Arizona State Preview...Guarding against looking ahead

Things are different with ASU this year. With virtually the same team they seem to have regressed after having a pretty good season in 2007.

SC has faced this type of situation before so we all hope that they have will be in the proper mind set.

USC is a 29-point favorite over Arizona State today at the Coliseum. That should send chills through any Trojans fan, let alone coach Pete Carroll.

No. 5 Ohio State? No problem, a 32-point blowout. No. 23 Oregon? A 34-point cruise/snooze.

But Oregon State, a 25-point underdog? Let's not go there. And who can forget Stanford, last year's 41 1/2-point underdog.

Should USC be worried?

Well maybe not worried but they need to be mindful that no team is a pushover.

ASU is coming off 3 straight losses in which they have scored just 44 points. They are 82nd in the country in scoring offense, averaging 23 points per game.  They rank 69th in total offense at 354 yards per game, and that is mostly because of their rushing offense that ranks 114th in the country (last in the Pac-10) at 85 yards per game. In the past two games they have rushed for a combined 75 yards. The running game is just not as balanced as it was last season. The passing game is a different story, as ASU actually has some pretty good receivers. When Carpenter is healthy and when he has time he can get the ball down the field, they rank 21st in the country at 269 yards per game. 

With this being virtually the same ASU team as they faced last season you know SC has to be thinking about how they can get after Carpenter/ASU like they did last year on Thanksgiving day.

With the Sun Devils visiting the Coliseum on Saturday, the USC pass rushers sense an opportunity.

Defensive end Kyle Moore has studied videotape of last season's matchup in Tempe, Ariz., where his predecessor, Lawrence Jackson, had four of the Trojans' six sacks.

"Hopefully I can run some of the same moves," Moore said. "Get a few sacks too."

The Sun Devils rank as the worst rushing team in the Pac-10, averaging of 85.4 yards. They have lost three straight games and might have to play without starting quarterback Rudy Carpenter, hobbled by an ankle injury.

The Trojans, meanwhile, are averaging three sacks a game.

The lopsided numbers make USC defensive tackle Fili Moala wax psychological.

"It's not like they have any slouches on their offensive line," he said of Arizona State. "I think it's just a matter of the morale of the team. Any team, if you continue to lose, you're always going to be down a little bit and people might get you."

The problem has been that Carpenter has pretty much become a pinball the past couple of seasons with a less than stellar offensive line. Last season ASU gave up 55 sacks, so far this season they given up just 12. Carpenter was pounded last weekend and he came out of it with badly sprained ankle. So now the question begging to be answered is a simple one…is Rudy Carpenter healthy enough to start? He has been listed a “very doubtful” so if he can’t go the starting job falls onto Danny Sullivan. Sullivan hasn’t played much this season having has completed just 1-of-8 in passing for -1 yard this season. He has the talent, SC recruited him, but he hasn’t had much experience playing behind the pretty sturdy Carpenter. We have seen this type of scenario before with Stanford’s Tavita Pritchard last season so SC better be prepared and focused as you know ASU will looking for lightning to strike twice.

Sullivan, like Carpenter, loves to throw the ball and he has four targets to throw it to. Chris McGaha, Kyle Williams, Kerry Taylor and Michael Jones offer Sullivan a chance to move the ball down field. If the ASU running game sputters look for Sullivan to put it up often. His biggest and probably most effective target is Jones. He leads the team in both receptions and yardage, with 26 grabs for 376 yards and a touchdown. He is also considered their best receiver in the red-zone. McGaha is considered the best pure receiver on the team. He has a lot of speed so SC needs to wrap him up quickly to reduce his yards after catch. He actually had a long run after catch last season against SC. But while McGaha can break it Kyle Williams is a speedster and leads ASU in 21 yards-per-catch having two 100+ yard receiving games.

ASU doesn’t use their tight ends much as they have only have 100 yards receiving between them. Most of the time they will use their TE’s for blocking because they don’t use a fullback and as the numbers show that hasn’t exactly helped the running game. The secondary will have their hands full if Carpenter/Sullivan has time to throw. But that is the central question will the QB have time to throw?

As I mentioned earlier the running game has been absolutely atrocious in their past two games they have gained only 75 yards combined. For the most part Dimitri Nance and Keegan Herring have split the running duties but Nance has carried more of the load recently because Herring has missed portions of 3 games due to a hamstring injury. Nance is also more of a power back and Erickson has asked him to do more east-west running trying to turn the corner. Nance will have a tough time trying to make that work against SC’s fast defense and this is where the key to the game lies. SC is going to stop the run and put pressure on Carpenter/Sullivan to get rid of the ball quick. That means it’s going to be on the DB’s to contain the receivers. If the QB has to get rid of the ball quick that could mean some mistakes and that means turnovers. SC’s defense has to make sure that they don’t over run the play in front of them; that is where they can get beat by leaving someone uncovered. I don’t think that will happen but thy have to guard against being over confident because of the perceived weakness of the ASU Offensive line.

As for the defense…outside of the 461 yards that they allowed against UGA they have held all other opponents to under 350 yards per game.

Here is how the numbers stack up. ASU ranks 46th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 20 points per game.  They are 42nd in total defense with 324 yards allowed per game, they are 52nd in rushing defense at 128 yards per game and 51st in passing defense with 196 yards per game.

The Defensive line is ASU’s strength with two great pass rushers in Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez . Davis has been compared to Oregon’s Nick Reed in regards to his size and speed and dhe will always be in the play. Because of all the attention that Davis will get look for Vasquez to make the most of any one-on-one blocking that he will come against. Lawrence Guy had a big game against Cal and he leads the line with 22 tackles, 3.5 for a loss.

ASU’s linebacker corps took a big hit when MLB Gerald Munns stepped away from the team this season to deal with a personal matter. Morris Wooten is his replacement and there is significant drop off between the two. Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel shore up the outside LB positions. Nixon, who is good in coverage leads the team with 40 tackles and has an interception, Goethel is second in tackles on the team. It will be interesting to see how the LB’s adjust to this type of running attack, if they have to come up to help support the line in defending the running game it will put a lot pressure on the secondary.

SC wants to establish the run in the worst way for the obvious reasons...it opens the playbook for them.

USC's offense over the years has relentlessly emphasized a balanced attack, but with a twist.

"It's based on balance," Carroll said. "It's 50-50 by the end of the year."

But here's the unwritten rule of thumb that Byrd uncovered.

"We're at our best whenever we're aggressively running the ball ... whenever we have an aggressive running back who gets those extra yards," Carroll said. "That's exactly how it's designed to work."

That suits the running backs just fine.

"We have no problem with that," Stafon Johnson said. "That's always our game and we like that responsibility."

Offensive guard Jeff Byers, a brainy guy in his second year of an MBA program, sees the flip side of that.

"When we're able to pass it then, it helps our run game even more," Byers said.

But first things first.

"It's critical for us (to run the ball)," offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said this week. "It's our mind-set."

It’s the classic cliché…to set up the pass you have to establish the run and one of the big weapons will be Stafon Johnson.

Stafon really has come a long way!

Omar Bolden leads the ASU secondary and is considered the 2nd best defender on the team. Bolden is cocky and flamboyant but his flamboyance can be exploited by tempting him into making some risky plays. He likes to try and jump routes going for the INT but the downside is if he misses he could get torched. Bolden has a bit of a history with USC fans in how he chose ASU over USC in his recruitment and it left a bad taste in some fans mouths.

In early 2007, Bolden was a prized recruit at Ontario Colony High. He announced his choice of schools -- as so many players do -- on television. With family and friends gathered around, he placed three caps on the desk in front of him: Washington, Oregon State and USC.

One by one, Bolden pushed them away until only USC remained.

"I'm thinking it might be . . .," he said, picking up the cardinal-and-gold hat as if to put it on.

But then he flipped it away and said: "Nah, I ain't going to be no Trojan."

In a scene that still plays on YouTube, he reached behind his back, produced an Arizona State cap and announced that he was headed for Tempe.

If his actions seemed disrespectful -- fans in USC chat rooms were not amused -- well, there was a back story.

Bolden grew up a Trojans fan. The feeling was mutual, but USC coaches wondered if he could qualify academically. Though he tried to assure them, they hesitated to offer a scholarship.

"They could have handled the situation differently," he now says. "They chose not to."

Right...SC decides to wait on offering Bolden because of academics and he says they could have handled it differently? While I am no expert I feel pretty sure in sayng that the academic standards between USC and ASU are quite different so just becuse he was cleared academiclly by ASU doesn't mean he would have been cleared by USC. Seems to me some has some growing up to do...

Being from Ontario you know Bolden is going to want to make a big play in front of his hometown crowd. On the other side it a different story both Terrell Carr and Pierre Singfield have been spotty in their play this season. Singfield opened the season as the starter but Carr started the past two games. With as good as Bolden is on the other side it’s a safe bet that Sanchez will try to exploit this tandem on a regular basis.

Last week SC had to deal with Oregon’s Patrick Chung at Safety this week the have to deal with Troy Nolan. As one of the better safeties in the Pac-10 Nolan has a knack for getting to the ball. He is tough to throw deep against so if Sanchez plans on trying to pick apart ASU’s secondary like he did Oregon’s he is going to have to go through Nolan and that is no easy task. Opposite Nolan is true freshman Clint Floyd from Crenshaw High. This would only be his second start so I would look for Sanchez to try and exploit his inexperience as well forcing him to make plays.

It could get really ugly for ASU and fast if SC keeps their emotions in check and methodically sticks to their game. Focus on today and don't look ahead and you could see some great football today. If Carpenter doesn't play SC needs to treat Sullivan as if he was Carpenter and expect him to make the same plays that Carpenter would. This really isn't anything new for USC...treat this game like tOSU or Oregon and things should go their way but they have to play within themselves and not make stupid plays or commit costly penalties.

Do that and I think SC will be fine...

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