Daily Trojan sports editor Will Laws interviewed Joshua Nacion, the football team’s beat writer for The State Press at Arizona State, earlier this week to give USC fans a better feel for the Sun Devils ahead of Saturday’s crucial Pac-12 showdown in Tempe.
DT: What do you think quarterback Taylor Kelly’s ceiling/floor is for the game this Saturday? He’s ranked sixth in the country in passing yards per game (339.7), yet he’s only completing 59.9 percent of his passes.
SP: It’s been an interesting start to the season for Kelly. Sure, he’s been noticeably off on his long throws, but his lower completion rate is due to receivers having a recurring issue of dropping catches. He’s still trying to work on his chemistry with senior tight end Chris Coyle, who was his go-to receiver last year, but Jaelen Strong has really helped out Kelly the past two games. Because Kelly is a much better quarterback at home, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he can string together eight or nine consecutive completions in one sequence. If the USC front-seven gets him uncomfortable, Kelly could throw a pick or two and throw under 60 percent, and it’d be tough for Arizona State to win if he plays like that.
DT: What’s going on with Will Sutton? He won the conference’s defensive player of the year award last year but has 0 sacks so far. Are teams double — and triple — teaming him too much to expect success, or is he just having a down year?
SP: It’s just like you indicated — offensive lines are more keyed in to double-teaming him this year. It also doesn’t help that Arizona State played Wisconsin and Stanford — two of the most physical offensive lines you could possibly face — right out of the gates. The Sun Devils do have better depth on the defensive line this year so it’s not like they’re dependent on Sutton’s success in order to win games. All Sutton cares about is stopping the run up the middle and he’s been pretty content with that so far after talking to him on Wednesday. I’m sure Sutton will step it up within the next couple of weeks.
DT: What is the campus’ feelings about the team currently after starting 2-0 before falling to Stanford last week?
SP: There are obviously pessimists who are doubting Arizona State again after a tough loss to the No. 5 team in the country, but I’ve been seeing a lot of optimism this week. No one in Tempe honestly expected ASU to beat Stanford on the road, yet the second-half rally really showed the team’s character and proved they can still hang with the elite teams. If Arizona State loses this game, though, that’s when the sky will fall here in Tempe.
DT: What’s your prediction for this weekend?
SP: I’ll say 27-13, ASU. It’s a home game for Arizona State and Sun Devil Stadium is a hard place to play anytime when ASU shows some promise for the season. I think we can both agree that this is by far the most talented team USC has faced so far in this young season, and watching the Trojans lose to Washington State and running into trouble against Utah State made Sun Devil Nation feel really confident about this game. Even though USC has its running game going, I can see Cody Kessler having a hard time leading the offense in his first true road game against a D-line anchored by Sutton and Carl Bradford. However, the Trojans can make things interesting if they win the battle of the trenches on both ends, and we all remember the last time Lee played against the Sun Devils.
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