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Huge weekend: Arizona State hopes to salvage season with win at USC

I’m spending my Sunday watching college football!

Obviously, that may sound confusing but I’ll be traveling to Southern Cal and watching ASU all day Saturday so I’ll miss the games. Give me the third-greatest invention of all-time (the DVR), and I’ll be watching all these great games that I’ll miss.

Nationally, all eyes are on the SEC West this weekend. #6 at #12, #3 at #11, and #15 at #5. That’s an amazing schedule for the entire country. In the SEC West, that’s just a normal gameday.

Locally, all three teams in this state have huge road games against “ranked” opponents. Each game has a national stage feel to it, but each team has a different role on the stage. Arizona is the opening act against Oregon on Thursday night so we looked at them on Wednesday. Today we focus on ASU’s road game versus USC.

EXIT STAGE LEFT

There is only one way to explain away the loss to UCLA — beat USC. The loss was terrible. Nothing can be considered more demoralizing than an inability to perform a simple tackle. Every aspect of the program was embarrassed against UCLA, but make no mistake, this program is not an embarrassment as some band-wagon fans are trying to get you to believe. If ASU wins, the UCLA loss is just a bad day. A Southern Cal win starts a streak, hurts recruiting and begins a race to StubHub for ASU fans to sell their Notre Dame tickets.

Losing nine defensive starters is a killer for this defense. Atrocious tackling, however, was not expected. The goal of the year was to outscore the opponent in high-scoring games with the hope the defense would get things figured out as the season progressed. The Taylor Kelly injury probably derails any chance of ASU repeating as South Division champions because losing back-to-back divisional games against the two best teams in the division is the definition of elimination without the math to back it up. For ASU to pull off the upset, here’s what needs to happen.

1) The obvious is increase the tackles on first contact and eliminate the turnovers.

2) Challenge ASU’s defensive line to produce.

The D-line was average for the first six quarters of the year, earned an “A-” for the next six quarters and flunked out of football school against UCLA. Cody Kessler has been sacked 10 times already. USC struggles mightily in protection. When Kessler has time, he’s torched defenses. Kessler can’t be rattled but his affect on the game can be minimized.

ASU must get pressure while bringing four–or a max of five but, only on occasion–while using their LBs to take away the hot routes and killer screens Kessler is excellent at executing. It’s better to give up the potential for the deep ball in this game because the alternative of allowing Kessler time is guaranteed to produce a slow death. However, bringing six will play into his hands with quick slants. Make him complete passes deep down the field and outside the numbers.

3) Foster in the slot and Ballage in the backfield.

With Taylor Kelly at QB, DJ Foster belongs in the backfield. The threat of the Kelly keeper, keeps defenses honest allowing for just enough room to let Foster gash defenses. Without Kelly, not only is Bercovici not a threat to break off long runs, which makes it easy to key on Foster, but the risk of injury might be too high for ASU to even ask him to run.

The bigger back, Kalen Ballage, can create holes where none exist. If Foster is lined up opposite Jaelen Strong, it forces safety help to take away the fade to Strong. Let Foster take advantage of the lack of safety help with deep corner patterns. This should open up Ballage to pound the ball.

4) Slow down

It runs counter to everything Todd Graham and Mike Norvell believe in but the hurry-up is a way to hurry-up to a 1-2 conference record. The Arizona State defense is not good enough to withstand constant pressure from USC. The best thing for ASU’s defense is to be on the sideline and come out fresh. The limited benefit of a fast-paced offense will do little if it exposes the Devil defense. For one of the rare times for Todd Graham, time of possession is the only way to win.

Friday we’ll look at the grand finale with the Cardinals meeting Peyton Manning.