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ASU vs. USC: Added dimension gives new life to Sun Devil offense

Arizona State relied on the success of five key players on offense to hang 62 points on USC on Saturday night.

Sparky got a workout in on Saturday night.
Sparky got a workout in on Saturday night.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to Saturday night's game against USC, Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and Jaelen Strong were the only three players that Arizona State could rely on for consistent production this year.

When the Trojans came to town, all of that changed as the three-headed monster was joined by five new faces as leaders of the Sun Devil offense.

The Sun Devils' offensive line enjoyed a coming out party against a vaunted Trojans defense that entered the contest averaging four sacks and more than nine tackles for loss per game. On Saturday night, the starting five kept quarterback Taylor Kelly's jersey clean all night long as they did not allow a sack on any of Kelly's 35 drop backs.

"Sitting here watching that offensive line, they're the group that I recognized with the team after the game," coach Todd Graham said. "They did a phenomenal job, I challenged them."

Arizona State racked up 612 yards of total offense including a staggering 267 rushing yards against a USC defense that came into Saturday's game holding opponents to fewer than 60 yards per game on the ground.

The offensive line was so instrumental in the team's 62-41 beat down of the Trojans that Kelly invited his linemen to the postgame press conference to talk about the team's success.

"This week we really hammered the ball doing a lot more inside run, a lot of different technique stuff on that, that's a big emphasis," left tackle Evan Finkenberg said. "When you start getting that push from the front five, all of a sudden your offense starts opening up really well."

The Sun Devils got more than just push against the Trojans. They consistently drove USC's defensive linemen and linebackers off of the line of scrimmage and opened up wide running lanes for Arizona State's backs. The Sun Devils averaged 7.5 yards per rush which actually bested the Trojans' 6.7 yards per carry from the game.

"We knew we could run the football, obviously we're playing good people and that's a really really good defense tonight we went up against," Graham said.

More than half of USC's defense is considered NFL-caliber players and four different players accumulated at least 4.5 tackles for loss through the Trojans' first four games. Only outside linebacker Morgan Breslin maintained his level of productivity as he notched two of the Trojans' three tackles for loss against Arizona State.

First-year USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 3-4 scheme has suited the Trojans' well this season, but Arizona State center Kody Koebensky said the trickery and deception didn't fool the Sun Devils' because they communicated well up front.

"Communication was huge," Koebensky said. "They really gave us a lot of different looks, a lot of different linebackers and some secondary guys."

The different looks did not phase the Sun Devils as they opened up holes for four rushing touchdowns and four rushing plays of at least 28 yards.

"As a unit, we saw things very well tonight, Taylor did too, the whole offense did a good job seeing where that pressure was coming from," Koebensky said.

Saturday marked the fourth consecutive game the offensive line has trotted out the same five starters. Finkenberg anchors the line at left tackle working next to an athletic left guard in Jamil Douglas. Koebensky is a communication wizard in the middle who receives praise from his teammates for his leadership abilities. On the right side, Vi Teofilo and Tyler Sulka struggled through the team's first three games but the first-year starters appeared to hold their own against the Trojans' talented defensive front.

Like every smart quarterback, Kelly was quick to heap praise on the men who protect him because he knows the offense will only progress with the help of a solid line.

"It started off with these five," Kelly said while pointing to the offensive line. "They came to work all week and they didn't allow a sack tonight. They're doing a great job and they're starting to come together. I believe in these guys and they're going to keep working and establish our run game and the offense starts going."

The rugged play of Arizona State's offensive line was rather unexpected following last week's outing at Stanford. Taylor Kelly faced pressure all afternoon as the Cardinal defense tallied three sacks and ten tackles for loss. USC was expected to thrive against a developing Sun Devil front, but Arizona State's linemen came out determined to prove that last week's showing was simply an aberration.

The 62 points the Sun Devils scored matches the most points a USC team has ever allowed and Koebensky noted how excited the team was to get back on track.

"I love beating those guys," Koebensky said. "They're a very talented team, well coached, they've got great technique but it's always fun coming out and playing at a high level against those guys."

If the offensive line continues to flourish as it did on Saturday night, the Sun Devils look primed to make a run at the Pac-12 South championship. The defense has plenty of issues to clean up and the special teams issues remain a mystery, but Arizona State went out and hung 62 points on a Trojans defense that ranked as one of the best in the country coming into Saturday's game.

The added dimension of five powerful forces along the offensive front took this offense from good to great on Saturday night. And for coach Todd Graham, that's all he needed to see to affirm what he already knew.

"We didn't just win," Graham said. "We went out and dominated those guys."