Should Carpenter's ankle prevent him from being present in the lineup, USC must dial up some early blitzes to ruin Danny Sullivan's thoughts in playing the role of hero on Saturday. In all actuality, being a backup quarterback is not a bad gig. Expectations of alumni, fans and coaches aren't nearly what they are for a backup than they are for a four year starter. If you come in and play poorly, it was meant to be in the eyes of viewers. After all, that's why you are the backup quarterback and not the starter. However, if you happen to come in and light it up, everyone loves you and will say you should have been starting all along. Sullivan has to view Saturday as a win-win situation for himself, that is, unless USC's defense has their way with his O-Line and bury him like they are capable of doing. In that case, best of luck to you Dan. For your sake, mobility and improvisation better be some of your best attributes.
2) Take advantage of ASU's inexperienced Offensive Line – Arizona State's offensive line gave up a conference-leading 55 sacks last year. Returning only two starters from an offensive line would be a major problem almost anywhere besides Tempe. Instead, ASU's feeling has leaned towards an "out with the old and in with the new" approach, with the 2008 season offering a chance to begin with a clean slate for the Sun Devil line. But the lingering problem has been ASU's youth in relative to working with one another up front. While they have size and strength, they lack big game experience. An O-Line unit has to fight, bleed and sweat together to gain valuable trust and understanding of themselves. In order for this unit to operate cohesively, they have to mesh with each other, and that takes time. The man who protects the quarterback's blind side, Jon Hargis, was brought over from the defense just this past summer due to a lack of depth at the tackle position. Any expectations for this line to be at the top of their games against SC this weekend may be a tad bit optimistic.
That being noted, it is of the most importance that USC not underestimate ASU's offensive line the same way they misjudged Oregon State's. USC went into Corvallis thinking they were going to dominate the Beavers up front the same way they had against Ohio State a week prior. Instead, what they found was an angry, motivated group who were not intimidated. In fact, the Oregon State linemen were totally prepared for the challenge of facing the best defense they were going to see all year. USC's defense cannot get caught up in their own hype this week or similar things could happen. Rey Maualuga is back to man the middle and Brian Cushing is moving back over to the strong side. With the LB unit back in tow, after being embarrassed the last time they were on the field together against Oregon State, SC will be flying everywhere this Saturday. They cannot over pursue and must stay within themselves to keep the ASU ground game below their current 2.9 yards per carry average.
3) Build on last week's offensive outburst – When SC's offense gets going, they are very difficult to stop. Down 10-3 at the end of the first quarter last week, the Trojans exploded for 41 unanswered points the rest of the way, never looking back once they seized momentum. Recall how it all started for the Trojans last Saturday night: On 4th and 2. Mark Sanchez found a wide-open Damian Williams streaking down the sideline for a surprising score that proceeded to open the floodgates. The fourth down conversion was made available due to the threat of a between-the-tackles run game displayed by C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson.
ASU's defense has been solid for the majority of this season. They apply outside pressure with their DEs, specifically with Dexter Davis. Such pressure is nullified by runs up the middle, screen passes, draws and play-action fakes. SC must use a similar running back rotation Saturday to the one they opened with against Oregon, featuring Gable and Johnson first, then unleashing Joe McKnight in space. If Coach Sarkisian keeps to this plan, SC should not have any problem moving the chains while opening the ASU defense up for play-action deep balls to Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams and bootlegs to Patrick Turner towards the sideline for first downs.
Sanchez's knee is definitely worth keeping an eye on the rest of this week and in warm ups on Saturday. Should Pete Carroll and his staff turn to Mitch Mustain, keep the faith that he will be able to get it done at home against the Sun Devils. He has been in the system at USC for two seasons now and has looked very good at times in camp and when called upon this season. After throwing an interception on his first pass attempt after Sanchez went down against Oregon, Mustain settled in by throwing a beautiful 59-yard streak route to David Ausberry for a touchdown, giving him a final line of 5-8 for 111 yards. Mustain was 8-0 as a starter during his freshman year at Arkansas, so he has been under the spotlight in big games before. Concerning back-up quarterbacks, USC holds the advantage with Mustain against ASU and Sullivan.
Prediction – ASU will come into this game Saturday afternoon fired up. Their roster is full of players from southern California who want to play well in front of their family and friends. Look for ASU to score early and keep the game close going into halftime. The second half, however, will be a different story. USC will come out scoring in the third quarter and will pull away for a comfortable lead by the time the torch is lit for the fourth.
USC 37, ASU 13
USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga returns to the starting lineup on Saturday.