O/NSO - ASU preview edition

If there was a Dr. Phil for college football, both the No. 2/3-ranked USC Trojans (5-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and the unranked Arizona State Sun Devils (3-2, 0-2 Pac-10), who meet each other Saturday evening at 5:00 p.m. in a sold out Coliseum, might qualify for house calls.

The Not So Obvious – So here we have two teams that come together at a time when their sense of direction couldn't be more uncharted at the midway portion of the 2006 season. Pete Carroll and his team will take 5-0 anytime, but if you saw Cal demolish Oregon, you understand why the Cardinal and Gold need to start getting better in a hurry. Earlier this week, even injured senior fullback Brandon Hancock raised eyebrows in an interview on 710 ESPN's Trojan Insider by saying that the club is currently "not national championship caliber and the players know it." As for the Sun Devils, the employment oven that ASU coach Dirk Koetter is sitting upon is getting Tempe hotter by the week. Make no mistake about it, this is a big game for both Carroll and Koetter and the manner of their team's performances on Saturday will potentially take on greater meaning in foreshadowing the balance of the season.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened as 20-point favorites to defeat the Sun Devils in Los Angeles.

The Not So Obvious – Who among you is willing to place down a bet given the current state of unsure affairs with this Trojan team? You can run if you want to, but you won't get very far in trying to predict Pete Carroll's team as of the second week in October. However, wouldn't it be just like Captain Charisma's cardinal and gold squad to come out and lay one on the Sun Devils. Forget about the injuries because everybody has them. This Trojan team is still too talented to expect the boys in Las Vegas to begin having a point-spread pity party or just maybe it's the fact that the Trojans have won 17 consecutive games in October that keeps the spread so hefty.

The Obvious – The weather report for Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles calls for scattered thundershowers with a high of 66 and a low of 56.

The Not So Obvious – Thundershowers? Wholly Weather Channel, Batman. Break out the WeAreSC parka The O/NSO weather report is whether the Trojans' offense can rain enough points in the high 40s like Cal and Oregon did against the Sun Devils. The Bears and Ducks came within one and two points respectively from hitting the magic 50-Club. If it does rain, it remains to be seen whether the Trojans' offense can find its identity through the uneven yet balance of pass and run. The party line out of Howard Jones Field is "we do not want to become a finesse offensive team." However, despite a decent rushing game, the Trojans, especially near the goal line, continue to air it out in cramped quarters of the red zone. As for the defense, it remains to be seen whether the Trojans can flex their defensive muscle like Cal and Oregon, who held the once feared ASU offense to 21 and 13 points, respectively? If the Trojans can't get to ASU QB Rudy Carpenter, it will only be because the Sun Devils follow the leader and alter their vertical game to dink and dunk. The overall O/NSO forecast is whether the Trojans can send a message to both Berkeley and Eugene in the Lee Corso tune of "Not so fast, my northern region friends."

The Obvious – Saturday evening's game is being televised on a split national feed on ABC (5:00 p.m. PDT) and the broadcast team will include Mark Jones, David Norrie, and Stacey Dales.

The Not So Obvious – No one will confuse this team with ABC's "A-team." Of course, with Keith Jackson gone, it would be safe to say there isn't an "A" team. We won't hold it against David Norrie because he is a former UCLA quarterback, but who among you can say you've heard of Stacey Dales? Dales, a Canadian, is a former WNBA All-Star, who left hoops and joined ESPN in 2002.

The Obvious – The Trojans lead the series with the Sun Devils 13-9.

The Not So Obvious – The first time the Trojans and the Sun Devils played was in 1978 and the Cardinal and Gold went down in Tempe 20-7. Before those Sun Devils puff out their chests too big, the last time ASU has beaten the Trojans was back in 1999, ironically in Los Angeles in the Hackett era. FYI, 53,382 witnessed it in the Coliseum. My how times have changed, so help me Pete Carroll.

The Obvious – There are many Trojan fans that are frustrated at the struggles of their evolving team, especially on offense, which against Washington produced just one "normal" touchdown for the first time since Pete Carroll's first season in 2001.

The Not So Obvious – Struggling? Not according to ASU coach Dirk Koetter, who this week said, "I wouldn't say USC has struggled at all, they have just had some close games. I think that both Washington and Washington State did not beat themselves and gave themselves a chance to win at the end. USC is winning in different ways maybe then people are used to seeing them. I would not categorize what USC is doing as struggling, after all they are the number two team in the country."

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is in his sixth season as head coach of the Trojans and was not the original choice to lead the Cardinal and Gold.

The Not So Obvious – While ASU coach Dirk Koetter, who is also in his sixth season in Tempe, is feeling the heat, one of the Mike Garrett's original Trojan suitors before Carroll, Mike Riley, is really feeling the heat as Oregon State coach and reportedly the Corvallis school had to take down sign around the Beavers' campus this week asking for the firing of Riley. As the late John McKay once said, "You're better being an assistant coach at USC than the head coach at Oregon State."

The Obvious – The Trojan offense is averaging 30.4 points per game and 413.4 yards in total offense, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devil defense is allowing 27.0 points per game and allowing 363.8 yards in total defense, eighth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – Thus far, there has been mixed results in the Trojans new 3-4 alignment.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO can say first hand that on "Turnover Wednesday," we saw first hand on Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Fields a renewed sense of intensity in creating the illusive turnover that has been a hallmark of the Carroll era.

The Obvious – The Trojans rank eighth in the Pac-10 in sacks (7).

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devils rank second in the Pac-10 in sacks (19).

The Obvious – Speaking of sacks, the ASU defensive line is certainly capable of getting to John David Booty and according to the Trojans' starting left guard, Drew Radovich, the Trojans know they have their work cut out to protect Booty.

The Not So Obvious – Drew says, "They have a good defensive end in Kyle Caldwell and so are their other defensive ends and they pursue the ball really well and are high intensity. Their defense is no big changes compared to Washington. They run a basic 4-3 with a wider nose. The have a big, old middle backer (Beau Manutai) who is about 265 and he is a big load. Other than that they look like a good, solid Pac-10 defense. As for me, I am going up against No. 1, Jordan Hill, a returning senior and, of course, Kyle Caldwell, whom I played with at the U.S. Army All-America Game in 2003. He's got real good power and real good speed so I look forward to both those challenges."

The Obvious – Trojan junior placekicker Mario Danelo was named the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Washington.

The Not So Obvious – If you think that Danelo is tough as nails, just know that he was an All-L.A.City first team linebacker at San Pedro High.

The Obvious – ASU coach Dirk Koetter, under contract through the 2009 season, has seen more than his share of Trojan superstars during his reign, but realizes this is a different Trojan team that his team will face on Saturday evening.

The Not So Obvious – Earlier this week, Koetter said, "They (USC) are really playing well defensively, and they are winning games a little bit differently than the last four years. They went on several multi-play drives, where in the past USC has been more quick strike on offense. They really controlled the clock."

The Obvious – The Trojans will again start junior John David Booty at quarterback, and J.D. is now completing 65.4% of his passes to go along with 11 TDs and three interceptions.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO won't let Booty's last game performance blur the bigger picture. Everything that John David has done in a game, he has done in practice. He had an inferior game by his standards game last week and the Trojans still won and isn't that still the name of the game? At some point, he will go with the correct second and third options. Last week he lost sight of some wide-open receivers down field in order to hit a secondary receiver, which drew groans from the stands. The kid is progressing and has done a good job in leading the club. His concentration will be tested this week with one of the better sacking teams in the Pac-10.

The Obvious – The Sun Devil offense is averaging 28.4 points per game and 384.0 yards in total offense, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojan defense is allowing 13.8 points per game and allowing 289.8 yards per game in total defense, second in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – It figures that the Sun Devils will test the Trojans defense through their vertical game, and junior defensive back Terrell Thomas and friends may see their best offensive team to date.

The Not So Obvious – This week, Terrell told the O/NSO, "They're a pretty efficient team like any other Pac-10 team. They're throwing it, they're real basic, a couple of zones, play-action, throw it down the middle. We're looking at it as a big challenge. Their receiver, Terry Richardson, is real physical and real fast. He' been in their program for a long time and making plays for them. I don't know too much about their other receivers, but I do know they're all good athletes and making plays. Their offense is a good challenge. I think they're averaging some 300 yards per game and running the ball really well. They are throwing deep and have good comebacks. It will be a good challenge for our defense to step up and play."

The Obvious – There may be no more talented linebacker in the country in terms of physical ability and intimidation than Trojan sophomore Rey Maualuga.

The Not So Obvious – However, when it comes to leadership and experience, the Trojans' defense show signs of missing the senior savvy of their captain, Oscar Lua.

The Obvious – Much was made during the very early part of summer camp when ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter was named quarterback, thus prompting Sam Keller to transfer to Nebraska in a very messy political move by Dirk Koetter.

The Not So Obvious – Some statistics to chew on: With Sam Keller as quarterback in the first five games last year, ASU averaged 43.2 points and passed for 386 yards. The Sun Devils were also 3-2 up to that point. With Rudy Carpenter at quarterback in this year's 3-2 start, the Sun Devils are averaging 28.4 points and throwing for 211.2 yards.

The Obvious – The Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe is a voter in the Associated Press.

The Not So Obvious – With a good performance against the Sun Devils, the Trojans could get some backing from Mecalfe, who ranked the Trojans sixth in this week's AP poll. Ohio State, Florida, and Michigan were Jeff's top three in the country.

The Obvious – Last year's game against the Trojans turned into a nightmare for the Sun Devils, who blew a big 21-3 first half lead in Tempe and eventually lost 38-28.

The Not So Obvious – So what has Dirk Koetter learned from last year's debacle at Sun Devil Stadium? Koetter says, "In our game against USC last year, things went very well for us in the first half. In the second half we had several turnovers and USC was able to run the ball at us. When we do a break down of a team, we always include the previous year's game in that breakdown if they haven't changed coordinators. We are working off of all the games USC has played this year, plus our game against them last year. Parts of last year's game, it would be safe to say, are going to be incorporated into this year's game plan."

The Obvious –Matt Leinart, who was scheduled to be apart of the halftime for the Trojan Hall of Fame introduction ceremony, reportedly will not be able to attend due to an edict from the Phoenix Cardinals.

The Not So Obvious – If you were concerned about Lefty not making back in time for Sunday's NFL game, it was not a problem. The Cardinals don't play until Monday night when they make their first appearance on Monday Night Football (ESPN) since 1999. The opponent for Leinart? Oh, just those little old undefeated Chicago Bears. BTW, the game is being played in Arizona, so you can see the Cards new stadium, where the BCS title game will also be played. Of course with Matt's dad, Bob Leinart, at Trojan practice this week, maybe we'll have an "Oscar" substitute for Matt on Saturday.

The Obvious – If the weather conditions on the field allow it, it's a given that both the Trojans and the Sun Devils will put the ball in the air quite a bit on Saturday evening,

The Not So Obvious – How appropriate since there will be a jet flyover during the national anthem.

The Obvious – The Trojan passing attack is averaging 249.6- yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devil pass defense is allowing 210.4 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – With the health of Steve Smith (14.7 avg., 4 TDs) doubtful for Saturday and junior All-American Dwayne Jarrett (10.1 avg., 3 TDs) appearing to be on the mend, it appears that sophomore Patrick Turner could figure big again on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious –We do expect to see even more of freshmen Vidal Hazelton and Travon Patterson. No matter who are the Trojans receivers, they will encounter two of the bigger safeties in college football in ASU junior Josh Barrett (6-2, 227) and senior Zack Catanese (6-2, 230). Barrett, a grad of Reno (Nev.) High, has NFL bloodlines as his cousin, Jerald Moore, played for the Rams and the Saints. Josh's father, Grieg Barrett, might sound familiar to Nevada basketball fans since he played for the Wolfpack.

The Obvious – The Trojan rushing game is averaging 163.8 yards per game, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devil rush defense is allowing 153.4 yards per game, eighth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – Much has been made this week about the performance and commitment to the Trojan running game.

The Not So Obvious – It appeared in practice this week that the Trojans were sharpening their rushing attack. Trojans' offensive guard Drew Radovich told the O/NSO on Wednesday, "We are still improving and still competing every day. Today in our team run drill, it seemed like everybody came out and made a statement. We're going to run our inside zones and run it well. It takes all eleven guys to make a run game go. If all ten guys do and one guy doesn't, that one guy stops it, the difference between being a two-yard run or a 30-yard run. Everybody needs to contribute."

The Obvious – In his latest position move, freshman Allen Bradford is now at fullback.

The Not So Obvious – Or is he? Let's get this straight, so help me Marcus Allen. Our Scott Schrader reports that Allen's father, Keith, said his son was going to fullback. Pete Carroll says he is just experimenting and testing with Bradford. Allen grins and reportedly says he'll do both and just wants to get on the field. With Chauncey Washington looking very much the starting tailback, the request by Bradford to fullback carries big weight with us. He can run, he can block, and he can catch, a much-needed element with the loss of Brandon Hancock,Ryan Powdrell, and Stanley Havili. It's just a matter if he can learn enough, quickly enough, to contribute. We have every reason to believe that with a large dose of practices and thanks to next week's bye, Bradford could be more than ready when Oregon finally rolls into town on Nov. 11. Give No. 21 credit for having the maturity to see the best way to get on the field.

The Obvious – The Trojan defense is allowing 96.0 yards rushing per game, second in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devil rushing game is averaging 172.8 yards per game, second in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – The successful ASU running game is led by hard-charging junior Ryan Torain (6.3 avg, 3 TDs) and shifty sophomore Keegan Herring (5-10, 196).

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans defensive line will be tested by the Sun Devil tailbacks. Even in the defeat to Cal, ASU rushed for 237 yards. Sun Devil coach Koetter says, "We certainly want to try to establish the run and keep this thing going. I don't think it's entirely fair to compare it with what happened to Washington because Washington's quarterback really spread USC out. The fact that their quarterback is such a threat to run that is really helps out the tailback. We aren't going to have the same option because we don't have the threat of the quarterback running. It is one of the things we are doing well and we have to build on it."

The Obvious – Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who underwent knee surgery three weeks ago, had five tackles last weekend against Washington.

The Not So Obvious – You could see a difference with the return of Ellis and while the Trojans have had their share of injuries, ASU was hurt in a big way when star senior offensive tackle Andrew Carnahan (6-8, 288), a preseason All-Pac-10 selection, went down with a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. The senior from Hareford, Texas was the Sun Devil player representative at Pac-10 Media Day and, boy, they grow'em big in Hareford. Maybe it was also that flaming red hair and that goatee that added to the intimidation factor, but those of us in attendance were impressed with his physical size.

The Obvious – The Trojans snapper is junior Will Collins, another in a long line of Trojans out of Santa Ana Mater Dei.

The Not So Obvious – On his snapper notoriety, Collins says, "Some people are rocket scientists. In my case, I am a long snapper. If they announced my name at the game, I think I'd laugh. Either that or I'd start shaking."

The Obvious – The Trojan pass defense is allowing 193.8 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devil pass offense is averaging 211.2 yards per game, sixth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – The Trojans pass defense will have its work cut out if there is limited pressure on ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

The Not So Obvious – A major threat to the Trojans is ASU senior tight end Zack Miller (6-5, 259). A major blocking force, the former Phoenix prep star from Desert Vista, needs just five more receptions to pass former ASU All-America tight end Todd Heap, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. No, we haven't overlooked Trojan nemesis Terry Richardson (22.6, 2 TDs), the flashy senior out of Corona Centennial, who burned the Trojans last season in Tempe with an 84-yard scoring punt return.

The Obvious – Trojan cornerback/safety Mozique McCurtis wears jersey No. 9

The Not So Obvious – That's also the number of interceptions that ASU's Rudy Carpenter has thrown thus far this season. A major key is to not let Carpenter regain his confidence in the Coliseum, which seems to be a jinx for a number of local kids that perform in the Grand Old Lady.

The Obvious – The Trojans love to sell jerseys of current popular players such as No. 8 (Dwayne Jarrett) and No. 10 (John David Booty).

The Not So Obvious – Don't be shocked to see a lot of No. 24 ASU jerseys at the Coliseum on Saturday as the Sun Devils are marketing exciting tailback Keegan Herring's No. 24.

The Obvious – Trojans junior placekicker Mario Danelo is now 9-of-10 on field goals for the season.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devils feature senior placekicker Jesse Ainsworth, who is 3-of-5 in field goals. There is football in the Ainsworth family as Jesse's father, John, a retired police lieutenant, once played for the now defunct Cal St. Northridge Matador football team.

The Obvious - Trojan sophomore punter Greg Woidneck is averaging 41.7, fifth in the Pac-10.

The Not So Obvious – Sun Devil junior punter Jonathan Johnson, a transfer from College of the Canyons, is also averaging 41.7.

The Obvious –The Trojans are averaging 55.8 penalty yards per game, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Not So Obvious – The Sun Devils are averaging 57.2 penalty yards per game, sixth in the Pac-10 Conference.

The Obvious – This will be the Trojans third 5:00 p.m. exposure on ABC.

The Not So Obvious – Yes, there are other games. The "Cowen now" UCLA Bruins travel to "Did we ever get whacked last weekend" Oregon Ducks (12:30 PDT, ABC), and for those that get Fox Sports Net in the Northwest, it's "The Riley Factor" Oregon State Beavers at "Did the clock really run out?" Washington Huskies (3:30 p.m., FSNNW).

The Obvious – And finally, there has been wide speculation, based on recent team performances, that this is year the Trojans won't win the Pac-10.

The Not So Obvious – However, perhaps ASU coach Dirk Koetter said it best recently when he commented, "Until someone beats USC, people can talk about that (Pac-10) gap being narrowed all they want. It doesn't matter if teams had the ball and had a chance, they still didn't beat them." Amen to that, brother, and saddle up Traveler and don't forget the umbrella!


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