While the storied Trojans are talented, they are also fragile right now
Kickoff is at 5:45 PM sharp this evening. If you’re not in LA for the game, tune into Fox to watch.
Don’t let USC’s 1-3 record fool you. They faced #1 Alabama in week one in Dallas and traveled to Stanford and Utah (who many are picking to win the Pac-12 South). At the same time, the Sun Devils have needed late-game heroics to come from behind in three of their four games.
ASU Offense – Petal to the Metal
The Sun Devils came out sluggish in the first half against Cal last week. Tonight, a fast start is imperative against a real tough, talented, big, and fast USC D.
QB Manny Wilkins has benefitted from game time against softer defenses to start the 2016 campaign. A very positive development is that his young and inexperienced offensive line has earned some respect and confidence through four games.
While the storied Trojans are talented, they are also fragile right now because of their 3 losses in 4 games. The vocal pushback around their program from fans, media, and past players alike have given their squad an extreme sense of urgency, one that can work against them if Manny & Co. can execute early.
Wilkins intends to come out firing at kick-off in order to put SC on their heals.
ASU’s Manny Wilkins completing 76.7% of his passes and has 162.79 2nd-half QB rating this season. @Manny_Wilkins5
— Vince Marotta (@Vincemarotta) September 28, 2016
New Sun Devil receiving targets have emerged going into this match-up.
WR Jalen Harvey led the team in receiving last week after only having a total of three catches in the first three games. TE Jay Jay Wilson caught his first touchdown pass of his career last week. Wilson’s ceiling is higher than any other player in his position group, and he is bound to factor into the offense more going forward.
Patience is Everything.. ?? FF ’16 pic.twitter.com/VX0dOUioEM
— 5⃣ (@Manny_Wilkins5) September 23, 2016
A physical front seven for USC could be softened up if RB’s Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage can have another effective tag-team performance. This keeps opposing defenses exerting a lot of energy up front.
Richard is particularly fond of this part of ASU’s game. In collisions with defenders up the middle, “D-Rich” typically wins and wins big before being taken completely down. It brings him joy.
We saw a perfect example of the value of ASU’s physical run game when OC Chip Lindsey called three consecutive plays out of the “Sparky” formation last week. By that point in the series, Kalen Ballage just bulldozed Cal’s front 7. It caused their safety to cheat up for the third play to stop the run, ultimately allowing TE Jay Jay Wilson to run right past him for a wide-open touchdown reception.
ASU Defense Against the Pro-Style USC
ASU will be facing their first true Pro-Style offense of the season, and this should play into their hands. SC runs a more balanced offense, but ASU has been very stout against the run.
Although LB Christian Sam will be out and DT Ami Latu is questionable, the defense as a whole is about as healthy as can be expected after four contests. We should see a return to their normal base defenses and only see ‘Nickel’ and ‘Dime’ packages on obvious passing downs.
— Archie Perry (@Dr_APjr) September 25, 2016
Turnovers and winning the field position battle were key factors that led to victories over Texas Tech and Cal (ASU was +2 in turnover margin in each game). They also consistently pinned their opponents deep in their own territory in both games. As per usual, open field tackling continues to be an issue that has to improve this week, given the big play potential that the Trojans have. I expect more blitzing in this
They also consistently pinned their opponents deep in their own territory in both games. As per usual, open field tackling continues to be an issue that has to improve this week, given the ever-present big play potential of the Trojans.
Look for more blitzing today because SC’s Pro-Style offense is conducive to having the QB hold the ball longer than in Air Raid offenses like Tech and Cal. Sun Devil stunts, twists, and blitzes from the outside will be more prevalent than we’ve seen in the 2016 season thus far.
Trojan Offense and a New Signal Caller
The Trojan QB Sam Darnold will be making only his second start tonight. Although the USC offense hasn’t been the same juggernaut we’ve seen in recent years, the roster is loaded with blue chip talent. They still have some of the best athletes at the skill positions of anyone in the conference.
The Trojans have a stable of running backs led by Justin Davis who rushed for 126 yards against a Utah team that had the longest streak in the country in not allowing a 100-yard rusher. At WR, big and physical Ju Ju Smith-Schuster is as dynamic as anyone the Devils will face all season.
Darnold is mobile enough to run some Read-Zone packages that ASU hasn’t seen from traditional Trojan teams of recent years.
Given the struggles of the ASU secondary, I tend to believe that SC will implement more passing plays than normal.
USC boasts some of the biggest and most athletic offensive lines in the conference which should be able to give Darnold time to operate or go to his feet on broken plays. Something to note- SC’s line got pushed around by a big and physical Utah defensive line. How the smaller but quicker Sun Devils will fare at getting into USC’s backfield will be one of the most intriguing things to watch today.
USC on Defense
This is especially important this week against Adoree Jackson
This is especially important this week against Adoree Jackson
The Trojan defense is active and disciplined with their front 7. DE Porter Gustin has been an absolute menace and is an above-average run-stopper.
Despite their record, the Trojan secondary has been rather effective at disguising coverages. This does not bode well for Manny Wilkins, as he has yet to show a proficiency at finding secondary receivers.
Expect to see the USC defensive backfield line up in what looks like a cover-2 shell, only to switch into man-to-man, or cover-1 at the last second.
Wilkins will have to be more diligent at reading these pre-snap changes and adjust accordingly.
So Damn Special
No ASU article would be complete without mentioning special teams. PK Zane Gonzalez is a straight-up weapon. He’s been automatic all season and is on the brink of breaking the all-time NCAA scoring record. What often gets overlooked
What often gets overlooked are Gonzalez’s kick-offs which rarely get returned. This is especially important tonight against Adoree Jackson, one of, if not THE best, return specialists in the country. Not to be outdone, Punter Matt Haack has been invaluable at flipping the field on opposing offenses giving the Sun Devil Hell’s Gate defense some wiggle room.