With the Trojans’ offense facing a litany of depth and injury issues while looking stagnant in most of USC’s games so far, the defense will be called upon to step up to the plate once more as they take on Arizona State this Saturday.
This is the second road game for USC as well as its second conference game. This matchup will determine whether the Trojans or the Sun Devils will start 0-2 in the Pac-12, a surprising development since both squads were expected to compete for the Pac-12 South division title. The Trojans are determined not to be the team to disappoint this weekend.
“We really want this win,” redshirt junior cornerback Josh Shaw said. “We’re going to come out in the first quarter and punch them in the mouth.”
After three home games in a row, the Trojans offense has looked subpar, especially experiencing trouble with third down conversions (27.5 percent success rate).
But the defense has been there to pick up the pieces, only allowing USC’s opponents to convert on 29 percent of their third down chances.
“They practice nasty, they play nasty and they lead by example,” head coach Lane Kiffin said.
The Trojans’ defense has focused on continuing to progress despite the performance of their offensive counterparts.
Team captain and senior defensive end Devon Kennard said the Trojans offense has not affected the way the defense performs or prepares.
“Our goal is to go three and out, get a turnover, get a sack,” Kennard said. “The offense does not directly affect us in the way we play.”
Both the defense and the offense will have to be at their best come Saturday after having played three games in a row at home — Sun Devil Stadium is arguably one of the most hostile atmospheres the Trojans will experience all season.
Kiffin has been using a simulated clapping device broadcast over the loud speakers and loud music at practice this week to prepare the team for the noise level at Sun Devil Stadium.
“I think it’s been preparing us, but nothing is like being in that stadium,” Kennard said. “It’s crazy how loud it gets there.”
The possibility of poor weather — something the Trojans rarely have to worry about while playing at home in Los Angeles — is also fresh on Kiffin’s mind. Two years ago, USC was beat down 43-22 by Arizona State as former quarterback Matt Barkley struggled to throw in windy conditions.
“I remember that crazy dust storm that hit late in the first quarter,” Kiffin said jokingly when asked if he remembered any specific moments from the last time the team visited Tempe. “First it was hot, then it was really cold, and then it was extremely windy and dusty.”
For Kennard, this week’s matchup might just be like playing at home. Kennard is a native to Phoenix, Ariz., which is just a 20 minute car ride from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
“I have about 15 tickets, meaning my entire family will be there,” Kennard said. “Plus I just have a lot of friends that go to Arizona State, so I’m really looking forward to this game.”
from keeton to Kelly
In last week’s matchup against Utah State, the Trojans defense was put to the challenge of containing dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Keeton was stifled for much of the game, rushing for minus-15 yards and being sacked four times.
Now the Trojans must prepare for another week of up-tempo offense led by ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who is known for his precision passing from the pocket. Kelly ranks 10th nationally in total offense, averaging 354.7 yards a game. He has thrown eight touchdowns with three interceptions in 2013.
“All we have to do is play as a unit, communicate and tackle well,” senior safety Demetrius Wright said.
The veteran said the team is watching a lot of film and observing the tendencies of the Sun Devils’ offensive line.
Kelly is not the only player the Trojans will have to look out for. The Sun Devils have talent on both sides of the ball with defensive tackle Will Sutton rounding out the Sun Devils defense. Sutton received 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
turning over a new leaf
“About the only thing we haven’t done well on defense in the last two weeks is get turnovers,” Kiffin said.
The Trojans’ defense has made headlines for their consistent performance over the last four games, but they haven’t intercepted any passes in USC’s last two games after recording six picks in the first two games against Hawai’i and Washington State.
“We had a mediocre practice yesterday so the focus has been on making plays on the ball,” said defensive lineman George Uko. “Not just making the tackle, but actually putting an emphasis on where the ball is and getting the ball out.”
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