No. 1 USC's visit to Tempe shapes up as a shootout
Posted: Friday September 30, 2005 12:35PM; Updated: Friday September 30, 2005 5:30PM
You want offense? There will be plenty on display in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday. USC is averaging 615.6 yards and 59.3 points per game; Arizona State isn't far behind with 591.8 and 47. The Trojans feature Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush; the Sun Devils counter with Sam Keller, the nation's leading passer, and phenomenal wideout Derek Hagan. It will be a shootout in the wild wild west and the defense that gets stops -- or the offense that has the ball last -- will win.
(1) USC at (14) ASU
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Sun Devil Stadium (71,706)
Sam Keller points the way for a Sun Devils offense that is averaging 47 points a game.
John W. McDonough/SI
The Trojans showed tremendous poise in erasing a 13-0 first-half deficit at Oregon last Saturday and scoring 45 unanswered points. But USC can't afford to fall far behind against Arizona State. The Trojans need to come out firing early, and they will. With Arizona State gearing up to stop Bush, the Trojans need big games out of running back LenDale White and wideouts Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Even more important, USC's defense must step up. The Oregon game showed that the Trojans were susceptible to the pass. The Sun Devils are much more dangerous than the Ducks.
USC has been decimated by injuries in the secondary and was forced to play a lot of nickel coverage. Expect the Trojans to use the same strategy Saturday. And with constant pressure on the corners, strong safety Darnell Bing has to help out on Hagan and make plays.
ASU's Keller has had an unbelievable start to his career, throwing for 1,813 yards and 19 touchdowns in five starts. He also hasn't thrown an interception in 124 pass attempts. Keller has one of the most explosive receivers in the nation in Hagan (107.8 yards per game, five TDs), who will have to have a big game for the Sun Devils to win. But the X-factor on offense is explosive true freshman running back Keegan Herring (106.2 yards per game, four TDs), who torched Northwestern for 197 yards earlier this season. If he is able to run effectively, the offense will open up.
Arizona State can score, but can it stop USC? Not many teams have over the past three seasons. The Sun Devils have to get pressure on Leinart and shore up the secondary. ASU doesn't have a lot of playmakers on D, but middle linebacker Dale Robinson (36 tackles, 7.5 for loss) can be disruptive.
USC has won 25 consecutive games, including 11 on the road, for a reason. The Trojans are head and shoulders above the rest of the nation so Arizona State is going to have to play a perfect game -- and hope the Trojans have an off day -- to beat them. I don't see it happening. Sure, USC's defense is a bit vulnerable, but the Trojans have more than enough offensive firepower to make up for it.
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