USC defense licks its chops

Four days after losing to top-ranked Oregon, the USC football team seems ready to move on.

Players and coaches alike offered the same response to a seemingly endless string of questions about the team’s 53-32 loss to the Ducks.

“We have to push forward and [make] sure we have the same focus we had last week preparing for this game,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “[Arizona State] can play as well as anybody on defense when they want.”

Take down · Junior defensive end Armond Armstead and his teammates are eager to face Arizona State, which has allowed 2.38 sacks per game. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

Despite its 4-4 record, Arizona State boasts a fast and nasty defense spearheaded by star linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Sun Devils, who forced Oregon to punt 11 times in their game, came closer to stopping the No. 1 team than anyone else.

“They have a good defense,” senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson said. “With us, we just have to execute our plays and do what’s asked of us.”

The USC coaching staff expects fast play from the team on Saturday. USC kept up last week’s tempo at practice Wednesday, racing subs in from the sideline and getting the ball out to receivers quickly. Kiffin said the Sun Devils’ pass rush is a major concern entering the game.

“They have really good defensive ends rushing the passer and they are giving people problems,” he said.

For their part, the USC defensive linemen believe pass-happy Arizona State gives them an opportunity to make big steps.

“It’s definitely something every defensive lineman dreams of, having the quarterback sit back and pass all day,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton said. “We’re changing our mindset from last week when we were on our heels to getting our hands in the dirt and going after the [quarterback].”

Any concerns that the Trojans would suffer a letdown following a big loss seem minimal. Horton said the team’s sole focus is on stopping Arizona State and picking up a win.

“It’s not really fun to be 5-3 right now,” assistant head coach Monte Kiffin said. “But 6-3 is a lot better than 5-4, so we have to be ready to play.”

For a team loaded with future NFL receivers, the catch of the day came courtesy of sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley. Near the end of practice, Barkley snared a pass along the right sideline with one hand.

“He has great hands,” Johnson said. “I think all quarterbacks do [because] they play with the ball a lot. If you get them out [there], something good is going to happen.”

A number of Trojans were limited during practice Wednesday, including redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Perry, redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard and junior offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

Junior tight end Blake Ayles, freshman cornerback Nickell Robey and redshirt senior tailback Allen Bradford did not play. After practice, Kiffin said Bradford was dealing with a minor personal issue.

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