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ASU Football Opponent Primer: USC Trojans

Important matchup in the Pac-12 south

USC Spring Game Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

ASU’s 2021 Schedule

Sep. 2: vs. Southern Utah (Thu.)

Sep. 11: vs. UNLV

Sep. 18: @ BYU

Sep. 25: vs. Colorado

Oct. 2: @ UCLA

Oct. 8: vs. Stanford (Fri.)

Oct. 16: @ Utah

Oct. 30: vs. Washington State

Nov. 6: vs. USC

Nov. 13: @ Washington

Nov. 20: @ Oregon State

Nov. 27: vs. Arizona

USC’s 2020 Season

USC finished its six-game 2020 season with a 31-24 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. The Trojans opted out of playing in a bowl game, which left them with a 5-1 record from their conference-only schedule.

Of the Pac-12 schools that were able to play six games last season, the Trojans’ record was the most impressive. That is not to say the road to five wins was free from turbulence. USC had to scrap for the majority of those victories.

In their first game of the season against Arizona State, the Trojans appeared on their way to a second straight home loss to the Sun Devils. Down 27-14 with under three minutes to play, the Trojans scored a touchdown to make it 27-21, then recovered an onside kick that bounced off Sun Devil wide receiver Ricky Pearsall.

With 1:28 left, facing a fourth-and-9, they scored the winning touchdown on a pass from Kedon Slovis to wide receiver Drake London and stunned the Sun Devils, 28-27.

The next week, the Trojans again found themselves behind 30-27 late against Arizona, but escaped with victory after Vavae Malepeai rushed in for an 8-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left.

USC would cruise to victories against Washington State and Utah before completing yet another remarkable comeback against rival UCLA, outscoring the Bruins 20-3 in the fourth quarter en route to a 43-38 win in Pasadena.

Trojans easily could have wound up with a 2-3 record if a few plays go the other way, but there is a lot to say about the grit the team showed during the campaign. They nearly completed another double-digit fourth quarter comeback in the Pac-12 title game before a late Slovis interception shut down the rally.

This season, the Trojans again appear poised to compete for the Pac-12 title in what will be head coach Clay Helton’s 7th year.

Key Returners

The list has to begin with junior quarterback Kedon Slovis. He is the conference’s top Heisman contender after his breakout 2019 campaign as a freshman was backed up with a sophomore campaign where he averaged 320 yards passing per game and threw for 17 touchdowns.

Slovis’ arm strength has always been his best attribute, and he torched the Sun Devils the last time the two teams played in Tempe in 2019. His weakness is his susceptibility to throwing interceptions, as he was picked off seven times last season.

Junior wide receiver Drake London is another key returner. He was the team’s top receiving threat in 2020, catching 33 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior defensive end Nick Figueroa led the team in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (7) in 2020. He was All-Pac-12 honorable mention and signs point to him having an even better year in 2021.

Biggest Losses

The departure of Amon-Ra St. Brown to the NFL will leave big shoes to fill in the USC receiving corps. The team leader in receptions (41), he was taken in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions.

The Trojans also lost their second and third leading rushers as Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp both transferred. But Keontay Ingram has transferred in from Texas and rushed for 853 yards for the Longhorns in 2019. Safety Talanoa Hufanga, the leading tackler in 2020 is also gone.

Reason Why ASU Could Win

There are plenty of metrics that could indicate a Sun Devil victory. There is also this: Arizona State collapsed last year against the Trojans, the win probability from that game looks like a stock market crash. The Sun Devils will be out for revenge in 2021, especially guys like Pearsall.

Outside of the revenge factor, the Sun Devils have brought back a team loaded with talent. The secondary has looked not just impressive, but completely dominant during fall camp, and returns three of four starters from last season.

USC is also retooling its defensive line. That may or may not be a good thing, as quarterback Jaden Daniels and running backs DeaMonte Trayanum and Rachaad White combined for 271 yards rushing against the 2020 version of the USC defensive line.

If Arizona State can establish a lead like last season, their offense has the ability to control the game with their trio of running backs, Trayanum, White and sophomore Daniel Ngata.

The Sun Devils want to avoid what happened last year. If a late-game onside kick comes from USC this year, expect the most textbook hands team recovery you have ever seen.

Reason Why USC Could Win

Kedon Slovis. He is also the reason the team could lose the game as well. That is what happens when an offense is under the direction of Graham Harrell and his air raid system. Last year, Slovis threw 55 passes against the Sun Devils. Another year older and another year wiser in Harrell’s system, there is no reason to think Slovis can’t reach 55 attempts again this year.

This will also likely be the game that decides which team wins the Pac-12 South division. USC has owned Arizona State historically, and brings back many key players. The Trojans will be zeroed in on this game, as they do not have to play Oregon or Washington this season.

The battle between Slovis and the Sun Devil secondary will be the highlight of the night. Whichever side prevails will determine the outcome of the game, and probably the Pac-12 South.