The last time ASU took the field against USC at Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 24, 2011, a bizarre turn of events altered the game and helped the Sun Devils win 43-22, snapping an 11-game home losing streak against the Trojans.
Senior tight end Chris Coyle, who started that game two years ago, remembers it like it happened yesterday.
“There was such a great energy in the stadium,” Coyle said. “I remember when the monsoon blew through. There was trash and dust flying around. The crowd was going nuts.”
Almost everything about the two teams will be different on Saturday.
Only a handful of players and coaches who were in the game two years ago are still on their respective rosters. A real storm probably won’t interfere with the game this time, but the Sun Devils (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) are riding the hype of their “Maroon Monsoon” in hopes of beating the Trojans (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12).
Despite its 3-1 record, USC has had an uncharacteristic start to the season. The Trojans scored more than 30 points in wins over Hawaii and Boston College but were limited to just 10 and 17 points to Washington State and Utah State, respectively.
ASU is actually the favorite to win this game, as most Las Vegas sports books have listed the Sun Devils as a six-point favorite over the Trojans.
Knowing the program’s pedigree, ASU coach Todd Graham isn’t counting the Trojans out.
“Offensively, obviously they’ve got big time talent, big time playmakers, their running backs, wide receivers — they’re as good as you can play against,” Graham said. “They’re a good team. We have to get prepared and get hard at work and get our guys ready.”
This week, being fully prepared will actually be a challenge for the Sun Devils.
Graham thought ASU was ready to take on No. 5 Stanford, but the Sun Devils fell to the Cardinal 42-28 on the road. ASU had a plethora of mistakes that put the game out of reach, prompting Graham to accept full responsibility for poor coaching.
Fortunately for Graham, the defensive game plan for ASU is no different from the past two games against Stanford and Wisconsin — stopping the run.
“The thing you have to do with (USC), first and foremost, is you have to stop the running game,” Graham said. “They’re averaging 176 yards a game rushing, so that has to be our No. 1 focus. Then, obviously, the big play. They have big play capabilities. They’ve had two games. They’ve scored over 30 points, and then the other two games they struggled a little bit to score points, but a lot of near misses in those games that could’ve been big plays. We have to stop the run first.”
The Sun Devils hope to improve their running game in time for Saturday’s game. ASU currently ranks 107th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 108, and it faces another physical front-seven headlined by USC redshirt junior linebacker Dion Bailey.
The Sun Devils must balance their aerial attack with their ground game and combine both with their quick tempo in order to open up opportunities through the Trojans defense.
“We have to start out fast, because they have a lot of playmakers,” Coyle said. “We have to match (their) intensity right off the bat. Once we do that, it slows them down, and we just have to build on that from there.”
Last week’s loss to Stanford cued familiar whispers of whether this would be another year of false expectations for ASU. With ASU coming off its first tumble of the season and USC off to a displeasing start, both teams are in a must-win situation in their first Pac-12 South clash.
This game has a high chance of changing the course of both of these teams’ seasons, and only one can get the benefit of it on Saturday night.
“You go win this one, and everybody loves you again,” Graham said.
- ASU sophomore nose tackle Jaxon Hood (leg) missed Tuesday’s practice and is doubtful to play. Freshman safety Marcus Ball will likely miss his fourth game from a shoulder injury he suffered back in fall camp.
- USC sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler hurt his throwing hand and junior wide receiver Marqise Lee hurt his ankle against Utah State, but The Los Angeles Times reported both should be fine for Saturday.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion