ASU vs. USC: Haber's Hunches

Stephen Lam

How will ASU's high-powered offense do against USC's stingy defense? Will Will Sutton make his presence felt in the box score? Which wide receiver performs best: Jaelen Strong or Marqise Lee? These questions and more will be answered in this week's hunches.

On Saturday night, two unranked teams trot into Sun Devil stadium. While neither may not be in the top 25, both are playing for high stakes in the Maroon Monsoon.

The winner of this matchup will instantly be considered UCLA's strongest foe in the Pac-12 South. Vegas lists the Sun Devils as favorites, but when these teams clash, it's going to be closer to a tossup.

If ASU wins and becomes 3-1, the Devils will remain on their projected pace. If ASU loses and falls to 2-2, it could be sky-is-falling time in Tempe.

Meanwhile, USC has taken heavy criticism in spite of their respectable 3-1 record. Yes, losing at Washington State was as crushing of a defeat as you can have. But defeating ASU in a hostile environment would certainly expedite the healing process.

Can the Sun Devils break through the Trojans (fifth grade condom pun intended)? Or will the Trojans protect their historic reputation?

I've got a hunch. And so far, Haber's Hunches have gone 7-2, so I might just be on to something.

First Hunch: ASU will expose the USC defense (score at least 27)

Taylor Kelly just faced Wisconsin and Stanford, defenses that are more trustworthy than USC's. The Trojan's defense deserves praise, but I'm not ready to crown them after looking at their competition (Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State).

In his previous two games, Kelly hasn't played well enough to leave a favorable impression. But somehow Kelly still posted 719 yards, three touchdowns and two inceptions against the Cardinal and Badgers (and one interception came on a last second Hail Mary).

If we glance back in the brief history under offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, Arizona State have scored 27+ points in seven out of its eight home games. Criticize Kelly all you want about his road play but within the echo of the buttes, Kelly posses an outstanding career 23:4 touchdown to interception ratio.

The one time ASU didn't score 27 at home since the beginning of the 2012 season was against Oregon on October 18, 2012. That Ducks defense quacked much louder than the largest Trojans stampede.

If this hunch is going to be correct, Kelly is going to need the proper time in the pocket. USC excels at every level of their defensive unit, but the most susceptible group would be the secondary.

Second Hunch: Will Sutton tallies at least 1.5 sacks, as he guides the Sun Devil defensive line back on track

Don't call it a comeback; Will Sutton has been here for years. NFL.com and other scouts assessments of Sutton putting on "bad weight" is the definition of premature. Let's remember, the Badgers and Cardinal offensive lines are among the best in the country, and they still took the time to double team Sutton on almost every play.

ASUDevils.com publisher Chris Karpman believes Sutton's biggest issue is reacting to the snap on time. If he's right, that can be solved overnight. I've seen enough Sutton in practice to know he hasn't gotten definitively slower.

In 2013, the pass blocking for Cody Kessler hasn't been entirely reliable. The combination of sub-par pass blocking and submissive quarterback play will bring out the All-American in Sutton.

Sutton needed time to adjust to the extra scheming and constant double-teams. But like all great players do, Sutton will make the necessary changes to overcome these daunting tasks. As Sutton returns to form, the rest of the defensive line should follow suit as well.

Despite Jaxon Hood being sidelined and Junior Onyeali's season ending early, the defensive line still owns enough capable options. The Sun Devil defense thrives when it gets pressure and sacks. USC will grant them the long-awaited opportunities.

Final Hunch: Marqise Lee over Jaelen Strong any day, obviously. But not on Saturday, Strong ends up with better statistics.

There are some hunches I feel great about and there are some I place 51 percent confidence in. Jaelen Strong outplaying Marqise Lee falls into the latter half.

Don't get me wrong, Lee's skills are far superior to Strong's, and few in the conference can say that. The one thing Lee doesn't have going for him is quarterback play. Kelly is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country and Kessler is untested on the road in Pac-12 competition.

In addition, Osahon Irabor has quietly played at an All-Pac-12 level. No, I don't expect Irabor to channel Revis Island and make Lee completely irrelevant. But Irabor will win his fair share of one-on one battles Saturday.

Strong, on the other hand, will likely see a steady rotation of USC defensive backs. Cornerback Kevin Seymour is arguably USC's best shut down threat and he has only started four games on this level.

The safety advantage goes to USC by a land slide, sporting Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens, two former five-star recruits who have lived up to the hype. Outside of that, Strong doesn't have too much to be afraid of.

Strong wants to prove he can be the best wide receiver in the nation, and what better way to do so than outperforming Lee who currently holds the honors.

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