(Photo: George Rose, Getty Images)
ASU has a big showdown with USC looming, so we talk to the greatest safety in football history, former Trojan and Pac-12 Network analyst Ronnie Lott to get his take on the action.
This week's episode of the Speak of the Devils podcast had a special guest join the show to help preview Saturday's huge Pac-12 South battle between Arizona State and USC.
Arguably the greatest safety to ever put on shoulder pads, Ronnie Lott had a terrific collegiate career at USC before embarking on an 11-Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame NFL career. He now currently works as an analyst at the Pac-12 Network, and I spoke to him about the crazy Pac-12 season, the keys to Saturday's game, Todd Graham and more.
Below are some of the questions we asked the legend, but the entire interview (and podcast episode) is excellent, so be sure to check it out for all of Lott's analysis.
Outside of Oregon, the entire Pac-12 has been an unpredictable mess, and several teams are still in the hunt as a result. What are your impressions through the first 10 weeks of the season in the conference?
Ronnie Lott: It's been incredible covering the Pac-12. So many incredible athletes. One of the things I've watched is, not only the athletes, but how well they've been coached. You look at the coaching staffs from around the Pac-12 and what they've been able to do. And of course winning, with five teams in the Top 25 this year. I think that's been fantastic.
Some great surprises. UCLA is coming out with a great year this year. Arizona is playing well. And of course, watching Oregon and USC fight it out...Stanford as well. You see some dynamic football. What's exciting is that we're just closing it down. We're almost at the finish line. I think this is going to be a strong finish, and guys are fighting to get into the national championship game, guys are fighting to get into the Rose Bowl, guys are fighting to get to a championship trophy for the Pac-12. There are a lot of things at stake over the next three or four weeks.
You played for USC in the late 1970's when ASU first joined the conference. You were also a member of the team at USC when the Sun Devils upset the eventual national champion Trojans in 1978. Take us back, tell us what the general perception of Arizona State football was then when the league first expanded to 10 teams, what's changed since then as far as the perception of ASU.
RL: When you look at it back then, and the coach, one of the all-time great coaches in Frank Kush and what he was able to do with that organization, the team and the players. He created an incredible atmosphere of developing kids to go on to play in the National Football League. I can think of some of the guys I had a chance to play against like John Jefferson and Mark Malone and others that came out of that program.
The you look at it today with Coach Graham, and the type of intensity he has. You see that he's creating a new culture there and a new dynamic. In his first year in the league, I think he's looking for a way to make an impact, and he did that early on in the beginning of the year. He's hit a tough stretch the last couple weeks, but you gotta believe that everything he's laying down is for a purpose. I think that he's putting together a really unique program, and putting together something that people can be proud of in the Phoenix and greater Arizona area.
You're obviously a defensive guy, and ASU's got a good one up front in defensive lineman Will Sutton. Though he missed two games due to injury, when he's been in the lineup he's been absolutely dominant...what's your take on Sutton?
RL: First of all, I just really like the way that he plays the game. He plays with a high motor, he is always around the ball, he is always hustling. Before he got injured, he was one of my guys that I picked as a guy who was really disruptive and did a lot for his team, and provided them leadership. I like him, and he's a guy I wouldn't mind playing with. He's a guy that you know is going to take care of his job, and also make some plays for you.
Stopping Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods will be a major difficulty, so how can ASU hope to accomplish that task, and what are some of the other keys for ASU to pull off the upset?
RL: I think one of the ways you do it is to get to the quarterback quick. You got to let him (Barkley) know that you're going to be all over him. They did that last week against Oregon State. They were able to get to (Cody) Vaz, they were able to sack him, they were able to cause some confusion. They did give up some big plays, but along with that, you're able to make plays. I think they'll do the same thing. I think they'll be aggressive again. I think they'll try to find a way to get Barkley hopefully on his back. Those are some of the things you have to expect from the front four. Their front four really gets after you.
The other thing they have to do is get turnovers. That was the one thing that Oregon did a great job of. They were able to come up with three turnovers. When you're able to come up with those kind of turnovers in key situations, that helps you. If they can get turnovers and they can get pressure on Barkley, it gives them a shot at winning this football game.
Their offense has to score points. They have to find a way to score over 30 or 40 points, because that is what it is going to take to beat USC. They know what Arizona did in beating USC. They got to put points on the board, and they got to put them on the board from the time they walk into the stadium. That means that once they kick the ball, that they're looking at every opportunity to put the ball in the endzone. That means the SC defense has their work cut out for them. Everybody knows that the SC defense, after going through the last three games and as much as they've played, they could be a pretty tired group. I think Arizona State has to continue to put the pressure on them.
Who are some under the radar players for both teams that you think could turn the tide on Saturday?
RL: I like the kid (Brandon) Magee, the linebacker. He's one of the kids that does an excellent job of making big tackles. I like the kid (Cameron) Marshall, the running back for Arizona State. He's a kid that can break a lot of tackles. And then (Xavier) Grimble for USC. He's a guy that a lot of times we look up and say that he came up with some key plays for the Trojans. He's one of those guys. Then of course on the defensive side, they got to get some big plays out of (Dion) Bailey, their linebacker. That's what they got earlier in the year. Look for Bailey to possibly come up with some big plays for USC.
What's your prediction for Saturday?
RL: Anytime you play at home, in my mind, that starts as an advantage. It starts with USC finding a way to do what they do best, and that is to strike when they can, but also protecting the football. If they are able to do that, they'll have a shot at winning this game. But by no means is this a gimme. Arizona State beat them last year, and I believe that Arizona State feels like they can come into this game, and if they can keep up the pace the way that they are capable of doing, that they have a shot at winning this football game.
Listen to the full episode here for much more from the Hall of Famer
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