Past is prelude, but as Arizona State and USC enter this weekend’s matchup in Tempe, plenty of emotion will be on hand inside Sun Devil Stadium. In case you forgot, the Trojans will be keen on seeking retribution, particularly considering the Sun Devils’ improbable 38-34 “Jael Mary” victory in the literal final throws of last year’s contest in Los Angeles. Of the win, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham wasn’t bashful in admitting that the game was one of the most memorable of his coaching career.
“Pretty good,” Graham said with a chuckle when asked where the game ranks for him personally. “I don’t think it gets better than that is what I’d tell you. I just think the resolve, it showed a lot about the character of our guys. Collectively, it wasn’t just one play. It was guys that played a 104 snaps on defense and when we had to stop them, we stopped them.
“When you look at 104 plays, and I think it was 28 points or whatever it was, that’s pretty phenomenal. The effort that we gave…that’s one of the most special games and teams that will always be up there at the top for me.”
Setting that emotion aside, however, figures to be job one for Graham and company as Saturday rapidly approaches. For two teams who many believed would compete for a berth in the College Football Playoff this season, Saturday’s showdown also serves as an unofficial early season elimination game of sorts, as both sides look to avoid their second loss of the year. Last season’s miraculous win not withstanding, Arizona State quarterback Michael Bercovici noted that the annual tilt versus USC typically carries with it added import.
“I don’t think there’s anymore ‘umph’ to an SC rivalry than when you sign up to be a Sun Devil,” Bercovici said. “I think for anybody, especially southern California kids that commit to ASU, you know that game is automatically circled on your schedule.
“It’s exciting. We’ve done well against the Trojans in the past, but that doesn’t matter because it’s a completely different year. We’re opening conference play against one of the best teams in the country and we’re excited about that. We’re going to be self-motivated, not motivated by beating them recently. We’re going to be motivated by doing what we got to do for this team to win a football game Saturday night.”
Despite last week’s loss to Stanford, USC’s offense had little trouble moving the football up and down the field, as Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler continued his stellar play early on this season by completing 78.1 percent of his passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns versus the Cardinal.
“He’s really good. He’s a really good thrower — he can make all the throws — and they have very, very explosive running backs,” said Graham of Kessler. “This is no doubt the best running backs we’ll play I think all year long. Collectively, when you take the group of four and five guys that they rotate in, they’re pretty explosive. Their receiving corp is the same way. [Kessler] does a great job of managing the offense and just distributing the ball and he can make all the throws, so he’s a very good quarterback.”