We spoke with Brendan Kearney from Conquest Chronicles gain a USC Trojans perspective on the Arizona Stat Sun Devils, the state of the Trojans and a bold score prediction. We then answered Kearney’s questions, and gave predictions of our own.
House of Sparky asks Conquest Chronicles
1. USC killed its playoff hopes after losing 49-14 to Notre Dame last week. Who's the biggest to blame in that loss?
Kearney: I would have to put the biggest blame on coaching, because in the end they are responsible for the product on the field. Here’s what I wrote in my most recent article:
"Every major flaw or weakness critiqued throughout the season of this Trojan team was put on full display last Saturday. Sam Darnold not the same player he was last year? Check. Darnold has a turnover problem? Check. Suspect offensive play-calling? Check. Weak offensive line play? Check. Injuries rearing ugly head? Check. Poor secondary play? Check. That is just the beginning of the list, really we could sit here and detail them all day, but you get the point.
It was in a sense, The Perfect Storm.”
Sums it up pretty well.
2. The Trojans gave up nearly 400 yards on the ground to Notre Dame. USC is giving up 175.5 rushing yards per game this season (gave up an average of 139.9 in 2016). Has this been an issue all season? Why?
Kearney: The injury bug is beginning to take its toll on the Trojan defense. They are extremely thin upfront, and stud linebacker Porter Gustin has been out all year. While the front seven has some stars in LB Cameron Smith and LB Uchenna Nwosu, they are too thin and are beginning to tire out earlier and earlier in each matchup. The lack of production from the Trojan offense has also left this Trojan defense out for majority of the games this season. Like Ed Orgeron said this year all we can do is "Hope and Pray”.
3. Sam Darnold has obviously not been the same as last season (10 INTs so far, just nine in 2016). What is it that is lacking in his play? Has his ankle injury been a factor?
Kearney: I don’t think any physical limitations such as his ankle are holding him back, it’s more of a mental aspect. Earlier in the season the offensive line and receivers really struggled, putting pressure on Darnold and as a result he’s forced throws all year. Now, both units have drastically improved compared to the beginning of the season, however Darnold continues to struggle. It looks like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders out there. The storyline this season has been his confidence issues too, which cannot be high coming off of the Notre Dame skills. Mentally, he needs the confidence and to believe he is one of the best QB’s in the country, while trusting his Oline and wide receivers and not trying to make the big play every snap.
4. Looking at the positives, Deontay Burnett is putting up ridiculous stats with 739 yards already this season. Do you think he'll be playing on Sundays next season? Why's he so effective? How about the rest of the WRs (Tyler Vaughs, Steven Mitchell, Tyler Petite)?
Kearney: I think Burnett can find a home as a solid slot receiver (like a Jamison Crowder) somewhere in the NFL. His hands are great, he runs precise routes and the guy just knows how to get open. You can’t teach that, he just finds a way every time. He is the guy to go to when the Trojan offense needs a clutch play. Tyler Vaughns has become the most explosive receiver in this unit. He has come into his own these last few weeks and is great in open space. Expect him to have an athletic catch or two in this game, whether it be a tip-toe sideline catch or a leaping grab over the middle of the field.
5. Cameron Smith looks like the best USC defensive weapon right now. Why is he so effective and who else should ASU fans look our for on defense? Will USC beat you up front or with its secondary?
Kearney: Cameron Smith is a stud. By far one of my favorite Trojans, not just because of his talent but because of his effort. He plays with such energy and fire while out there, I like to think it gives him that edge. He’s great in the run and an excellent pass rusher and underrated when it comes to coverage whether it be man or zone. He is the heart and soul to this Trojan defense. Uchenna Nwosu is an underrated OLB. He has emerged in his senior season and is having a great campaign. Him and Smith also have a crazy knack this season for getting athletic interceptions, look for that possibility in the game this weekend. Upfront is the best chance, pass rush is pretty good. This secondary just gets beat way too many times in man coverage.
6. I counted over 20 players dealing with injuries right now on USC. Has this been the biggest blame for the two losses? Has anyone on offense had to switch to defense or vice versa?
Kearney: It’s hard to picture this Trojan team without injuries, they’ve had them from the get-go. They would be significantly better, but they probably still would have lost both games. They have bigger fundamental issues to deal with this season, injuries are just the icing on the terribly tasting cake.
7. Score prediction?
Kearney: SC-21 ASU-17
Trojans escape with a win.
Conquest Chronicles asks House of Sparky
1. ASU is riding high after wins over Washington and Utah, what do you think is this teams ceiling? What are fans expectations for the rest of the season?
Destin: The Sun Devils have the potential to win out. If ASU can best USC, Colorado, UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona are all very winnable games, but can also be major road blocks with how unpredictable the Pac-12 is. Fans see ASU making a bowl game. I’d put them at 7-5 to end the season.
Madden: Though the Pac-12 is one of the most exciting conferences in the country, it’s also one of the most unstable. Because of this, Arizona State has a good chance to win out. There really aren’t any super dominant teams in the conference and ASU has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. ASU could definitely win the South with a victory over USC.
2. Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard have shared the carries at RB, combining for almost 700 yards. How key are they to this Devils offense? Do you think their contribution is underrated?
Destin: The Sun Devils rank 10th in the Pac-12 at rushing the football, but have had 200-plus yard games in two of their last three contests: Stanford and Utah. In the beginning of the season, I’d say their contribution was overrated. Now, it’s definitely starting to gel.
Madden: Josiah’s right, the run game has struggled this season but ASU is slowly turning it around. Everyone focuses on the defense, but solid production from Ballage and Richard against Washington and especially Utah were key in keeping time of possession, in which the Devils are top-20 in the country.
3. N’Keal Harry has really distinguished himself as the #1 target in the passing game, what makes him so good?
Destin: The guy is humongous. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds he looks like a linebacker or maybe even a defensive end. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier nicknamed him Secretariat. Manny Wilkins said 50-50 balls with Harry are more like 100 percent because he’s been able to use his body so well to make big plays.
Madden: It’s a combination of size — hard to find a corner that can limit someone with his height and weight — and natural talent. Everything he does is so smooth and Manny Wilkins often just sends passes with blind faith his way. No one has really stopped him this year, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Trojans come up with.
4. This ASU defense has really stepped up the last two weeks, only surrendering 17 total points. What has sparked that improvement? Who in particular has really improved their play?
Destin: Cornerback Chase Lucas has done a great job. He’s only started in three games this season, but in all three, the Sun Devils have held opposing offenses to under 200 passing yards. Lucas had his first career interception last week, and I predict he’ll have plenty more to come.
Madden: The secondary play has been phenomenal. Both Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams are first-year starters, but they’ve matured and improved a ton over the course of the season. Tight coverage on the back end has also helped the defensive line land more than a few coverage sacks.
5. Who are two other names Trojan fans should keep an eye out for during the game? (offense, defense)
Destin: Watch wide receiver Kyle Williams. He’s had a breakout season. After just 56 receiving yards in 2016, he’s collected 348 this season and it’s because of how explosive he is. He’s more quick than fast. On defense, watch DJ Calhoun. The senior linebacker hasn’t missed a tackle all season and leads ASU with 68 tackles.
Madden: On defense, watch out for Renell Wren. He is massive and has the versatility to play on both the interior and the edge and has been more than a suitable replacement for Koron Crump. On offense, receiver Jalen Harvey is crucial to this offense as he is constantly picking up key third downs. He’s Wilkins’ security blanket, but has also gone deep a few times here and there as his second option behind Harry.
6. Your prediction for the game.
Destin: ASU 27, USC 21
I think the injury bug has hurt USC far too much, creating poor defense and far too many turnovers.
Madden: ASU 23, USC 17
Arizona State is just flat out-playing USC in just about every category at the moment. The Trojans definitely have more talent, but ASU is on fire and has the home crowd behind them. Should make for an awesome contest.