ASU vs USC, DieHard Storyline: Time for the Devil’s Offensive Line to Prove it
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September 28, 2013 8:22 AM


Countdown to Kick-off, 7:30pm  Saturday Night in the House of Heat

Countdown to Kick-off, 7:30pm Saturday Night in the House of Heat

Tempe, AZ – The casual ASU fan might have looked at the first half of the 2013 schedule and penciled in a win against USC.

After all, this is a team that lost their star quarterback and team leader to the NFL, has a head coach on the hot seat and is facing a talented Sun Devil team with high expectations in Tempe. 

A loss to WSU early this year has made SC look more vulnerable in 2013, but so far this season, they are only giving up 230 yards and 11 points per game. Those numbers are a far cry from the porous USC defensive unit we saw last year, the same one that ASU couldn’t defeat at the coliseum. 

Compound those stats with the inability of the ASU O-line to be effective with the running game, and this match-up should probably have Sun Devil Nation feeling a little uneasy.

Let’s take a closer look at the DieHard Storyline for Saturday’s game.

USC Trojans

USC Trojans


Chapter One: USC on Defense

The departure of Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, and the infusion of the “break-neck” style that *Clancy Pendergast has brought to SC is a departure from their traditional 4-3 scheme. 

USC now plays a 5-2 with 4 and 5 star recruits all over the field and a renewed aggressive attacking style by the five down lineman.  

As a result, ASU will have their hands full given their O-line’s struggles with both opening running lanes and protecting Taylor Kelly. 

Certainly, Pendergast has seen the disruption and relative ease Stanford had at getting to Kelly and will employ much of the same blitzing and stunting by their front seven. 

There has been16 sacks by the Trojan defense this season, and they are looking for more this weekend.

A new attitude and scheme have resulted in 16 sacks by the Trojan defense this season, and has them looking for more this weekend.   


Chapter Two: USC on Offense

The Trojan offense has been underwhelming given the big-play threats they have at the skill positions, including WR Marquise Lee who is considered to be one of the best in the nation. 

USC is breaking in new QB Cody Kessler who has struggled this season averaging only 134.2 yards per game. The Trojans will look to ride their impressive stable of running backs, while mixing in well-timed play action passes for big plays (see Wisconsin and Stanford). This approach doesn’t force Kessler to win the game with his arm or have to come back from big deficits. 

I also expect to see formations that line up multiple tight ends to duplicate the rushing success that ASU’s opponents have had so far in 2013.

The lack of depth and key injuries ASU has on its D-line gives USC its best chance to win this game with sustained drives on the ground and capitalizing in the red zone.


ASU Sun Devils

ASU Sun Devils


Chapter Three: ASU on Offense


The O-line has to figure out how to get the rushing game on track. If not, SC defense won’t need to stack the box with an extra safety or linebackers to stop the run. As a result, the short passing routes that are essential to the Devil’s success will become more difficult. 

Stanford was able to create a ton of pressure on Kelly and stuff the run with just their front four and blitzing a linebacker.

Because SC has similar speed on the edges like Stanford, the key for ASU to put up points will be for the O-Line to finally provide Marion Grice some downhill runs between the tackles. 

Which brings us to Sun Devil WR Jaelen Strong, who is no longer the best kept secret in the conference. If SC is able to keep safeties deep, the one-on-one mismatches that ASU wants to exploit won’t be there. Again, it is essential that the O-Line improves their performance from the last three games.

Look for ASU to line up in multiple tight end sets in order to set a physical tone against the Trojans’ five down lineman. It’s going to be another battle in the trenches.

Get to know ASU’s Offensive Line & Assistant Head Coach, Chris Thomsen.

With a season-ending injury to DE Junior Onyeali and an injury to Jaxon Hood, USC running backs are licking their chops.


Chapter Four: ASU on Defense

Defensively, ASU has not had the depth in their front four this season that they were expecting from the newcomers.

Compound this with a season-ending injury to DE Junior Onyeali and an injury to Jaxon Hood (who will be out at least this week) and the USC running backs will be licking their chops come kick-off. 

View all the current Sun Devil injury updates here

I expect to see some of the depth chart getting adjusted to be more aggressive and stout against the run.  

Devil Backer Carl Bradford continues to be the best play-maker, and that trend should continue as teams continue to double team Will Sutton. SC would be wise to account for Bradford on every snap of the ball.

This leaves the ASU secondary who have had too many assignment breakdowns. They must be more sound responsible to their assignments, or SC’s home run threats will knock a couple out of the park and put up points down-field. It was encouraging to see ASU find success in the secondary against Stanford after making a few personnel changes in the second half.

This is undoubtedly ASU’s most important game so far in 2013.

Cliff Notes

This one simply comes down to who can execute on offense. SC isn’t a major threat and should be contained, but can the ASU move the ball against the #1 run defense in the Pac-12? 

Also, cleaning up every aspect of special teams play will go far in determining ASU’s success moving forward. 

On Saturday night, both schools get their first chance to gain an advantage in the Pac-12 Southern Division. In ASU’s quest to play in the conference championship, they must beat SC. This is their most important game so far in 2013.

Visit the ASU vs USC Game Day Page for more info


 *Interesting Note: Clancy Pendergast was the DC of the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-2008 and his defense helped take them to Super Bowl XLIII.

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