When the Arizona State Sun Devils march into this Coliseum this Saturday, it will mark the third consecutive contest in which the USC Trojans' opponent enters undefeated. More importantly though, it will mark the third consecutive game in which the Trojans will be facing one of the better quarterbacks in the nation. In fact, according to some around the college and pro football arenas, Andrew Walter, the Sun Devil slinger, might be the nation's best. This Arizona State team led the Trojans going into halftime during their meeting in 2003. This year, they'll be looking to finish the job.
Sun Devils on Offense
#16 Andrew Walter
While Andrew Walter hasn't put up the kind of numbers in 2004 that we're used to seeing from him, it should be noted that a quarterback is judged by his number of wins, and so far, Walter has five of them. He is a prototypical drop back passer. He's got a rocket arm, with touch, and can throw the ball with authority to any spot on the field. As a senior, he has the experience needed, as well as almost every Sun Devil passing record, to lead this productive Arizona State offense. Even though he's only had one game this year where he put up the statistics that he's capable of (against Iowa, 428 yards passing and 5 touchdowns), it shows that he's willing to do more than just heave the ball downfield to help his team win. Through five games, Walter has compiled a ridiculous 15-1 touchdown to interception ratio, to go with over 1,200 yards passing and a completion percentage of almost 55%. In the season's first three games, Walter passed for at least 240 yards and three touchdowns in each contest. While he was largely ineffective in the Oregon State game, he still managed to throw a touchdown pass and did not allow an interception. And in the Sun Devil's last game, against Oregon State, Walter took a back seat to the running game, throwing only 23 times, but still managing three scores through the air. Walter isn't going to look to beat you with his feet, but he's more than capable of rolling the pocket, buying time, and if need be, scrambling for key first downs. It's obvious that Andrew Walter has the physical tools to dominate a game. It will be interesting to see how he responds to this USC defense that will only allow him to utilize the short passing game. Walter against the Trojan defensive backs will be the key match-up in this game. He'll have to be psychologically ready for a defense that will get after him and put him on his back.
Running Back –
#22 Hakim Hill
Hakim Hill isn't even the number one running back on the Arizona State roster with the surname Hill. The starting tailback, Loren Wade, is out due to a violation stemming from the payment of a utility bill (the first known occurrence of a gas problem keeping someone out of the starting line up) and Randy Hill, Wade's replacement, suffered a knee injury during the Oregon State game. However, after all of the problems, Hakim Hill stepped into the tailback role during the game against the Oregon Ducks and responded with 134 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He is gifted athletically, with the ability to take the ball outside or stuff it between the tackles. He played in the Oregon game with a cast on his right arm, but looks to have it removed before facing the Trojans. This will allow him to become a threat to receive the ball out of the backfield, which is just what quarterback Andrew Walter needs, another receiver to throw to.
Wide Receivers –
#80 Derek Hagan, #17 Terry Richardson, #18 Moey Mutz
Derek Hagan is "the guy." Andrew Walter will search the field until Hagan breaks free, and rest assured, this has happened on more than one occasion. Hagan already has 35 catches for 483 yards, including 5 grabs that ended up in the end zone. It's a guarantee that Hagan will catch a pass in this weekend's game; the question is whether or not the Trojan defense can stop him from running with the ball. If the Trojan cornerbacks and safeties make sure he doesn't pile up the YAC (yards after catch), USC should be in good shape defensively. Terry Richardson is another guy that can't be allowed to scamper with the ball after a catch. He's got speed to burn and only needs one move to get into the open field. He's caught at least three balls in each game, totaling 22 for the season. He's turned those catches into 262 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. Moey Mutz has caught 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. But on top of all of that, his name is Moey Mutz.
Tight End –
#86 Zach Miller, #87 Brent Miller #89 Matt Miller
If you thought it was excessive to have 3 Hill's and 3 Jones' on the roster, how about 3 Miller's? While all three Miller's will see time on the offensive side of the ball, Zach is the best. As true freshman and unanimous pick for the best tight end in the 2004 recruiting class, he has definitely lived up to the hype. Zach is third on the team with 14 receptions for 151 yards and three touchdowns. While the Trojans have done a great job recently in limiting the opposing teams' tight ends, this will prove to be their stiffest challenge. Matt Miller has 4 catches on the year for 124 yards, bolstered largely by a 65-yard catch and run against Iowa. Although Matt is more of a wide receiver and Brent hasn't seen much action, what other team in America has three guys with the same name that can play the same position?
Offensive Line -
#66 Stephen Berg, #71 Grayling Love, #53 Drew Hodgdon, #78 Zach Krula, #52 Andrew Carnahan
The Arizona State offensive line has gone through some changes since their first snap against UTEP to open the season. Stephen Berg, Drew Hodgdon and Zach Krula all didn't start in the opening game, although Berg has started in the following four. Krula has been the starter for the previous two games, against both Oregon schools, while Berg saw his first starting assignment last week. The line is relatively small (Berg is the only 300+ pounder) and will be severely tested by a Trojan defensive line that has registered something like 200 sacks through five games. This line could look amazing if Walter utilizes a three-step drop for most of the game, however, these Sun Devils won't be able to stand the heat of the Trojan defensive for 60 minutes.
Sun Devils on Defense
Defensive Line –
#50 Kyle Caldwell, #91 Jimmy Verdon, #1 Jordan Hill, #49 Ishmael Thrower
Arizona State has a solid defensive line. These guys play great against both the run and the pass. Through 5 games, they've only allowed 2 teams to rush for more than 100 yards, and both teams had to rush over 40 times to get it done (Northwestern – 235 yards on 42 carries, and Oregon – 134 yards on 43 carries). And while it's obvious that Oregon State doesn't have the best rushing attack, holding any offense to –19 rushing yards in a game is worth noting. Jordan Hill (the other Hill) is the one to keep your eye on. Don't worry; he'll make it easy for you. He sports the unusual #1 as a defensive lineman, but more than that, he's constantly around the ball. He has 21 tackles, the highest number on the team for a defensive lineman, along with a tie for a team lead in sacks with 3.5. He's been constantly creating havoc in the offensive backfield this season, totaling 6 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and pounding on two fumbles. The Trojans would do well to neutralize him for the entire game. Because of the attention that teams usually focus on Hill, the rest of the line is free to make plays. Kyle Caldwell, Jimmy Verdon and Ishmael Thrower are all in double digits in the tackle department. Caldwell is tied with Hill with 3.5 sacks while Thrower and Verdon are right behind them, with 2.5 and 2 sacks respectively. This line is quick and able to disrupt an offense. But more than that, they know that the real playmakers for this defense are waiting just behind them. This front line will eat up blocks and create lanes for the linebackers to attack.
#5 Justin Burks, #44 Dale Robinson, #4 Jamar Williams
These are the leaders of this Sun Devil defense. All three are quick and strong, able to cover the width of the field, step up to make a play, or drop back in coverage. There is no "weak side" of the field when you're talking about these three. Dale Robinson, in his first year at Arizona State, leads the team in tackles, with 45, sacks, with 3.5, and tackles for loss, with 7.5. Tight ends, running backs and wide receivers better have their head on a swivel when they enter Mr. Robinson's neighborhood. Pretty much the only defensive statistic that Robinson doesn't lead the team in is interceptions. Leave that to Jamar Williams. Williams is first on the team with 3 interceptions, returned for 69 yards, third on the team in tackles, totaling 28 through five games and has thrown in 2 sacks of the quarterback, just for good measure. And as if those two weren't enough, Justin Burks is waiting on the other side. Burks is strong, fast and able to wrap up anyone that comes in his path. He sits in between Robinson and Williams on the team's leading tacklers list with 40, 23 of which are solo. He has played his best football in the team's most recent games. The Trojans are going to have to account for these three linebackers on every play or we're going to be hearing their names a lot.
#23 Josh Golden, #8 Chris McKenzie
Josh Golden and Chris McKenzie are absolute burners out there on the defensive wings. They can keep up with any receiver in the country and aren't afraid to put their helmets to use and pick up some tackles. However, while they are very capable cornerbacks, they both stand under 5'11" and shouldn't be able to account for the height of the Trojan receivers. While it will be tough to beat either one of these players deep, any jump ball should go the way of the Trojans.
#13 Emmanuel Franklin, #7 Riccardo Stewart
Both safeties are good, but Riccardo Stewart is the star. He is a fourth year starter in the Sun Devil defense and a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree. Although short in stature, Stewart is an imposing force in the defensive backfield for Arizona State. He ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 24 and forced a fumble against Northwestern. Emmanuel Franklin is the starter next to Stewart and has played well in his second year as a Sun Devil safety. Franklin has put up admirable stats on this young season, picking up 21 tackles, 2 interceptions returned for 76 yards, one sack, 5 tackles for loss, one fumble forced and one fumble recovered. As the back line of the Arizona State defense, if you get through them, you deserve to score.
Sun Devils on Special Teams
#20 Jessie Ainsworth
Jessie Ainsworth has been more than a reliable kicker for the Sun Devils this year. He's connected on all 20 of his extra point attempts and converted a respectable 77% of his field goal attempts, going 10 for 13. Although, two of those misses have come from outside 40 yards. His long for the year is a 48 yarder.
Kick Returner –
#3 Rudy Burgess –
On a team full of speedy playmakers, Rudy Burgess gets the nod at return man. Although he hasn't broken one yet, he's a fun player to watch and capable of squirting out into the open at any time. He is averaging just over 10 yards per punt return (201 yards on 20 returns) and 23.5 yards per kickoff return (165 yards on 7 attempts). Trojan kickers Ryan Killeen and Tom Malone must limit the amount of times Burgess returns the ball, because a long return or 6 points via special teams will go a long way in exciting this Sun Devil team.
This is a very deep and talented Arizona State team. They come into the game ranked 19th in the nation, a ranking that should probably be higher. This game is set up for the Trojans as a classic letdown game. Many people are looking for USC to coast into this game after an emotionally draining, hard fought game against Cal last weekend. However, there is one huge advantage that the Trojans have over both the Sun Devils as well as an emotional letdown. Okay, outside of Pete Carroll, Norm Chow, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, the rest of the superior offense, the ridiculously talented defensive line, the deeper and more talented defensive backfield and the ever improving kicking game, there is one huge advantage that the Trojans have. If you'll notice the schedule, it reads Arizona State Sun Devils at the University of Southern California Trojans. That's right. This game will be played in the Coliseum. And I know that Trojan fans won't be experiencing an emotional letdown. The stadium will be rocking; and if this Trojan team isn't pumped up for the Sun Devils by kickoff, they will be shortly thereafter.
Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org