Before the season, I’m not sure you can find many USC fans who would have circled the October 1st game against the Sun Devils as a must win. In reality, last week was the pivotal game for the Trojan’s season. The Men of Troy had an opportunity to avoid a 1-3 start to the season, and a 3rd straight loss to a top 25 team. On the other hand, ASU comes into this matchup with a 4-0 start, looking to find some legitimacy to a possible Pac-12 South title run.
The Trojan offensive unit showed promise in last week’s matchup against Utah, at one point getting out to a 14-point lead on the Utes. Sam Darnold showed why he was a legitimate contender for the starting quarterback spot in the preseason. He completed 18/26 for 253 yards. He failed to throw a touchdown pass, but did tally a rushing TD. He also didn’t throw an interception. Darnold was great in the pocket when he had time, but what really stood out was his mobility when pressured and the ability to run the ball. It begs the question of why head coach Clay Helton didn’t go with Darnold at the start of the season.
Darnold will need to show off his mobility again this week. The Sun Devil’s front seven love to pressure the quarterback, and USC’s O-line has not been up to the challenge so far this season. Look for that to play a factor in this matchup.
JuJu Smith Schuster led the team in receptions with 8 catches for 98 yards, and Justin Davis led the rushing effort with 10 carries for 126 yards. ASU has given up some yards this year, particularly in the air against. The Trojan receivers and backs should have a great game if Darnold is given time to operate.
The USC defensive unit struggled last week against Utah. Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast is known for sticking with a core group of players and not getting many substitutes in. Injuries and the sheer amount of time the USC defense has spent on the field this season forced Pendergast to make some changes against Utah and ultimately led to a blown lead and a loss.
The front seven for the Trojans are banged up, and that’s going to be an issue with ASU’s fast paced offense. QB Manny Wilkens has been good to start the season, coming in at 12th in the nation in passing percentage. ASU also features a nice pair of RBs in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Expect Richard to do most of the heavy lifting inside the 20’s, but Ballage to come in during red zone and goal line opportunities. Ballage is nearly unstoppable on the goal line with 9 TDs in 43 carries this season.
The Trojans are a 10-point favorite in this match up, and although ASU has a formidable offense the expectation here is the Trojans handle ASU and pick up their 2nd win of the season. USC has 4 of the next 5 games at home, a welcome change from 3 of the first 4 games away. You can find this game on Fox at 5:30 PDT.