(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
As if starting off the season against Texas A&M wasn’t big enough, ASU will open up Pac-12 play in a monumental matchup against USC. The Trojans are 2-1 so far this season under second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. Not only is this one of the more intriguing matchups in the country because of the potential quality of the game, but also because of how this game played out a year ago.
Whether you’re a Sun Devil fan or a Trojan fan, the duel between these two last season was an emotional roller coaster. For USC though, it ended on a crash course.
Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for five touchdowns (the only quarterback to ever do so against USC) last year — in only his second career start. His last touchdown of the night was the most memorable as he heaved a Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong in the game’s closing seconds to win the game.
As if this game wasn’t big enough, there is no doubt a revenge factor for Sarkisian and USC.
The Trojans opened up this year with two easy victories against Arkansas State and Idaho, with a combined score of 114-15 before opening up their Pac-12 season against Stanford. The Cardinal gave USC plenty of problems, mostly on the defensive side of the ball, and it led to them losing 41-31 to the unranked hopefuls from the North division of the Pac-12.
What made this loss even more disappointing for USC was the fact that they gave up 41 points to the team that was last in the Pac-12 in scoring a season ago. The Trojans were ranked as high as No. 6, but are now No. 19.
For this Sun Devil team, it could be the first game where we see the offense really click on all cylinders for a full game. Redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien, redshirt junior running back De’Chavon Hayes, and sophomore running back Kalen Ballage have all been cleared to play. Despite the dominance of sophomore running back Demario Richard so far, he is now given depth he has yet to see this season.
That being said, ASU will still be without a crucial part of their secondary with sophomore safety Armand Perry still out on crutches. Freshman Kareem Orr is expected to start at the other safety position with Jordan Simone.
Simone and Orr will have their work cut out for them against this explosive USC offense, led by redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler. USC will pass more than any of the opponents the Sun Devils have faced so far this year, and much more efficiently as well. Kessler has completed 78.7 percent of his passes this year, for 922 yards and 10 touchdown passes.
Causing turnovers was the strength of the Sun Devil defense a season ago, but in their first three games this year they have only four takeaways. As if the need to force turnovers wasn’t big enough as it is, Kessler has yet to throw an interception this year, making turnovers all the more important.
Matchups to Watch:
ASU Secondary vs USC Receivers
While the key to this game will be slowing down Kessler, that starts with stopping the talented group of USC receivers. Although the Trojans have thrown to 17 different receivers this year, there is one guy that ASU has to focus on, and the stats say the same.
That guy is sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has far and away been USC’s best receiver. His 22 receptions, 434 yards, and four touchdowns are all first on the team. The next highest for each category is nine receptions, 98 yards, and three touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster has been a nightmare for opposing defenses, and his ability to make plays down the field makes the play of Orr and Simone even more worth mentioning. Orr will be making his second career start, and odds are he will get tons more action than he did against New Mexico.
ASU Receivers vs Adoree Jackson
Winning the Pac-12’s freshman defensive player of the year a year ago, Jackson proved to be a prolific collegiate talent despite being a true freshman.
Sarkisian has used Jackson on the defensive as well as offensive side, and he is also a kick returner. As if that wasn’t enough to flaunt his athleticism and game-changing ability, he is also a long jumper for the USC track team.
Jackson’s stats have even drawn comparisons to former Michigan great Charles Woodson, who is the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman trophy.
In ASU’s last outing against New Mexico, Mike Bercovici was able to carve up the New Mexico defense in the second half. He went on a stretch where he completed 15 of 16 passes, and while USC has more talent in the secondary than New Mexico, he will have to play with similar poise to break down this USC defense like Kevin Hogan of Stanford did a week ago.
While the running game with the Sun Devils’ restored depth will be crucial, this team thrives when they can work the play-action pass effectively. Having Lucien’s experience is going to have a lot of value in this game, and considering the talent Jackson possesses, experience may be the only thing that can crack his code.
Every game is important in college football. Unfortunately for USC, they had to learn that the hard way in their loss to Stanford. The loss certainly hurt their playoff chances, and possibly their chances to compete for a Pac-12 championship at the end of the year.
With the way they lost to ASU at home last year, coming off of a loss where they certainly should have won, in a nationally televised night game, I think saying USC is going to come to play is an understatement.
At the same time, ASU is at home, and is bringing back a lot of key players from injuries. If the Sun Devils have playoff hopes, this game is maybe their biggest test of the year, and unfortunately they have to open conference play with it.
A game likely filled with speed, explosive plays, talent on both sides, and the consequences of risk-taking coaches, there is no telling what direction this game will go in. But one thing is for sure, and that is USC is seeking revenge from the week before, as well as the season before.
USC – 34