players that should've been wearing the Cardinal and Gold. And all would be helping SC out in a big way right now. Well we don't have them, so why cry over spilled milk? I won't, but I will shed a tear for the loss of two-thirds of our defensive line. Luckily we get Nielsen back, but Riley is gone for the season. Those two alone were the anchors to our defense. It is now up to two true freshmen and a redshirt to hold that line. Granted they are all talented kids, but without backup for rotation, it's going to get tough by the fourth quarter. We all saw the eventual erosion of our defensive unit up in Washington. Well we're playing a team, in ASU, that is far more productive offensively. It is going to take all of Carroll's magic to make this one go away without excessive bleeding.
Wow, with the bleak picture I just painted one might ask "why even attend the game?" My only answer is to that is We Are SC. We have been in 4 dog fights so far and come up short only through our own mistakes. We are the best team we have played and will be until Ucla. SC's offensive line worked wonders against a strong defensive dog defensive front. We should be able to move the pile a little bit better against the Devils. ASU plays a five back set all the time. They want you to throw and feel that if you break into a five receiver set, then Terrell Suggs, their awesome DE is going to get at your quarterback. So SC is going to have to ask Alex Holmes to pancake a few more men like he did last week. We're going to have to run until the passing game opens up. And, most importantly, we're going to have to convert on third down and eat up that clock. Because if we don't, our defensive unit is going to wear out. We must get productivity from our receivers and back up running backs. We cannot afford to have kids stepping out of bounds, or dropping balls. Every catch has to be made and every run has to generate yardage. We also must protect Carson. He will be fighting against a swarming ASU secondary. He is going to need all the time he can get to find the open man. And to get open, our receivers are going to have to fight. Four of Carson's six interceptions have come off of receiver mistakes. This will not work against ASU because so far, when they get the ball, they score.
Keys to game:
1. SC must establish and maintain the run.
2. SC must control the clock and win the game of time of possession.
3. Special teams cannot give our opponents a downhill field to play on. Our defense is too thin right now to weather that.
4. Carson and his receivers must be on the same page. It's time for Grant Mattos to show why he was given his scholarship. The coaches still cannot figure out what has silenced this potential super star for five games.
5. Poston and Howard must come in and run like experienced backs. Poston dropped his second hand off in the Oregon game like it was a hot potato. They must bring in fresh legs and another dimension to our backfield.
6. SC's offensive line managed only 3 penalties last week against Washington. They must duplicate this effort to keep the drives alive.
We just don't have enough healthy personnel to compete for four quarters of football. Not against ASU, or anyone else in the Pac right now. That is the reality.
1. The linebackers must maintain their assignments. Strong was out of position last week twice and cost SC dearly in the fourth quarter. This cannot happen.
2. We must put pressure on the quarterback. Nazel must come in during pass rush downs and earn his scholarship.
3. The secondary can not allow the deep ball and must play more aggressively with the passes underneath. If the others follow what Troy and Kevin have done we should be fine.
1. Kick the damn ball.
2. Tackle the damn runner.
3. Block the damn tackler.
1. Risk it all.
2. Put trust in your system and the players executing it.
courtesy of DevilDigest.com
Life was good for Arizona State during their out of conference games. The Sun Devils racked up three easy wins, outscoring their opponents 154-49. The only blemish on the season was a spanking by Stanford 51-28.Therefore, It's easy to see why the game against USC can be a possible valid measuring stick, as to the success or the lack of, that the Devils may endure during Pac-10 play.
ASU head coach Dirk Koetter's reputation is one of an offensive genius who helps his team's quarterback achieve a high level of efficiency. So far this season, this trend is alive and well. Quarterback Jeff Krohn ranks second nationally in pass efficiency with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. With 1,156 yards through his first four games, Krohn is well on his way to one of the finest passing seasons in school history. There have many beneficiaries of Krohn's play. ASU's three wide receivers: Donnie O'neal (317 yards, 3 TD's), Shaun McDonald (345 yards, 7 td's), and Ryan Dennard (170 yards, 3 TD's) are the Devils' main threats in Koetter's high-octane passing attack. The ASU's running game has been less impressive than the passing game. Delvon Flowers leads all rushers with 269 yards and a lone TD. His backfield teammate Tom Pace (135 yards, 2 TD's) has looked very well of late, and is probably the most consistent player of this group.
The ever-present learning curve of the defense playing under a new 4-2-5 scheme has cooled off the lofty expectations that ASU fans had for this group coming into the season. This unit was manhandled in the loss to Stanford, and even some of the Devils' out of conference opponents exposed disturbing vulnerabilities. Pac-10 2000 freshman of the year Defensive End Terrell Suggs has picked up where he left off last tear. He's second on the team in tackles with 21. Suggs has been racking havoc in opponents' backfields with 10 tackles for a loss, 6 of them going for sacks. Linebacker Mason Unck leads the team in tackles with 27, to go along with two sacks. Most of ASU's secondary are true or redshirt freshmen. Two newcomers who have been playing very well in the last couple of games are free safety Jason Shivers, and cornerback Lamar Baker.
Special teams coach Tom Osborne was brought in from Oregon, where his special teams units have been the class of the Pac-10 for the last few years. It's been a roller coaster of a ride for this ASU group. The kicking game is rock solid with one of the best punter and kicker tandems in the Pac-10. Punter Nick Murphy averages 42.8 yards a punt, and kicker Mike Barth is 4-4 in his field goals, and has converted most of his kick-offs to touchbacks. The Devils have been doing a commendable job on kick-off returns with Pace and fellow running back Mike Williams being the primary returners. ASU will sorely miss their main punt returner Daryl Lightfoot, and McDonald will try to maintain the success the team has had in this department.
At the risk of sounding overdramatic, it's fair to say that the outcome of the USC game can easily define the rest of the season for the Sun Devils. A win, and ASU proved to itself and others that it's not merely a "paper tiger" who can only beat weak non-conference opponents. A loss further validates the notion that followed the Stanford loss, which is that ASU has a ways to go to be considered a legitimate force in the Pac-10. USC may be the angriest team in the conference, but no Pac-10 team is more anxious than the Devils. ASU is seeking its identity, and hopes on Saturday to answer their own questions in a positive manner and