The No. 21 USC Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) have not been as impressive this season as most people thought they were going to be; however, the last two times the teams have matched up since the “Jael Mary,” the Trojans have dominated the Sun Devils. With losses coming to No. 15 Washington State and No. 9 Notre Dame the Trojans have slipped from their preseason No. 5 perch. That does not mean the talent is not there though. Here are a few Trojan players to watch this weekend.
Sophomore QB Sam Darnold
Okay, do not get mad because this name is too obvious. The key to the entire Trojan offense is if Darnold is able to catch fire. While getting a run game started would spread out the offense and give Darnold more holes to fire into, his ability as a playmaker is talented. That was on display last time the Sun Devils met up with the Trojans when Darnold threw for 352 yards on 23 completions, including three touchdowns. Granted the Sun Devils’ defense looked improved over the last two games, and Darnold has not looked like the same quarterback as he was last year. His completion percentage is down four percent, and he has thrown 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Good to drop his raw QBR from a 79.5 last year to a 61.8 this year. But no matter the numbers, Darnold’s talent is there and the Sun Devils will need to key in on the front seven to stopping him from getting in rhythm.
Junior WR Deontay Burnett
What is a good quarterback without his favorite target? Burnett has over 300 more yards than the next receiver on the Trojans roster. Darnold has connected with his wideout a whopping 57 times for 739 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Burnett caught seven passes for 93 yards against a shady ASU secondary, only overshadowed by then-junior WR Juju Smith-Schuster who caught three touchdowns in the game. This will be an intriguing matchup for a Sun Devil secondary that has looked more impressive as of late. Look for both freshman Chase Lucas and sophomore Kobe Williams to be tested at their defensive back positions.
Sophomore DB Jack Jones
Last year, the Trojans forced junior QB Manny Wilkins to beat them by throwing the ball. Their scheme worked as Wilkins only threw for 148 yards and was picked off once as well. Picking just one player on the USC defense to key in on was difficult because if they use the same scheme as last year, it will be a whole team effort. Jones leads the Trojans in interceptions with four, and found his way into a starting spot after getting playing time as a freshman. Wilkins is much improved as a passer this season and has utilized sophomore stud N’Keal Harry more often this year as well. That will pose a good test for the Trojan defense and Jones in specific.
ASU will have its work cut out to beat the Trojans. With many different weapons the key to the whole game will be keeping Darnold in check. The Sun Devils ride into this matchup with the momentum of two straight wins, including a shocking 13-7 win over then-No. 5 Washington in Tempe two weekends ago. They will be try to knock off their third ranked opponent this season. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. MT at Sun Devil Stadium.