Man, Arizona State looked miles better against a formidable USC defense. What were the biggest differences between this week and last?
Kerry Crowley, House of Sparky: The biggest differences between this week and last week were the in-game adjustments from the coaching staff and the energy level of the opposing team. Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell have faced criticism for their in-game strategy and against USC, the coaching staff had one of its best nights in its short tenure. Norvell varied up the play calling and used his all of his weapons. Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong and Chris Coyle were all factors in the passing game and anytime the Sun Devils hit the red zone, they put the ball in the hands of Marion Grice which is just a no-brainer. Furthermore, the Sun Devils faced a team that lacked the defensive intensity the Stanford Cardinal played with a week ago. USC's vaunted defense was bullied in the second half by an offensive line that was considered one of Arizona State's biggest weaknesses. The Trojans weren't inspired and Arizona State took full advantage.
Cody Ulm, House of Sparky: It comes down to one thing for me: offensive line play. The gentlemen in the trenches simply took care of business, keeping Taylor Kelly upright all game long. That allowed Arizona State's under-appreciated quarterback to not only have the finest game of his career, but also one of the finest games in the history of Sun Devil quarterbacking. Against Stanford, the offensive line was manhandled regularly and Kelly, Grice and anyone else who stood behind them never had a fighting chance. Clearly they took all the criticism to heart because on Saturday, they played about as flawless as a unit can play. As long as the offensive line continues to play somewhere near that level, ASU's offense is going to be difficult to contain. You give Kelly enough time and he'll force you to pick your poison.
ASU struggled to stop the USC offense. Why has the touted Sun Devil defense had so much trouble against pro-style offenses so far this season?
Kerry Crowley, House of Sparky: The Sun Devils lost Jaxon Hood to a hamstring injury early in the game against Stanford and the nose tackle sat out Saturday night's game against the Trojans. Hood is instrumental in stopping the run and his absence forced Arizona State into mixing and matching defensive linemen in spots they aren't comfortable with. Defensive end Gannon Conway played nose and pass rush specialist Davon Coleman is a liability against the run. When Hood returns, we'll have a better grasp of how capable this defense is because the playmakers can go back to focusing on the roles they fulfill best.
Cody Ulm, House of Sparky: Kerry nailed it: it's just lack of depth along the defensive line. Cody Kessler was cruising along in the beginning because his running game was getting so many big plays off the edges. And that's been an area of weakness all season long for Arizona State. From what I've seen, they haven't been entirely awful against the run as some of the stats suggest. But it seems like every tackle for loss is shortly followed by a 20-yard rush off tackle. At this point, it's just about finding a way to limit the big plays. And that's something that isn't going to be fixed just by the return of Hood.