Following three consecutive home games, USC hits the road this weekend, traveling to Tempe, Ariz. to face off against Arizona State. The Sun Devils dropped out of the Top 25 rankings this week after a 42-28 loss to Stanford, but pulled off the upset against Wisconsin the week before.
The Sun Devils’ offense features a number of potent offensive weapons. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is currently ranked sixth in the nation in passing yards, averaging 339.7 yards per game, while completing 59.9 percent of his attempts. Last week, the Trojans’ defense effectively shut down Utah State’s quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but Kelly has a more impressive group of receivers to rely on.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong, standing tall at 6-foot-4, is coming off a career-high 168-yard receiving performance in the loss to Stanford, and is averaging 110 yards per game.
“This will be a matchup issue for us,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said Monday in his weekly YouTube video. “We’re gonna have to play really well with him, be very aggressive with him at the line of scrimmage and take him out of his game.”
Senior running back Marion Grice has also been effective in receiving and rushing so far this season. Through three games, he leads the nation in scoring, with 16 points per game on eight touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving).
“[Grice is] really tough to bring down for the first guy,” Kiffin said. “So we’re gonna have to tackle really well.”
Arizona State’s dynamic offense is averaging 469.3 total yards per game, which will certainly put USC’s No. 4-ranked defense to the test.
Sights on Sutton
On the defensive side of the ball, one name stands out for Arizona State: Will Sutton. The senior defensive tackle, weighing in at 305 lbs., is the reigning Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year after helping the Sun Devils lead the country in tackles for loss per game in 2012.
This season, Sutton earned a spot on multiple preseason award watch lists, including the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player, and the Walter Camp Award, given to the most outstanding college player of the year.
Surprisingly enough, he has had a somewhat quiet season so far, with just nine tackles and no sacks on the season. Still, Kiffin is preparing his team for Sutton’s dominant play.
“[Sutton] just has taken over games at times,” Kiffin said. “On the road, at home, no matter where it is.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Carl Bradford, who was also named to the Bednarik Award watch list after an impressive 2012 season, has started slowly as well, allowing senior linebacker Chris Young to lead the team with 19 tackles on the season.
On the road again
After the season opener at Hawai’i, the Trojans played three consecutive games at home, but the crowd’s boos didn’t create much of a home-team advantage — Kiffin joked after the loss to Washington State that the fans’ hostility in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum prepared the players for the atmosphere on the road.
The Trojans won’t be taking this weekend’s trip to Tempe lightly, since the last time they played there, the Sun Devils handed USC one of only two losses of the 2011 season by a score of 43-22.
Kiffin emphasized the importance of preparing the players, especially the underclassmen, for the first big away game of the year.
“We’re always concerned about young players going on the road into a place like this and making sure they’re really composed and they play well,” Kiffin said. “We’ve learned over the years about young players making mistakes in their first big road games, so we’ll help those guys through the week and get our veterans to play really well around them.”
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