Watch live: Funeral service held for Tyre Nichols in Memphis
ASU

Scouting report: Arizona State football faces a third ranked foe in USC

Michelle Gardner
Arizona Republic

The Arizona State Sun Devils (1-3, 0-1) hit the road for the first time in Pac-12 play, when they travel to Los Angeles for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against No. 6 USC (4-0, 2-0).

The game will air on ESPN.

It will be the third game in a four-game stretch in which ASU is facing a ranked foe and comes a week after the Sun Devils dropped their conference opener to Utah 34-13.

Interim coach Shaun Aguano knows the caliber of opponent his team will be facing.

“They’re a very athletic team. But how do we match up? I believe that we can take and exploit the athleticism because sometimes athleticism leads to an unfoundational play. And so we need to make sure that we take a part of making sure that our details are done and taken care of, and we play good, solid, foundational football," he said. "Then we'll see how that goes. But they’re athletic, every team we face is going to be athletic in the Pac-12.”

USC leads the series 24-14 which includes a 28-27 win in 2020, the last time the teams played in Los Angeles. The Sun Devils won last season's meeting in Tempe, 31-16.

3 things to look for

1.  Can the ASU offensive line protect? The offensive line was an area of concern before the season started with three starters having departed. The Sun Devils landed some reinforcements from the transfer portal but the unit has not quite come together yet as evidenced by the nine sacks already allowed. Five of those came last week and were a big reason ASU was playing from behind the chains all night. The play up front was a big reason QB Emory Jones took a couple of major hits, something that ASU is going to have to eliminate to have any modicum of success.

2. Can the Sun Devils get off to a better start? In the three losses, the common denominator has been a poor start. Last week ASU trailed Utah 14-0 after a quarter and 24-6 at the half. The previous week the Sun Devils faced a deficit against Eastern Michigan to the tune of 10-0 after 15 minutes and 24-14 at the half. And on the road at Oklahoma State, it was 17-3 Cowboys at the half. Getting behind multiple scores changes the playbook considerably and ASU hasn't proven it can throw the ball with any consistency so it can not afford another slow start.

3. Third down conversions on both sides of the ball: The Sun Devils have converted only 13 of 46 third down tries (28.3%) which ranks them 123rd of 131 schools, with the only Power 5 school faring worse being Colorado (23.6%). Aguano emphasized the importance here because the best way to keep the potent USC offense off the field is to hang on to the ball yourself. Defensively ASU is a bit better, ranking 97th, allowing opponents 41.7%. That's 10th among Pac-12 teams with Colorado (55.3) and Oregon (54.0) being the teams less successful.

Game recap: 5 Takeaways from Arizona State's Pac-12 opening loss to Utah

About USC

Southern California coach Lincoln Riley applauds during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Oregon State on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Corvallis, Ore. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)

USC has won 37 Pac-12 titles, 20 more than second-place Washington and UCLA but it has been a bit of a drought for the Trojans who last won in 2017. The Trojans had an uncharacteristic down year in 2021, going just 4-8. That resulted in a coaching change with Clay Helton let go after a home loss to Stanford in the second game of the season. He was replaced by DB coach Donte Williams. There has been an overhaul of the roster with USC poaching top players from other Pac-12 rivals. Lincoln Riley came over from Oklahoma to take the coaching reigns bringing QB Caleb Williams along with him. Other key transfers - WR Jordan Addison (Pitt), RB Travis Dye (Oregon), LB Eric Gentry (ASU),  CB Mekhi Blackmon (Colorado), WR Mario Williams (Oklahoma)  and LB Shane Lee (Alabama). Gentry is the team's leading tackler with 32 to go with an interception, two breakups and two hurries.

Star Power

ASU defender Nesta Jade Silvera (4) drags down Utah's Jaylon Glover (1) at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

Nesta Jade Silvera, Gr., DL, Arizona State: The 6-foot-2, 315-pounder has been a starter at nose tackle after transferring from the University of Miami. On the season he has 25 tackles, a forced fumble, a breakup and a hurry. Silvera is coming off a performance against Utah in which he was credited with 12 tackles, which is a lofty single-game total for an interior lineman.

Southern California wide receiver Jordan Addison, right, runs the ball as Fresno State linebacker Raymond Scott attempts a tackle during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Jordan Addison, So., WR, USC: The 6-foot, 175-pounder has 21 catches for 337 yards and six touchdowns in four games. Last week he caught a 21-yard scoring pass with 1:13 that provided the winning score in a 17-14 win over Oregon State. In 2021 Addison won the Biletnikoff Award that goes annually to the nation's top receiver. He did so at Pitt where he caught 160 passes for 2.259 yards (14.1 avg) with 21 touchdowns in his two-year career. He also had 75 carries for 114 yards (7.1 avg)  and 14 punt returns for 200 yards (14.3 avg).

Read more: ASU football focusing on family culture with tough road ahead

Injury report

Arizona State: DE Michael Matus (knee), TE Jacob Newell (leg) and OL Joey Ramos (ankle), WR Zeke Freeman (foot) are out for the season. DT Omarr Norman-Lott is out. He was injured in the first quarter of the Eastern Michigan game. CB Ro Torrence, CB Ed Woods, and S Alijah Gammage did not play last week. DB-KR D.J Taylor (ankle) was injured in the Utah game but has practiced.

USC: DE Romello Height (shoulder) is out for the season.TE Jude Wolfe (foot), backup QB Mo Hasan (foot) are also out. DB Domani Jackson (knee), DB Joshua Jackson, LB Chris Thompson, OL Jason Rodriguez and K Garth White are all questionable.

Trending

6 — Number of consecutive games in which ASU has at least one interception. It has five in four games this season, two of those by Kyle Soelle and one each by Timarcus Davis, Kejuan Markham and Chris Edmonds.

20 — Number of tackles current ASU linebackers coach Chris Claiborne had as a player for USC against ASU in 1996. (He had 8 solos, 12 assists).

21 — Longest active streak of career starts and it is held by center Ben Scott. Fellow lineman LaDarius Henderson is second at 17 games.

51 — Number of tackles for senior LB Kyle Soelle. His 12.8 per game ranks second among all FBS players. He had 18 in one game, tied for the second-most by an FBS player in a single game this season. His 46 tackles over this most recent three-game span are the most for an ASU player in a three-game span since at least 2000, when Adam Archuleta posted 43 over three games.

69 — Points off turnovers this season for USC (11 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries).

133 — Yards for USC RB Travis Dye in last week's 17-14 win over Oregon State. He now has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games (102 yards versus Fresno State on Sept. 17 and 105 yards versus Stanford on Sept. 10).

More for subscribers: ASU Report Card: Offense struggles mightily in Utah loss

Bottom Line

This is a game USC is heavily favored to win, particularly with the ASU program going through adversity which resulted in a coaching change two weeks ago. The Trojans are in the hunt for a CFP berth, although it is early so the Trojans have everything on the line. Right now ASU might just have to settle for a moral victory. Even playing USC close would be a step in the right direction and a real confidence boost.

Related: ASU coach speculation swirls around Pac-12 coordinator

Prediction

USC 38, ASU 21: The Trojans will stay among the ranks of the unbeaten and keep their Pac-12 title and CFP hopes very much intact.

Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.