The Arizona State Sun Devils have been here before. Fresh off a 62-27 drubbing at the hands of UCLA, Arizona State actually finds itself in a familiar spot. During Todd Graham's tenure in Tempe, the Sun Devils have only had two bad performances. Graham remembers both well.
"We had the Oregon game (in 2012) and Stanford last year. I wish we could stop having these games, we have one a year that is very, very difficult," said the Arizona State head coach at his weekly press conference.
In 2012, the Sun Devils sat at 5-1 when they hosted Oregon, at that time the No. 2 team in the nation. Arizona State lost 43-21 in a game that was never even that close. The Sun Devils preceded to lose its next three games and finish the regular season 7-5.
In 2013, Arizona State lost its third game of the season when they traveled to the Bay Area and fell to Stanford 42-28. However, the Sun Devils rallied to win its next eight conference games including victories over UCLA, USC and Arizona.
"We were undefeated and we went into Stanford and it wasn't very pleasant," said Graham. "How we responded was we came back and won in a big way (62-41 over USC). That's what we have to be able to do.
"What happens when you have a set back is everybody starts to question. That's the nature of the deal. But we have a belief in what we are doing and we have a belief in each other. In this league you have to bring it every week."
This week, the Sun Devils travel to the unfriendly confines of the Los Angeles Coliseum, where they have not won since 1999. Even though Arizona State beat USC by three touchdowns last season, this Trojan team is very different. Starting with their new head coach, Steve Sarkisian, who spent the previous five seasons at Washington.
"I don't think anything they did at Washington has anything to do with what they are doing now," said Graham. "Obviously, they have adapted their system to the personal that is there. We will focus on this year's game and the personnel that they have this year."
USC comes into the matchup with a 3-1 record ranked No. 16 in the nation by the Associated Press. The Trojans feature the No. 2 scoring and passing defense in the conference along with a dangerous duo in the backfield.
"They have perhaps the best running back that we are going to see all year and maybe the second best running back that we will see this year," said Graham. "Their skill position players are very good."
The two running backs that Graham mentions are Javorius Allen and Justin Davis. Allen has rushed for 433 yards on 80 carries this season, including 154 yards on 23 carries against Stanford alone. USC's main threat at wide receiver is Nelson Agholor, who has 239 yards on the season.
Out of time(outs)
Anybody who watches Arizona State football knows that is is just a matter of time until Arizona State has to burn a timeout early in the game on defense. While Arizona State succeeds on the play after the timeout most of the time, it can cause some problems late in the half. Graham had an answer today when asked what causes these early timeouts.
"The number one thing that causes it is tempo. We had ten guys on the field on a punt return and we had one substitution problem on a field goal. It happens because teams are moving fast. One of the main things is getting guys on and off the field against these up-tempo teams. That is hard to simulate in practice."
Along with the tempo of some teams, the head coach also pointed out the fresh faces on the defenses. More players being substituted means more chances for players to run on the field late or miss assignments.
"We are also playing a lot more people this year. We didn't sub much last year," said Graham. "Will (Sutton) and Carl (Bradford) played every down last year. We are subbing at corner, some at safety and linebacker. There are a lot more moving parts."
Youth along the defensive line
A lot of that youth on the defense is concentrated up front along the defensive line. Where the Sun Devils started true freshman Tashon Smallwood for the first three games of the season. The Sun Devils have only seven sacks through four games. Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray has eight sacks alone this season.
After replacing three defensive linemen from last year's team (all who are on NFL rosters) Graham has preached patience with this year's unit.
"You just go to work, and that's part of it. People come here as freshman and they graduate as seniors," said Graham. "Three years from now it is going to be really nice to have (Tashon) Smallwood, Renell Wren and (Connor) Humphreys and those guys.
"But it is a challenge when they first get in because that is the toughest position. There is less margin for error. There are more kids that will play as freshman at the skill positions than on the offensive line or the interior of the defensive line. We have to adapt to the guys we have."
- Nobody from the media asked about the status of Taylor Kelly and Graham even joked about that after the press conference. Do not expect to see No. 10 playing this Saturday.
- The game was picked up by FOX and will be shown nationally on the network. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST.
- Arizona State is outscoring their opponents 63-13 in the first quarter this season. Their 15.3 points per game in the first quarter is fourth nationally.
- Damarious Randall currently leads the nation with 9.0 solo tackles per game.