To Hell and Back: ASU pre-game

108 degree temperatures, the prolific, multi-dimensional offense, hell to pay… that's where the Sun Devil's would like to think they're delivering USC - to Hell and back, but in reality it is the Trojans who will be bringing the fire and brimstone come Saturday, October 1st, 2005.

As if Halloween weren't close enough with the concept of goblins and ghouls, the Sun Devils are doing their voodoo best to conjure ghost of legends passed by referencing the Nebraska game where a number one was beheaded.

To assume that one has something to do with the other is near absurd but that is where USC finds most of its opponents, creating a witch's brew in hopes in might be the difference in a game's outcome.

Daniel Webster neither coaches, nor plays for the Devils. Now, that's not to diminish the talent that wasn't recruited by USC, Derek Hagan by example, who has made it clear on ESPN he was not recruited by USC and therefore has made it painfully clear, at least to himself that he is not part of the Trojans return to national prominence.

That has to hurt the 30 plus players from Southern California who were not pursued by their childhood favorites, USC and therefore will be added motivation to finally beating the Trojans, a team ASU hasn't come closer to than 5 touchdowns in nearly half a decade.

It's all motivation, isn't it? Dirk Koetter hasn't won a big time game since he left Boise and really never did before then. He's a good coach, but when it comes to elite, there are but a few and his name doesn't make the list. Like a man chained to the walls in Purgatory, his thirst must be quenched but will against the Trojans? If legend holds true, it will be another hollow night for the Devils and their coach.

Sixty points is what USC has averaged in their last three games. Their ASU counterparts can boast forty-five. The difference is that the Trojans starting unit has accomplished these obscene numbers playing only two quarters per game. The Devils, on comparison, have never pulled their starting unit from play one to final whistle. In yet, national sports telecasts would have you believe there is a direct comparison between the two offenses. I'm here to say, there is not.

Yes, ASU has talent. And yes, they will be a tougher test than Oregon, who, with an objective eye should have had at least seven more points on the board against the vaunted Trojans, in fact, perhaps fourteen. But to compare the two schools is childish.

In the last five meetings between the two schools, USC has easily broken forty plus points where ASU has never cracked thirty. Is this the most talented team USC has ever fielded? Some say the greatest college team of all time, never mind just at USC. Can the same be said about ASU? Hardly, in fact, they would struggle mightily against the team that fielded Pat Tillman and slay the dragon known as Nebraska.

At that time the Huskers were on an all time ride, much like the Trojans of today. Twenty-five wins, a third consecutive National Championship, the greatest college team of all time but still…one dimensional. Nebraska was a smash-mouth team, used to playing smash-mouthed teams, who, at that time, did not throw the ball. Sports writers and fans of ASU football have loved calling up this distant memory as a reason the current national champion might be downed – everyone's looking for a way to slay the new dragon but no one's been able to manifest that destiny. Back then, against Nebraska, ASU had a talent that had never reared its head in mid-west football – a scrambling quarterback by the name of Jake Plummer.

Plummer's legs and arm carried the then Devils all the way to the Rosebowl. He's still scrambling, eluding opponents in the NFL but he is no longer playing for the Sun Devils. In his stead is a mult-dimensional quarterback named Keller, who took the reigns from ASU's all-time passer and seemingly never skipped a beat. People are in awe of young Sam, but what's important is to look at his competition. Yes, he's done well, but against who?

Last week, up in Corvallis, he hung in to beat the Beavers, but not after taking a beating himself. He played well against a supposed contender for the national championship, in LSU, but lost. That same team was later exposed by a wobbly Tennessee club who would be lucky to finish fourth in the gritty Pac Ten. So who is ASU?

Their quarterback has yet to slay a true foe and their coach, in every big game he's faced, has put his cards on the table far too early. There is no doubt they have a quality wide receiver with Hagan, a top flight tight end in Miller, if he plays, and an above average quarterback in rookie Keller, but really who are the Devils?

In my mind, just a bat out of Hell, the Trojans must snare, then ground, on their way to the Rosebowl. I might consider them USC's toughest opponent, but that must be reserved for Cal, simply because of coaching.

Coaching, is the key to the Trojans' success and Saint Peter is guarding that magical gate. Pete Carroll is near the Sainthood given to his predecessor John McKay and has attained this heavenly stature by doing it all – he's brought talent, championships and integrity back to Trojan football. Others have tried but only these two mortals have come so close to touching God's, who we all know wears cardinal and gold, finger.

Koetter would love to slay this giant but his repertoire falls horribly short. Like the men before him, Jones, Bellotti, even Stoops, all have attempted some flim-flam. "Put the Trojans in the Sun, go no huddle, run Adrian at him…" none have drawn the sword from the stone.

The latest gimmickry is temperature… 108 degrees, that will melt the Trojans and we'll ride on to victory. Not. Carroll and company have done in their adversaries in high altitude, intense humidity, freezing cold, sleet, snow, you name it, they've dealt with it.

And if it doesn't seem God does play a hand, look at last week, prior to the Oregon game when Los Angeles got that touch of rain, or this week, when temperatures soared. No, there is no outside influence that might aide in a victory over Troy.

Koetter has now attempted to douse the flame that is the burning Bush, with his pre-game thoughts of how to cool young Reggie…

"We better get ready to go for it a lot on fourth down. USC in the past has done a tremendous job. They don't go for blocks a lot because they have such a great return man. Bush is probably the best return guy in the country. We are going to try to keep the ball away from Bush."

Great idea, Dirk, then what? What about Lendale, Matt, Dwayne, Dominique, Brandon, David and the best offensive line in college football…then what? You've managed to take away one weapon, on special teams mind you, but then what do you do? Your best running back is running scared in a maximum penitentiary. Your record setting quarterback is setting up tea cups for a starter in the NFL. Your secondary is so suspect, they've been asked to line up for witness identification… How are you going to beat the Trojans?

Answer: you aren't, but you hope to not suffer the embarrassment the Oregon Ducks did, the week prior, by merely giving up. The Ducks, despite the edge they held for the first eighteen minutes of the ballgame were on their heels before the first kick-off. Things went so fast and so hard for them, they seemed to be along for the ride – whatever USC dished up was the feast du'jour. They were spitting blood and checking wounds three minutes into game time, and from that moment on were waiting for a break, a referee's call and this, in one of the most hostile arenas in Pac Ten football. Sun Devil stadium pales by comparison.

The Ducks, much like their ASU co-victims, drew on a prior victory: their fans shouted for all the Trojans to hear, "We're going to treat you like Michigan! You remember Michigan, they screamed!!!" Honestly, it was so long ago, I couldn't remember what happened against Michigan, until I saw a Duck t-shirt recalling the massacre.

It made me smile. If SC fans did the same, called up history, like the National Championships and Heismans, we'd be laughed at. Now it's ASU's turn to conjure up their own ghosts – Nebraska, the greatest win in their program's history. It's not funny but none of the current players or coaches was part of that victory. And if USC had just one great victory to boast of, well they'd hardly be the program they are today.

So, on Saturday, when Reggie slips out wide or Lendale pounds it in for a bone crunching score and it's only the first quarter, the Sun Devils will look across a baking field and listen to a champion coach, in sweltering heat, speak to his charges… It'll be Saint Pete and all eyes will be upon him.

There will be no "Into the breach me lads…" but they will hear this… "Can you win games in the first quarter?" And with a thunderous yell, they will respond… "No!" "Can you win it in the second quarter?" Again, "No!" "The third?" "No!" Then Coach Carroll will level his gaze, into his teams' collective eye and ask the final question…. "But can you win games in the fourth quarter!?! And likes from heaven, the Trojans will scream… "Hell yes, sir!"

It will be at that moment ASU will have the same epiphany the Ducks had last week and the Razorbacks did the week before and the Rainbow Whatevers did the week before that… They are all just pieces in a masterpiece season drawn up by God and executed by His latest top Saint, Peter. And like bats out of hell, they'll look for a quick escape from the eternal damnation that is…losing to the greatest team in college football history.

Final score: USC 56 ASU 35


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