The old adage offense fills the stands and defense wins championship bears no truer meaning than when the high-tempo Arizona State Sun Devils take the field against USC's second-ranked defense. Its a match up of strength versus strength, and one that could ultimately swing the Pac-12 South, both sides must stick to what works best for victory.
"We talk to them all the time about assuming nothing, what you have done before means nothing about what is coming up," Kiffin says about keeping his top-ranked defense motivated on the task at hand, each and every week."We are led on defense by those guys up front. They practice nasty and they play nasty."
Now in his fourth season as head coach, Lane Kiffin recognizes the importance of relying on his strengths from the start and sticking with them. It all starts with the defense, sliding from that massive defensive line to the free flowing safeties in the secondary. But the real ace in the whole could be punter Kris Albarado, the Pac-12 Special Teams player of the week, who swung the field position battle beautifully against Utah State by pinning five kicks inside the 20-yard-line.
The Trojans understand what lies ahead. An intense atmosphere, dry desert heat and plenty of intensity from the Arizona State faithful that is equally desperate to reinvigorate some winning back to the program.
What's the recipe for success you ask. According to the Trojans main homecoming star, senior Phoenix native Devon Kennard, "just stay together, go out there, keep our heads together and just focus."
That statement bears recognition for one of many reasons. First and foremost the Trojans have battled to the 3-1 marks this early in the season by playing with an intense road-like mentality.
If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. Overcome Adversity !— Hayes Pullard lll ✌ (@FightOn10) September 24, 2013
Whether its fans booing against Washington State, light crowds arriving versus B.C. or Utah State or even just the national conversation that surrounds this program, the us against the world mentality truly fits this program right now.
What I trying to convey is that the current group of players seem to embrace this relationship. And in doing so, are creating fuel for their fire in a "MUST-WIN" road tilt against the Sun Devils, one that can only be salvaged by sticking to their roots with the power running game and stifling defense at all levels.
We have blamed the Trojans before for playing uninspired football before, and deservingly so on offense early in the season, but the more you address this particular match up in Tempe, the more it looks like USC wants to embrace the underdog role. Long story short, they look to be practicing and talking like a team playing with a chip on its shoulder.
It's always tough to compare seasons and try to equate importance of victories and such, but one could argue that the Trojans road test this weekend rivals the feeling surrounding a game on the road against Oregon in 2011. Not in terms of their chances to win instead, the togetherness along with a shock the world mentality that resonates for these guys.
"We are really, really, really prepared for what lies ahead," said emerging defensive leader George Uko. Those words give credence to the expectations and excitement that surrounds this program, especially on defense. And if USC truly wants to shock the world and get back to the AP Top 25 ranks, playing against the grain may be their calling staple.
And that brings me to my final point, the Trojans will win this football game if and only if they break conventional wisdom and actually slow down their offense. The ground and pound rushing attack with Tre Madden has given the Trojans at least 93 yards rushing in each of the first three games, and given what Wisconsin and Stanford were able to accomplish, the blueprint for success would seem to be paved right up the middle in between the tackles.
As with any level of football, winning time of possession and keeping the ball away from your opponent can sometimes be the best formula of defense you can draw up. That being said, the Trojans will fair much stronger in this contest if they can establish some consistency running on first down and in turn, lighten the load for play-action passing.
But enough of the strategy and game plan for now. It's time to fire up the grills, get the barbecues rolling and just focus on the task at hand, which means start grilling some old school football if USC wants to salvage this clash in Tempe.