Game Preview: Another ranked upset could be in the cards for ASU football

The defense is still weary of USC's Sam Darnold, despite ASU's recent success

Another week as the consensus underdog, ASU football added the Utah Utes (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) to its list of upsets. After back-to-back conference wins, the Sun Devils (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) look to nab their fifth win of the year against the No. 21 USC Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12).

Todd Graham Oct. 22 press conference from Cole Conderman for The State Press on Vimeo.


Demario Kart 

Senior running back Demario Richard had a rough start to the season after an injury derailed his early offensive contribution. Nonetheless, Richard came back without missing a beat. 

Richard is coming off his best game this season with 93 rushing yards, a season-long 25-yard run and a touchdown.

He will have to match or outdo those totals as the Sun Devils take on a USC defensive front that has held teams to under 150 rushing yards four times this season. 

Despite a relatively stingy run defense, USC seemed lost when they took on the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1, 3-1) last weekend.

The Trojans allowed the Fighting Irish to have two separate 100-yard rushers and score five times on the ground. As USC travels to Tempe this week, the Trojans will likely continue their film study, and what they will find are a group of running backs who, at any given moment, could outrun, out hit or out hurdle them.

“I try to pick out the leader of the defense, whoever it is, who’s supposed to be their hardest hitter. That’s my objective for the week,” Richard said.

With momentum in full swing, expect Richard, a tailback who isn’t shy about delivering highlight hits, to be one of the key cogs in an offense on the verge of its eighth-straight game with a rushing touchdown this season.

The Cleveland Browns' next quarterback

At the start of the 2017-18 college football season USC looked like the crown jewel of the Pac-12. However, this team continues to give away the real crown jewel – the football.

USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold is one of the better gunslingers in the country, with phenomenal arm strength, yet he has become careless with the football as of late.

Darnold has thrown 10 interceptions (tied for third most in the FBS), and the team as a whole has 19 turnovers (most in the Pac-12). 

Even with repeated turnovers, junior safety Demonte King said "Darnold for sure," will be the best quarterback ASU has faced thus far.

Nonetheless, this offense is of high caliber with the likes of junior skill players Ronald Jones II and Deontay Burnett.

“Obviously, the best skill players that we’re going to play all year long,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “They’re very, very talented. They’re the most talented football team we’ll play … Washington and probably (USC) are probably the two most talented teams just physically.”

Jones, the team’s starting tailback, is precise with his cuts and has some of the best speed in the conference. Not to mention, Jones has the longest run (86) of any Pac-12 running back this season.

Lining up outside the numbers is Burnett, the team’s most productive wide out. He leads the team and the conference in receptions (57) and receiving yards (739). 

Noah Lau

Graphic published on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.


It's easy as I.N.T.

The rise of ASU football in recent weeks is thanks to none other than the defense, more specifically the secondary. 

A defensive backfield responsible for two interceptions in the first six games, just snatched four picks against Utah’s starting quarterback.

To go along with a new nose for the football is tenacious lockdown coverage by the cornerbacks and safeties. Over the last three games, the Sun Devils have allowed just one passing touchdown, and one quarterback to complete more than 60 percent of his passes. 

Despite recent success, redshirt junior safety Dasmond Tautalatasi isn’t banking on a win to come easy against the Trojans.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to go out there and expect the ball to be thrown to us,” Tautalatasi said. “We’re still going to play the defense coach (Phil) Bennett has us playing and with the knowledge that he’s prepared us with."

Saturday’s matchup of the week will likely be Darnold versus the secondary. A group that has not allowed a 200-yard passer in the last three games looks to stand firm in the presence of a quarterback who has not thrown for fewer than 260 yards in his last three starts. 

Predictions

The predictions below come from The State Press football reporters: Anthony Totri, Mark Harris and Joe Jacquez. The number next to the reporter is their record in predicting the winner each week.

Anthony Totri (2-5): ASU beats USC 37-28

Mark Harris (3-4): ASU beats USC 24-21

Joe Jacquez (3-4): ASU beats USC 35-17 

*All statistics were retrieved from espn.com, cfbstats.com and pac-12.com.



Reach the reporter at atotri@asu.edu or follow @Anthony_Totri on Twitter.   

Like State Press Sports on Facebook and follow @statepresssport on Twitter.    


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.