ASU football faces last stand for Pac-12 South title at USC
Three consecutive losses have certainly awakened ASU's doubters. Fans are critical of the program as the current skid is reminiscent of 2011's late season collapse, but the Sun Devils (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) know there is still plenty to play for — even if the odds are slim.
The Sun Devils need to win out and receive a little help if they are to win the Pac-12 South.
“This thing isn't over yet and I know what being a Sun Devil is all about,” coach Todd Graham said. “We surely aren't going to quit and fold tent with three games left and still an opportunity to compete for a championship.”
If ASU is going to right the ship and keep any hope of a Pac-12 South championship alive, it needs to beat USC in Los Angeles for the first time since 1999. The No. 19 Trojans (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) are coming off back-to-back losses, but will pose a significant test for the ASU defense.
The Trojans scored 51 points last week and are averaging 44 points per game at the Los Angeles Memorial-Coliseum this season.
“They're very talented,” Graham said. “Obviously there's a lot of things to contend with. … You're going to have to mix things up and keep them off balance. The people who have had success against them have gotten takeaways.”
Like most offenses, USC's start with the quarterback, and USC senior Matt Barkley is one of the best in the country.
“We have to get after the quarterback and put some pressure on him,” junior safety Alden Darby said. “We have to confuse him on the back end. He is a very, very smart quarterback. We have to move a lot and get him thinking.”
Barkley is averaging 305 passing yards per game, which is a testament to his talents and his receiving corps.
USC sophomore Marqise Lee and junior Robert Woods each have 10 or more touchdowns, and the two combine for 16 catches per game this season.
“Marqise Lee is hands down the best receiver in the country,” Graham said. “He can catch the short screen pass, he can catch the vertical route, and he can take it to the house any time he puts his hands on the ball.”
Redshirt senior cornerback Deveron Carr echoes Graham's statements and knows the secondary is in for a challenge this week.
“That's probably the best receiving corps in the country,” Carr said. “You couldn't ask for a better receiving corps.”
Despite being known for their speed, Woods and Lee are both physical receivers and Carr feels it will be important for the Sun Devils' secondary to be physical against the duo.
No defense has been able to slow both Lee and Woods this season. Although the ASU defense has struggled in its past three games, the players believe they have the necessary talent and are ready to make a statement.
Fighting to keep minimal conference championship hopes alive against a storied program like USC should be enough to motivate any player. If the Sun Devils need a little more inspiration, they can get it from friends and family, as 46 ASU players were born in California.
“To go back to Southern California and play in the Coliseum means a lot,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Will Sutton said.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com