For Trojan fans, it’s going to be easy to look forward to ASU this weekend — but they shouldn’t let last Saturday’s game against Oregon State out of the rearview mirror just yet. The contest against the Beavers was the ugliest 35-10 win I’ve ever seen. Some of us will point to the 7:30 p.m. kickoff time, others still will point to the fact the Trojans managed to give up 124 yards on 14 penalties.
I, for one, will never forget how running backs Justin Davis and Buck Allen kept running to the sideline in the fourth quarter and stopping the clock. A close friend of mine who was watching the game on TV spotted me on ESPN looking almost as excited as a colonoscopy patient in a doctor’s waiting room. Let’s just say the pregame merriment wore off at about halftime.
If I could describe the Oregon State game in one word, it would be “sluggish.” Head coach Steve Sarkisian came out and said the team played aggressively. There’s another word for the type of so-called “aggression” the Trojans displayed when they racked up penalties on Saturday: sloppiness. Sure, nine of them came from freshmen, but two of those were costly face mask penalties on team captain and senior linebacker Hayes Pullard.
Oregon State ranks third-to-last nationally for penalties, at 11.0 penalties per game. They had 13 penalties on Saturday. The Trojans, never one to be outdone when it comes to defying authority, had 14. And they still won, by more than three touchdowns. It wasn’t so much about how well USC played as it was about how Oregon State simply lost the war of attrition against a supremely talented team.
The Trojan offense looked only slightly less listless than the Beavers defense as USC marched down the field for drives of 65, 87 and 88 yards.
To USC’s credit, the defense completely shut down Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion. To USC’s detriment, Mannion had virtually no weapons despite the Trojans’ coverage packages giving him enough time in the pocket to make a sandwich before he threw the ball. Oregon State’s sole receiver with more than 17 yards was 6-foot-3 Richard Mullaney, who managed 78 yards on five receptions before completely stalling in the second half. With former Beaver wide receiver and 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks in the NFL and Victor Boldin out due to injury, it was clear Mannion was at a loss as to how to exploit the Trojans’ secondary.
If Taylor Kelly gets the start this Saturday, Arizona State will have no such problems. ASU’s offense is its best defense, and I’m not just saying that because they gave up 62 points to that one school across town last week. I’m saying that because they dropped 62 points on the Trojans last year and promptly stranded Darth Visor in an airport parking lot.
I know I wrote a column last week about how Cody Kessler isn’t a game manager, and the game plan this week, according to Sarkisian on Monday’s Ripsit Blog, was to “pass to set up the run.” But if Saturday’s offense against a banged up Oregon State was any indication, the Trojans aren’t going to be able to hang in shootout games this season.
Therefore, it’s all the more imperative that USC doesn’t get torched in the passing game if it wants to win at home against Arizona State. Junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong is looking like he’ll surpass the numbers from his 1,122- yard season in 2013 — the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Philadelphia-born behemoth is averaging over 100 yards a game this season. Even more intriguing than Strong is ASU running back and dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate DJ Foster. Foster can catch the ball out of the backfield and has 747 yards from the line of scrimmage through four games this season, including a flat-out scary 8.6 yards per carry. My point is this: Arizona State presents an entirely new animal for the Trojans this week. Forget that Mike Bercovici threw a costly 95-yard pick six last week against UCLA, the Sun Devils have the weapons to rip through USC’s defense and put the Trojans’ measured attack behind in a hurry.
USC has a lot to improve on before it steps on the field this Saturday. Last week’s win over Oregon State wasn’t so much of a bounce back game as it was a team in progress, and it’s high time USC answers the call by putting an end to its sloppy mistakes and executing to its full potential.
Euno Lee is a senior majoring in English literature. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Euno What Time It Is,” runs Tuesdays.