To Overcome Adversity
Last Saturday it was a beautiful day for some college football in southern California. Los Angeles was sunny, no clouds, and heating up at 80 degrees with plenty of traffic. Despite the beautiful weather and great atmosphere at the Coliseum, once the game started things shifted. There was a point early in the game things looked as expected for USC, Kessler and Smith-Schuster dominated in the air, Tre Madden and company were efficient on the ground, and the defense made stops when necessary. As USC lead by 11 in the second quarter, fans were waiting for that stop and the kill shot before half time. Unfortunately it never came around and Stanford prevailed.
The next two and a half quarters were contaminated with Trojan penalties, poor adjustments, and the Trojans' secondary being picked on by the Cardinal's bigger receivers. Stanford's quarterback Kevin Hogan made USC pay for not winning in the trenches nor against his receivers, beating the Trojans in the air and on the ground. Stanford held on to the ball for 39:30 on Saturday and silenced 78,000+ fans Saturday night, giving USC its first loss of the season. With USC now well aware of what needs to be improved to keep their playoff chances alive, they must put it together when they travel to Tempe, AZ. to take on the Sun Devils.
Time to Respond
Trojan fans I know what you're thinking: "Not another shocking loss", that's the LAST thing we need to remind ourselves of after having the worst coverage ever against Arizona State on that last second hail mary. We should also not remind ourselves of the 2013 season when we visited Tempe and the Sun Devils absolutely destroyed us in the second half, leading to a 62-41 loss and the end of Lane Kiffin's coaching era at USC. This year is different and if the Trojans live up to the identity their talent showcases, they should become victorious.
The Sun Devils are sitting at 2-1 this year, barely edging out Cal Poly, and rallying in the second half to secure a win over the University of New Mexico. Arizona State's only loss comes from their season opener against Texas A&M, who put up 21 points in the fourth quarter to win 38-17 in Houston. The Sun Devils aren't the same aggressive defense and exploding offense like they have had in the previous years, due to graduation, injuries, and players trying to fill in big roles. Nevertheless the Sun Devils have found themselves still making a critical statement.
The Trojans on offense should execute more and really take this game personal, as they will need to score at any given moment. The Sun Devils' defense is nationally ranked within the top 10, as their defense features great pass defense and often intruding the backfield. Kessler, Madden, and Smith-Schuster will have to match-up with defensive back Jordan Simone, linebacker Christian Sam, and linebacker Viliami Moeakiola. Sam is ranked 20th in the nation in sacks, while teammates Simone and Moeakiola are both 19th in tackles for loss. If USC can remain effective on the ground, their 6.4 yards a carry can really hurt this Sun Devil defense. I expect Jordan Simone to help corner Lloyd Carrington guard Ju Ju Smith-Schuster over the top and to be put in the box often. With Kessler still showing consistency and composure, I predict he will dissect this defense and be a big time playmaker.
Defense Has To Build
Su'a Cravens and Cameron Smith must lead this defense if they want to get out of these dark times. Stanford simply ran downhill and Hogan put the ball right on the money, exposing a secondary still doing some soul searching. Hogan went after Plattenburg and Marshall often, so expect Bercovici to do the same. He has D.J. Foster at slot and runningback, who is such a dangerous threat to top defenses. Once Foster gets space he's quick and shifty enough to make defenders miss. Expect Bercovici to try and get D.J. one on one with linebackers in scenarios where Foster has enough space to make something happen. Joining Foster is Demario Richard, he leads the Sun Devils on the ground and is one of the nations top all-purpose backs. With various weapons to take account for, the Trojans must game plan around these three and be prepared to make adjustments if necessary. I think the defensive line should have a better game against the Sun Devils, and Wilcox should bring some pressure along with various stunts and twists to knock off the Sun Devil's rhythm.