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October 13, 2006

ASU X&O Preview

As a special bonus to Tom Haire's Trojan game previews this year, we are thrilled to report that the USCFootball.com has not completely lost the services of X&O game preview guru Ted Venegas.

Each week, Ted will be providing his thoughts to us on the upcoming USC opponent, and those notes will be a part of each preview. This week: Arizona State.

In my opinion, this is a pivotal game for the Trojans. The Sun Devils are not playing good football right now. It would be one thing to struggle against teams like WSU and Washington, who appear to be on the rise.

It would be another to have to eke one out against a team that was destroyed by Cal and Oregon. Plus it's the last game before the bye week and the final road trip of the year. I think this team's confidence level is a little on the fragile side. They need something positive going into the break.

USC Offense vs. ASU Defense

The Sun Devils went through their usual early season progression. They looked impressive defensively against the early season cupcakes on their schedule. Then conference play started, and they were bludgeoned.

True, they did face the two top offenses in the conference in their last two games, but they got smoked to the tune of 409 and 574 yards in those games, and gave up almost half a hundred in each. After leading the nation in sacks after the first three weeks, they didn't collect any in the last two games. Their run defense went down the tubes.

ASU is going to play SC the same way that they did last year. They're going to bring a lot of blitzes. They want ot jam up the rushing lanes and intimidate the quarterback. They're going to play the corners off the ball to try to take the deep ball away. They buried the Trojan offense in the first half with that strategy, and they think they can do the same against an inexperienced group this year.

The problem for ASU is that they lack playmakers on defense, which has been a problem for them ever since Dirk Koetter took over. Other than Terrell Suggs and Dale Robinson, they have not been able to produce stand out defensive players. They brought in some transfers on the defense line, and they were hoping that would make the difference. It sure didn't against Cal and Oregon.

Both the Bears and the Ducks picked up the blitzes with ease, and I expect the Trojans to do the same with their short passing game. I'm more curious to see if the Trojans can run the ball effectively against the blitzes. While showing some signs of a running game against the Huskies, who have a solid run defense, they are still inconsistent. There are still too many rushes of no gain or worse. This is probably why you see the Trojans pass so much in the red zone.

Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith will be back in action, and that will help. But the Trojans need John David Booty to play better than he did last week. Besides trying to squeeze the ball into too many tight spots against the Huskies, he has not shown the ability to throw the touch pass yet this season. With all the blitzing he'll see from the Sun Devils, he might have the chance to throw some more touch passes.

USC Defense vs. ASU Offense

The Sun Devils running game, after being average or worse for years, has finally started to emerge. They are second in the conference in rush offense, and junior college transfer Ryan Torain has been outstanding. Keegan Herring provides a different look. Both players are averaging over six yards per carry, and Torain rushed for over 100 yards in the losses to Cal and Oregon. The Sun Devil running game could be a big problem for the Trojan defense if SC doesn't take care of ASU early.

It's a good thing the Sun Devils can run the ball, because their passing game has been terrible. Only the brutal passing games of Arizona and Stanford have been less efficient. Many ASU fans shrugged off the transfer of Sam Keller to Nebraska, but they sure could use him now.

Rudy Carpenter has been awful in Pac-10 play. After throwing four INTs against the Bears, he completed only six passes against the Ducks. There is some speculation that he has an injured throwing hand. ASU fans better hope that he does because maybe that would explain away his poor play.

He leads the conference in INTs with nine. In conference play, he is 22 of 55 for 210 yards, two TDs, and five INTs. That is beyond horrible. He does not have the arm to throw a lot of the deep balls, he has lost his confidence with the short ball, and he is not very mobile. The pass protection hasn't been great, but he tends to hold the ball too long. It doesn't help that he has a young receiver corps.

This could be a game where you see the Trojans cheat against the running game, which they don't do very often. I think we'll see a lot of blitzing in this game because of ASU's struggles to protect the passer, and because Carpenter looked rattled in both of his last two starts.

Final Analysis

The Trojans have struggled into October before. The Notre Dame game last year was the sixth game of the season. In 2004, the Cal game came fifth. In 2003, the ASU game that was the turning point of the season came fifth. In 2002, the WSU loss was fifth. Right around this time of year, the Trojan teams of the recent past under Pete Carroll have kicked it into gear.

Still, that doesn't mean that it will automatically happen this year, especially on offense. The Trojans are not the home run threat that they have been since 2002. They have to methodically move their way up the field.

Their running game has been solid but unspectacular. They have an efficient quarterback who is coming off a subpar game. Will this be the beginning of the transformation that we have so often seen in the Carroll era, or will this team, different as it is, have to fight and claw and scratch its way to the finish line, dropping a couple of games along the way?

Right now, ASU does not have the confidence that USC's last two opponents. have, and that's big. They have taken two straight shellackings, and have had to hear the home fans talk about how poor their coaching is, and about how they have no chance this weekend. WSU and Washington are on the way up, and ASU is on the way down.

The Trojan offense will get a bit of a respite this week. The Sun Devils are bad against the run and have the worst pass efficiency defense in the conferenec despite playing Northern Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. They might end up with a sack or two, but what they won't be able to do is keep Booty from having his best day as a Trojan. Whether the running game clicks big time or not, that will be enough.

Don't be surprised to see the Sun Devils have some success offensively, especially on the ground, as WSU and Washington did. However, ASU does not have the quarterback do get the job done.

Carpenter has been the worst quarterback in the league the past two weeks, and I don't think he's going to become all world after a bye week. Add in Dirk Koetter's horrndous record against Pac-10 games played in the state of California (0-10) and his horrendous record against ranked teams (2-16), I see this being a comfortable win for the Trojans.

USC-38, Arizona State-20


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