The Trojans' defense has a chance to play their best game of the season on Sunday because of how well they match up with the Sun Devils. With quarterback Rudy Carpenter struggling so mightily the last two games, Arizona State has put a strong emphasis on the power running game with Ryan Torain. He's a big back who won't shy away from contact, which will give the Trojan linebackers plenty of opportunity to meet him squarely at the line of scrimmage. Shutting down Torain and the rushing attack will force Carpenter to beat them through the air, which, as strange as it sounds, could play right into the Trojans' hands, literally. Carpenter looked absolutely lost against Cal and Oregon. His confidence is shot, and no amount of film study is going to help him rebound quickly. He's coming off a game in which he passed for 33 yards and has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. He's also been sacked 11 times over the same span. Some people might say that he and the Sun Devil offense are due for a big game, but they're only as due as the Trojan defense allows them to be. If the cornerbacks allow Carpenter to get into a rhythm by completing tons of passes underneath the coverage, it could be the confidence booster he needs to regain the form that made him the nation's most efficient passer last season.
But the USC defense is tired of hearing about how they aren't getting any pressure on the quarterback and about how they aren't generating any turnovers. On Saturday, we should see them play as aggressively as they did against Arkansas, stepping in front of wide receivers, forcing fumbles and getting pressure on the quarterback.
Despite how much the Trojan offense would love to have a big game this weekend against Arizona State, and in spite of how well the special teams have been playing lately, I think it will be the USC defense that comes out and has a huge game on Saturday.
This is a unit that just a few short weeks ago was being hailed as the strength of the team with a linebacking corp that was considered among the best in the country. In recent games, however, the defense has clearly struggled to live up to that standard. There could be many reasons for this; the absence of Sedrick Ellis in the middle of the line, the lack of caused turnovers, the lack of a pass rush, etc but Pete Carroll doesn't really care about any of that. Right now all he wants is for his defense to go out there and shut down the opponent while, hopefully, also creating some turnovers at the same time. I think they are ready and able to do just that against the Sun Devils.
Heading into the Arizona State game, a lot has been made of our lack of consistency on the defensive side of the ball. We saw the defense open the season playing lights out against Arkansas and Arizona, only to look vulnerable against both Washington schools. Heading into this game, I feel that the defense is really going to reestablish itself. I really expect the defense to tighten it up this weekend and force some turnovers.
Look for the linebackers to takeover this ball game, and keep a close eye on Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers to have big outings. I believe that the secondary will make some plays against Rudy Carpenter, who has been a great disappointment for ASU after leading the nation in pass efficiency just a year ago.
Look for the defensive coaches to become a little more aggressive with their play calling Saturday, hoping to pressure Carpenter into making some poor throws. Sitting in cover 2 all game long will not get the job done, so I expect to see a lot more blitz and stunt packages throughout the front seven.
Not a lot has been going right for ASU over the last couple of weeks in just about every facet of the game imaginable. But after giving up 49 and 48 points to Cal and Oregon respectively, it's their defense that looks particularly vulnerable, making this the week that we just might see the Trojan offense explode more-so than at any point so far this season.
Sure, the USC "O" hasn't exactly looked stellar as of late, but in facing a Sun Devil team that ranks 8th in the Pac-10 in both total defense and rushing defense, things should open up nicely with Chauncey Washington leading the way after having his best week of practice so far. And when you look at the fact that Oregon tailbacks Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson averaged a combined 12.8 yards a carry against ASU last week, you've got to think that both Washington and Emmanuel Moody are licking their chops at the opportunity ahead. Don't be surprised to see both of them have very big days.
With Washington's added presence, things should also open up for John David Booty, who will have a healthier Dwayne Jarrett in the fold. It's a great opportunity for Booty to settle down within the Trojan offense and stretch the field a little more than we've seen. A strong outing for him could have a long-lasting effect on his development this season.
But let's face it, with the way ASU has been playing, the Trojan defense and special teams are capable of having a special Saturday in their own right, but when it's all said and done, it's the offense that has the best chance at providing the real fireworks.