3 Keys to Victory Revisited

SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett recaps the keys to a 28-0 victory over Arizona State this past Saturday. The Trojans rode their defense to its first shutout of the season, but looked trepid on the offensive side of the ball, something the coaching staff will surely be working on during this week's preparation.

1) Rattle the ASU Quarterback – USC's defense made a big statement on Saturday afternoon in pitching their first shutout of the 2008 season. While watching the offense going through the motions for most of the game, the defense picked up the slack and never allowed Arizona State to get started, which could have made this a much closer game than it turned out being. ASU starter Rudy Carpenter came out looking strong on the Sun Devils' first drive, completing a 39-yard deep crossing route to Chris McGaha that advanced them into SC territory. Shortly thereafter, the defense, led by Rey Mauluga and Clay Matthews, made plays to force punt, which became the recurring theme of the day for Dennis Erickson's boys.

Kevin Thomas had quite a day for himself, sacking Carpenter early in the second quarter for an 8-yard loss. Minutes later he jumped a route, picked off a Carpenter pass, and returned it 46 yards for a score to give USC a 21-0 halftime lead. In all, USC sacked Carpenter three times while delivering hard hits and constant pressure throughout the day, preventing him from finding any rhythm. After Maualuga delivered a crushing blow in the third quarter, Carpenter's day was over and backup Danny Sullivan made his appearance. Unable to provide the spark the coaching staff was hoping for, Sullivan finished the game completing just four passes in 17 attempts with two interceptions and failing to inject any life into the Sun Devil offense.

As prescribed, USC's defense came up with their best performance of the season. On two occasions the Devils got into field goal range, Fili Moala blocked both of Groza Award winner Thomas Weber's attempts, solidifying the shut out and putting exclamation points on an already terrible offensive day for ASU. Erickson summed it up later by saying, "I don't know if I've ever been around an offensive performance like that in my career." Indeed, the winningest active coach in the Pac-10 has seen some pretty good offenses in his day, none of which were on the field Saturday afternoon.

2) Take advantage of ASU's inexperienced Offensive Line – While Carpenter was blitzed and hit hard for most of the day, the Sun Devil offensive line could certainly take something away from this game and build on it for the rest of this season heading into next year. ASU's youth up front battled it out with one of the best defenses in the land, creating holes for an inept rushing attack to bust through. Dmitri Nance carried the ball 14 times for 64 yards (4.6/car) and Keegan Herring took it eight times for 35 (4.4). But when you're down by 21 points at half, the running game becomes much less of a focus and your pass protection becomes the key. Any time the Trojans are allowed to focus on one facet of an offense instead of a duel threat, they are going to capitalize. Knocking Carpenter out for good in the third quarter was a death blow to ASU. Sullivan just does not have the experience that a four year QB in his 37th consecutive start possesses. While appearing tentative at times, he surely could have used more help from his receivers, evidenced by Michael   Jones' drop in the end zone midway through the second half.

3) Build on last week's offensive outburst – USC came out on the first drive firing on all cylinders with Mark Sanchez hitting open targets and Joe McKnight finding lanes to run through in route to an eight play, 72-yard drive resulting in six points right out of the gate. But as quickly as they began, things started to slow for the Trojans. Perhaps once they saw how the defense was playing, their sense of urgency vacated and they cruised on auto-pilot, as they played truly uninspired ball for the rest of the afternoon. One highlight we can take away from the offense was the individual performance of McKnight, slashing and darting his way to a career-high 143 yards on just 11 carries. He is so smooth in open space, almost artistic when in motion. He is such a threat when playing at the level he is capable of. As the running game goes, so goes the offense of USC. The attack never looks better than when McKnight kicks it from third to fourth gear and breaks the linebacking plain towards the secondary. Also worthy of a mention was Damian Williams keeping his consecutive games streak of scoring a touchdown alive in the first quarter with a 4-yard reception to put the Trojans up 14-0. Williams has now scored in every game this year and is fast becoming Sanchez's go-to option in the end zone and most reliable receiving threat overall.

Overall, USC knows it can ill afford to coast midseason as they did at times in Saturday's win over ASU. The coaches will be reminding them of this in practice all week. While preparing to face the Pac-10's (and perhaps even the nation's) worst team in Pullman this weekend, they must focus on playing for sixty minutes instead of showcasing the inconsistencies that often get them into trouble. Washington State is little more than a junior varsity team right now, and while no one expects USC to fall to the Cougars, they still need to execute the type of performance that is capable of acquiring some first place votes and national respect.


Pete Carroll and Jeff Byers celebrate USC's 28-0 victory.


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