The USC Trojans travel to Tempe, Arizona for an afternoon Pac-12 south showdown with Arizona State. Some will say this game is a must win for the Trojans following a 56-24 loss to No. 7 Oregon. The Sun Devils lost their last two games, but are coming off a bye week. We spoke with Brady Vernon of SB Nation’s Arizona State site House of Sparky to preview Saturday’s game and get an in depth look at the Sun Devils.
1- Arizona State has played some good football this season. What would you say the difference is between this team and last seasons team?
This year I believe they’ve been able to win games in different ways. We’ve seen games dominated by the defense and the run or pass game when called upon. Also last year, it took a few games to establish the identity that Herm Edwards wanted and this year it was already there. Add in that the talented freshmen, especially on defense have another year to grow helps a lot as well.
2- The Sun Devils lost their last two games on the road to Utah and UCLA. Coming off the bye week, what were some things that ASU needed to address and fix?
Penalties, pass protection and third-down defense.
Before the two-game losing streak, the Sun Devils were hardly flagged a lot in games. That changed against Utah and UCLA. Drives were either killed for the offense or the defense extended them with bad decisions. Add on that Jayden Daniels had zero time to breathe against the Utes, it showed that ASU is starting two true freshmen on its offensive line. Alongside the penalties from the defense they’ve struggled to get off the field on critical third downs. And defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales has certainly let his team know that needs to change.
3- Freshman Quarterback Jayden Daniels has played and handled himself impressively so far this season. Can you share more about the true freshman to those who are unfamiliar with him?
We can remove the freshman tag. He’s never acted like one on or off the field. He nor the coaches treat him as one anymore. That explains the most of it. Daniels hasn’t had a ton of ‘wow’ throws just yet. However, part of that I believe is that the Sun Devils haven’t opened up the entire offense for him to this point. There’s many reasons for that, youth, certain game flows or matchups upon the offensive line. The Washington State game showed he can make plays with his arm or legs. Daniels is just scraping the surface of his potential but his maturity has shown up a lot in how he leads and his ability to make decisions.
4- USC has a habit in struggling in road games. They’re coming off a blow out loss at the Coliseum and in a must win situation. Is it safe to say ASU is in the same spot, but without the coaching uncertainty?
Of course. People have already hit the panic button of “oh no we suck again.” The 5-1 start, especially knowing the Colorado contest was winnable and seeing where the Buffaloes stand now made people hopeful the Sun Devils could contend for the Pac-12 South, which was surely a possibility. But with so many freshmen and sophomore starters, especially at key positions certain games were going to be hiccups. I think this game holds a lot more to USC for plenty of reasons, but ASU wants to prove that the past two games are not its standard.
5- Who are some under the radar players that fans must keep an eye on for Saturday’s game?
Any other week I’d say he’s under the radar but it’s different this week. I think Jack Jones, former Trojan, is finally getting his feet underneath him again. He’s started to look more like a football player and less of a guy who didn’t play for a year. His play has allowed the Sun Devil defense to do some different things like rotate Kobe Williams from cornerback to safety on a few drives.
Another name is Nolan Matthews a freshman tight end. He’s gotten more playing time and is the better receiving threat of the tight ends than Tommy Hudson. Matthews got his first touchdown against UCLA.
6- What do ASU fans think of Herm Edwards and the job that he has done with the Sun Devils football program and what were your thoughts on the College Football version of Hard Knocks.
Edwards has built a culture in Tempe, and it’s been cool to see. The HBO showed that despite him claiming to have a “CEO” type role he’s pretty hands-on with the team. I think his personality is better suited for the college game. The way he connections with the majority of the young men, whether it be dancing or conversing, those things were not expected fro myself. The show as a whole was interesting. I felt it gave a better look into the actual lives of student athletes and how they lead, connect with teammates and enjoy or not enjoy the other aspects of college life.
7- What are the keys to an ASU victory over the Trojans.
Keeping Daniels upright is the easy one and I won’t go into detail on that. But for ASU to win on Saturday, its more undersized cornerbacks; Williams, Jones and Chase Lucas are going to have to win the jump balls against the certainly tall Trojan wide receiver group.
The other thing is keeping the penalties and emotions down. There’s a lot of California influence on the Sun Devil roster and coming off two games of dumb penalties fueled by emotion, they certainly can’t let it get the best of them again.
8- Predictions and score?
Think the Trojans pull this one out barring a crazy performance from someone on the Sun Devil offense.