ASU Football Opponent First Look: USC Trojans

Jeff Gross

An initial look at ASU's next opponent, the 21st ranked USC Trojans

It was all set.

USC was a top three team, Matt Barkley was a shoe-in for the Heisman, and a spot in the BCS title game was just a win over Oregon away. Now, the Trojans are look up at their cross town rivals at UCLA in the Pac-12 South standings.

While the season has been a disappointment by the lofty preseason standards, the USC Trojans are still an exceedingly dangerous team that can still find their way to the Rose Bowl. But before any thought of that can occur, they must hold serve on their home field against the Arizona State Sun Devils to snap a two-game slide.

Let's take a look at this year's version of the Trojans.

USC's Season to Date: The Trojans were a trendy preseason pick as the No. 1 team, but, while showing the potent offense many expected, have fallen short of expectations. A 2-0 start was undone by their annual loss to Stanford, but they recovered with four straight wins over the also rans of the Pac-12. However, they have fallen lately, dropping a pair of shootouts, a 39-36 affair to Arizona then the 62-51 track meet loss to Oregon.

USC's Last Game: Normally, when your offense gains 615 yards and 51 points, victory is assured. That is, unless you play Oregon. Last week's Arena League-style affair was a ridiculous display of offensive firepower, and the Trojan defense couldn't make the needed stops to get a win. Their collapse overshadowed a great game by the usual suspects of the Trojan offense.

USC's Statistical Leaders:

  • Rushing - Silas Redd: 732 yards, 5.4 ypc, 9 TD
  • Passing - Matt Barkley: 2,750 yards, 65.2 completion %, 30 TD, 10 INT, 163.3rating
  • Receiving - Marqise Lee: 88 receptions, 1,286 yards, 12 YD
  • Tackles - T.J. McDonald: 76
  • Sacks - Morgan Breslin 8.0

USC's National Ranks (Among 124 FBS Teams):

  • Rushing Offense: 75th (152.0 ypg)
  • Passing Offense: 17th (312.7 ypg)
  • Scoring Offense: 24th (36.8 ppg)
  • Rushing Defense: 61st (156.9 ypg)
  • Passing Defense: 77th (249.6 ypg)
  • Scoring Defense: 49th (24.2 ppg)

USC on Offense: When you have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, the hands down best wide receiver in all the land, and another pass catcher of nearly equal caliber, you throw throw the ball. A lot. And USC does.

It speaks to the level of talent when 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a completion percentage of 65.2 is considered a disappointment, but such is life for Matt Barkley. The senior quarterback remains one of the best in the nation, and before he's a top five pick in the NFL Draft, he'll present the stiffest aerial challenge of the year for the Sun Devils with his accuracy, poise and arm strength

Given the talent at the wide receiver spot, it's no wonder that Barkley has completed nearly 70% of his throws to the dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Lee has emerged in his sophomore season as the nation's best wide receiver with his unreal speed and explosiveness, and can score on any touch. If ASU gives him an inch, he will take it to the house. Across from Woods in USC's pro set is Woods, who would be the No. 1 receiver on just about every other team in the country. He's got great speed, runs crisp routes and is nearly the lethal threat of Lee.

The team has a pair of good young tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, who have combined for 29 catches and seven scores, but the vast majority of the balls go to Lee and Woods, and rightly so.

USC scored the offseason's biggest "free agent" signing when former Penn State running back Silas Redd joined the program and he's been a very good runner for the Trojans. Redd adds a quality power back element to the team's quick strike offense and has 732 yards and nine touchdowns. The quick Curtis McNeal—coming off a 1,005-yard season last year—is the backup and is averaging a robust 6.4 yards-per-carry.

The Trojan offensive line, led by excellent center Khaled Holmes. The unit has done a decent job of keeping Barkley upright, allowing only five sacks over the last six weeks.

USC on Defense: The Trojan defense surrendered a slew of all-time high last week against the Ducks, but while they are far from an elite unit, the players in their 4-3 scheme are talented and capable of making it a long night for the ASU offense.

The defensive line lost three starters from a year ago. USC favors a lighter, quicker defensive front, and end Morgan Breslin has emerged as a key playmaker, leading the team with eight sacks and 14 tackles-for loss. The team has a pair of talented young tackles. Leonard Williams has been disruptive along the interior, racking up 5.5 sacks of his own and George Uko has five tackles-for-loss.

USC's linebackers are a fast and talented unit, able to cover a lot of ground and make plays. Strongside linebacker Dion Bailey, a former safety, is the unit's star, with 62 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss and four interceptions. Hayes Pullard on the opposite side is very explosive to the ball, and Lamar Dawson brings good size at 235 pound to the middle.

The secondary returns all four starters and is led by T.J. McDonald, who continues the school's legacy of top-flight safeties. He leads the team with 76 tackles, and five of those have been for loss. Rarely is their a play that the All-American is not able to be a part of with his speed and hitting ability. Joining him on the backline is Jawanza Starling, who has three interceptions on the year. USC boast several talented cornerbacks, led by 2011 All-Pac-12 selection Nickell Robey.

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