It may be early in the season, but USC already has a statement to make against ASU.
The Trojans (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) have already dropped their first Pac-12 game of the year in a 10-7 slopfest at home against Washington State.
While losses to conference opponents are never good, Washington State is in the Pac-12’s North division, meaning that loss doesn’t affect USC’s ability to get to the Pac-12 championship game.
However, an early victory over ASU (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) would help jumpstart a run to the Pac-12 title game.
Redshirt sophomore running back Tre Madden, who leads the Trojans with 455 yards and two touchdowns, said USC is ready for Pac-12 South play to start.
“We feel every game is a must-win game,” Madden said. “We feel like we need to win this game to establish ourselves in the south.”
In order to establish themselves in the South division pecking order, USC will rely on a defense that ranks fourth nationally in total defense (230.5 yards/game). The unit will have its hands full trying to stop ASU’s offense that averages 469.3 yards per game, though.
Coach Lane Kiffin said ASU’s high-octane offense will challenge his team.
“They’re really up-tempo. … They have found a way over the past two years to run a ton of plays at a high tempo,” Kiffin said. “That’s going to be a big challenge for us, for our guys to play as well and also for our backups to go in and play (well), too.”
Another big challenge for the Trojans will be shutting down the Sun Devils’ breakout wide receiver, redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong, who through three games has racked up 330 yards and two touchdowns.
Kiffin said Strong is the best receiver the Trojans have played so far.
“This will be a matchup issue for us having a big guy like that,” Kiffin said of Strong. “We’re going to have to play really well with him, be very aggressive with him at the line of scrimmage and take him out of his game.”
While the Trojans’ defense has been stifling, their offense has been less dynamic. They’ve put up only 22.4 points per game, a number Madden thinks will improve come Saturday.
“We’re just focused on day-by-day improvement,” Madden said. “We’re going to put way more points up on the board on Saturday.”
The Sun Devils defense has already faced three teams with strong running attacks and haven’t fared too well, ranking No. 78 in the country in rush defense and allowing 174 yards per game.
Madden said he thinks the Trojans will be able to take advantage of ASU’s defense, and that winning will come down to four things.
“Minimal mistakes,” Madden said. “No turnovers and establishing a good ground game and getting points on the board.”
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