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ASU Football: Mike Norvell and Keith Patterson break down USC

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Coordinators Mike Norvell and Keith Patterson break down the USC Trojans and give their keys to victory on Saturday plus more notes from Wednesday's practice

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This time last week, the USC Trojans were still considered the favorites in the Pac-12 South. The Trojans thrashed their first two nonconference opponents and were ranked No. 6 in the nation.

What a difference a week makes.

The Trojans had a sense of invincibility, with an experienced quarterback and plenty of explosiveness on offense. After a 41-31 defeat to Stanford this past Saturday, the contest on Saturday against Arizona State feels like a must-win for the Trojans, with games against Oregon, Cal, UCLA and Arizona still looming on the schedule.

For the Sun Devils, every time they lineup against the West Coast powerhouse it feels like a championship game.

"Obviously we know this is going to be a big-time game. This is a championship-level game," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said after Wednesday's practice. "Every year when we play this game that is the expectation."

Novell's offense has struggled to start the 2015 campaign. The Sun Devils rank ninth in the conference in scoring offense and eighth in the league in total offense. After struggling for most of the first two games of the season, ASU exploded for 24 points in the second half against New Mexico.

On Saturday, the ASU offense may face their toughest challenge to date with the aggressive USC defense.

"This will be the third time we have went against coach (Justin) Wilcox from when he was at Washington and then at USC. They run a great scheme," Novell said. "They have been a bit more aggressive this year with their blitzes. They have probably the best corners in the league. Su'a Cravens is a dynamic player and they have some guys up front who make some plays, so we are playing a talented defense."

The USC defense allowed 15 points combined in their first two games. Against Stanford, they surrendered 41 points and 474 total yards to a Cardinal that struggled most of their first two games. Much of Stanford's success can be attributed to their third down success. It's something the Sun Devils are hoping to emulate.

"I think one of the keys to this game is third down," Norvell said. "You look at Stanford, I think they were 8-for-12 on third down, if you are efficient on third downs you can really keep the chains moving."

A new element for the Sun Devils will the addition of Kalen Ballage. The sophomore running back has missed the first three games of the season while recovering from mono. ASU expects to have him for their conference opener. According to Norvell, working Ballage back into the fold will go smoothly.

"There are no challenges, you get guys back on the roster and you are pretty excited about it," he said. "With Kalen it's just about getting his timing back. I'm excited about having him back and seeing what his role will be this week."

Getting Defensive

Much like in Week 1, the ASU defense faces a challenge this week against a lighting-quick USC offense. Like Texas A&M, USC features some of the top skill position players in the nation. Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster are dynamic playmakers on the outside and Cody Kessler is one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

However, when asked about the USC offense, ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson mentioned another position group first.

"Obviously, it starts with the depth they have at running back," Patterson said. "They have great skill at running back so you can't allow them to set up the play-action pass. So we have to stop the run because then it just opens up play-action shots down the field."

Kessler is completing 78.7 percent of his passes this season and has thrown 10 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Last season, the USC signal caller threw for 3,826 with 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

"You can't let him set his feet," Patterson said. "We have to do a good job at disrupting receiver-timing and vertical releases and making him move his feet an throw the ball on the run."

Notes

  • Liau Moeakiola and Kalen Ballage were both sporting green, non-contact jerseys during Wednesday's practice. D.J. Calhoun had a thick cast on his left hand and Armand Perry was still on crutches with a boot on his left foot/ankle.
  • The entire team was warming up and stretching with footballs in their hands and the first set of positional drills the media was able to observe were focused on ball security.
  • During their team tempo period, ASU worked on a late-game situation that involved getting its field goal team on the field in a hurry and centering the ball for field goals.