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ASU Football: Dealing with USC’s athleticism

The Trojans are better than the record indicates.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans have been a thorn in ASU’s side for decades.

With few aberrations like the 2014 Jael Mary, the Trojans have easily won most of the meetings between the schools on the gridiron. Including the last three seasons, where the outcome of the game was decided before halftime.

A main reason for Arizona State’s struggles against USC has been lacking the talent necessary to beat a powerhouse program like the Trojans.

With the Sun Devils entering the contest losing four of their last five games, it’s not an ideal scenario to enter the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and take on a team perfect at home this season.

Offensive coordinator Rob Likens knows that USC posses a strong challenge for ASU, and that it’ll be difficult to matchup against the Trojans’ very athletic roster.

“All I see on film is really, really, really good athletes running around,” Likens said. “By far the most athletic team we face this year. It’s no secret they have the best players in the conference.”

Luckily for the Arizona State offense, some key injuries to USC’s defense presents a greater opportunity to move the ball with success.

USC has lost sack leader Porter Gustin for the season with a broken ankle, and leading tackler Cameron Smith is not expected to play Saturday due to a knee injury.

ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins has received strong criticism due to the lack of an explosive offense during conference play. Without having to deal with Gustin and Smith chasing him during Saturday’s game, the ASU passing game will look to move the ball down the field.

Likens spoke about how he reached out to Wilkins following the loss to Stanford to let him know that he genuinely cares for his quarterback and took some responsibility for the struggles against the Cardinal.

“What you learn in the game of football and the reason I love it so much is that you have so many times to respond to adversity that grows your character up,” said Likens about Wilkins’ struggles. “I just put my arm around him (and) told him I loved him, and he said the same thing to me. We are going to learn from it, and in no way does one play ever define a person.”

Another strong matchup could be Wilkins against the USC secondary. The Trojans have only two interceptions on the season and Wilkins has only thrown two picks as well.

If the Sun Devils are able to avoid turning the ball over Saturday afternoon, they should have a good chance to put a lot of points on the board.

This game is also crucial, because USC sits tied for first in the Pac-12 South standings and it would provide the Sun Devils a great opportunity to try and move out from the bottom of the division standings.

Until ASU is mathematically eliminated from contending for a conference championship, the goal for the season remains unchanged.

“You look at the record and you look at the schedule and we control our destiny still,” Likens said . “We win out, we’re in great shape.”