The Trojans are placed in a precarious position on the offensive side of the ball.
First and foremost, USC's offense must come out aggressively, setting the tempo from the opening kick. On the other hand, playing in a hostile road environment against with a rock-solid defense that has carried the bulk of the success through the first four weeks of the season, would make a turnover-free approach quite the rather novel game plan.
"Were working on it, and hopefully we will improve this week," Lane Kiffin hopes, following two strong days of practice. "We were making some strides prior to Cody's injury (swollen wrist), but hopefully we will get back on track."
The last time USC went to Tempe, the Trojans were overmatched in the second half back and could never mount a comeback faltering 43-23 back in 2011. In the process during fittingly enough Week Five of the season, the Trojans dropped out of the AP Poll, with this meeting possibly restoring the victor back on the national spectrum.
"Some people say its not but you can just come into practice and just tell that we are getting ready for a Pac-12 South game," DB Josh Shaw says. "We gotta win this game, you take it one game at at time and focus to put it on 'em."
Coming off back-to-back victories at home, the coaching staff implements a clean slate for all the challenges. "We talk to them all the time about assuming nothing. What you have done before means nothing about what is coming up," Kiffin says, adding, "we are led on defense by those guys up front. They practice nasty and they play nasty."
This defense understands what Arizona State's offense has to offer, especially playing in a raucous environment that could stifle verbal play calling from the sideline. "They spread the ball around to a lot of different receivers which makes them difficult to defend," Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast said, adding, they use the whole field."
IT ALL BEGINS WITH THE DEFENSIVE LINE
In the midst of top-ten rankings all across the statistical landscape, Lane Kiffin singled out the work of sophomore Leonard Williams and fifth-year senior Devon Kennard for their outstanding play on the defensive line. Kiffin once again mentioned this stout group as one the entire team looks up, especially on how to practice with the right intensity each and every day on Howard Jones Field.
This embodiment paints no truer picture than from soft-spoken leader Morgan Breslin, something USC's defensive coordinator immediately recognized after practice. "He's just very focused. Every time he is in the McKay Center, he is so locked in and in the meeting rooms," Pendergast said Tuesday. "He just wants to be the best player that he can. Those are the kind of guys that are a joy to coach."
HOMECOMING OF SORTS FOR ARIZONA PIECES
This trip to Tempe comes as a warming homecoming for two of the Trojans biggest additions that did not touch the field last season. It all begins with Devon Kennard, the fifth-year senior who will return home to Arizona to play his final collegiate football just a few miles from his hometown Phoenix.
"I got another opportunity this week. Just an opportunity to play with my teammates again," Kennard said, before truthfully admitting, "I can't lie and say I am not excited to play in front of my home city one last time."
And on the coaching side of things, former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator and Phoenix native Clancy Pendergast makes another heartwarming trip back to his hometown. Yet for the all business coordinator, the trip is built around slowing down the Sun Devils, then "spending quality time with the family," he added at the end.
PLAYERS RECOGNIZE IMPORTANCE OF PAC-12 PUNCH
For a defense that has been rock solid in the front seven, and the back four will certainly face their fair share of body blows this week garnering the task of defending the 8th-ranked passing offense in the league. "We are really, really, really prepared for what lies ahead," said defensive lineman George Uko.
That being said, members of the revamped secondary embrace the challenge that lies beyond the rough and tumble battles on the line of scrimmage. "We can't wait, we are gonna go out there and bring it to them," said Josh Shaw, who has played a key role this season. "If our opponent doesn't score we will win, that's our mindset coming in."
The defense will be put to the test, facing a Sun Devils squad that averages 43 PPG at home this season. Yet the Sun Devils will not run the football like Utah State attempted. Instead, utilizing their weapons towards spreading the field with quick-hitting passes from the pocket, challenges that should certainly bear the bulk of the attention from players and fans alike come Saturday.