Arizona State will be looking to shake off a three-game slide by extending their current winning "streak" over the USC Trojans on Saturday.
We've given our in-depth game preview, but to get an insider perspective on the Trojans, we talked to our friends over at ConquestChronicles.com, and they gave us the lowdown on what's been going on with Lane Kiffin and company.
Based on the preseason hype, the Trojans have fallen short of expectations. Was this a case of being overrated, or what factors have prevented USC from reaching that potential?
Too much hype, too many expectations and too little depth. Matt Barkley's decision to return probably played into that preseason ranking a little bit too much, and most people expected USC to be in the title game based on that announcement. The Trojans were under a microscope again, and with all that attention, room for error was very minuscule. A lack of discipline, plus sloppy play that included penalties and turnovers in their losses also have played a big part. The depth, though, is a point I think many people overlook. The Trojans are clearly lacking on the defensive end, particularly in the secondary, where Isiah Wiley's loss hurts more than anything at that second cornerback spot. This couldn't be more evident in more recent games against Arizona and Oregon when USC gave up a combined 1,318 total yards and 14 touchdowns in back-to-back losses.
USC has a tough road ahead, but is still very much alive in the South. How would you rate their chances at reaching the Pac-12 title game?
The Trojans still have a great shot at reaching the Pac-12 title game, but as well as UCLA as playing and as average as USC's defense has looked over the last couple weeks, I'd say it hinges on that unit being able to come up with stops when it counts. You can't expect an offense to play near perfect football and not be able to stop an opponent, or even slow them down a little bit. Even coach Lane Kiffin subtly alluded to the fact that the offense gave away opportunities during the Oregon postgame press conference. That, to me, spoke volumes on where he stands about the defense at this point in the season. That being said, USC can still reach the conference title game if they can clean up their play on both sides of the ball, and if the defense can find somewhat of a rhythm in these next couple games.
Heading into the season, everyone was handing the Heisman to Matt Barkley among other honors, yet things haven't gone as planned. What is your evaluation on Barkley's senior season?
There are certain aspects of his game that, to me, just haven't really improved since his freshman year. Watching him constantly throw into double or triple coverage, hang onto the ball too long at times, or even force it out at the last second rather than just taking the sack are all issues that have plagued him since he was anointed the starter under Pete Carroll. At the same time, though, he's had to deal with the inconsistency of his offensive line all year long, which doesn't help the cause. I'm not too sure Kiffin has done a great job at developing him, either. Looking at his stats, he's on pace to best his performance a year ago from a statistical standpoint (2,750 passing yards, 39 touchdowns), but all in all, I'd sum it up as average at best.
Outside of gunpoint, how does a team hope to stop Marqise Lee?
Hold him and hope the referees don't see it, or at least that's what Oregon got away with a couple times, according to Kiffin. But in all honesty, you likely have to get to Barkley first before worrying about Lee. If you get to Barkley before he can find one of his two favorite targets, then the back end of your defense doesn't have as much pressure to make a play on the second-year wideout.
If you are ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, what is your gameplan to stop the Trojans?
Put lots of pressure on Barkley and force him to move around in the pocket, and get the ball out earlier than he'd like. If you think your offense is that much better, you can also take the Oregon route and just try to outscore them, too. But for the Sun Devils, the likelihood is applying pressure on the senior signal caller and flustering him just enough to where he will make a mistake eventually.
Obviously, any performance against Oregon is not a true showing of a defense's ability, so what should ASU expect from the Trojan defense on Saturday?
I expect a big turnaround from Monte Kiffin's unit. Yes, it's not that hard considering how bad they've looked over the last two outings, but any progress is a step in the right direction. This unit, once the strength of this time in the early going, gets a third crack at a team running the spread offense.
Who are some under-the-radar players that could make an impact for USC?
On offense, I'm going to make the case for freshman wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Against Oregon, he finished with six receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown, and narrowly missed another touchdown catch in the first quarter had he been able to hold onto the ball. With teams keying in on Lee and Robert Woods, Agholor has an opportunity to become that consistent third option in the final three games of the regular season. On the defensive side of the ball, I'll go with Josh Shaw. Everybody knows about Nickell Robey, and the Trojans' other cornerback spot has been a sore spot for the team all year long. Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has been pretty efficient this season, and USC will need somebody to step up in that secondary to help slow down the Sun Devils offense.
What's your prediction for Saturday?
USC rebounds in a big way, with the offense looking as good as it has over the last couple weeks, and the defense rebounding to shut down Arizona State. The Trojans take this one easily, with the outcome never in doubt. I'm calling it USC 45-17.