(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Throughout the week, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has said that the No. 19 USC Trojans will be the most talented team his Sun Devils face this season.
One look down USC’s roster, it’s easy to see why.
The offense is highlighted by redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler, who is a legitimate Heisman candidate and hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 101 passes. Kessler is also completing 78.7 percent of his passes and has tossed 10 touchdowns this season. His favorite target is sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who ranks in the top-10 nationally in receptions, touchdown receptions and receiving yards.
But that level of production is exactly what people expected from those two, and they were part of the reason USC was chosen to win the Pac-12 South. The Trojan roster is anything but short of talent.
With that in mind, here are a few players to watch for come Saturday:
Tre Madden, redshirt senior running back, No. 23
Ronald Jones II, freshman running back, No. 25
Justin Davis, junior running back, No. 22
Graham said earlier this week that this will be the best group of running backs ASU will play this season.
That’s a fair argument considering the trio is combining to average 8.67 yards per carry and have scored all but one of USC’s rushing touchdowns this season.
Tre Madden has found the end zone most frequently of the trio (four touchdowns), and has the most experience in the backfield. After an injury-filled career, Madden seems to finally have found his stride barring another knock to his health. He and Justin Davis stabilize the Trojan ground game while freshman Ronald Jones II has added a dynamic, change-of-pace element to the rushing attack.
Jones II is averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry in his first season at the collegiate level, and he has looked like the furthest thing from a true freshman.
The Trojans also have one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12, led by senior center Max Tuerk. The men in the trenches have done well to protect their quarterback (Kessler has been sacked six times) and have opened up lanes for their running game.
USC has averaged 208 yards on the ground per game, and if it can establish that aspect to go along with Kessler’s dependable decision making, it’ll open things up for Kessler to go deep to Smith-Schuster.
Su’a Cravens, junior outside linebacker, No. 21
Su’a Cravens is USC’s do-it-all monster on defense. From his position as an outside linebacker, Cravens has shown the ability to drop back into coverage, as well as wreak havoc in the backfield. He has a team-high two sacks already this season and has supplied a pass-defended and a pass-breakup too.
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Cravens allows USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox a lot of flexibility with his schemes, so expect Cravens to line up all over the field on Saturday.
In last season’s contest against ASU, Cravens came up with 3.5 tackles for loss early in the game to disrupt the Sun Devil offense and prevent them from getting into a rhythm in the first half.
The Sun Devils acknowledged the impact he could have this week in practice. The offensive line is thus geared up to prove itself after the likes of Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett torched them in the season-opener.
This could be the most talent ASU faces all season, and USC is coming off a disappointing loss to Stanford, meaning it could be all the more dangerous and be playing with a chip on its shoulder. Expect the whole team, not just the players highlighted in this article, to come out fired up on Saturday night.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com