ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

ASU-USC preview: Sun Devils quarterback Drew Pyne to start vs. No. 5 Trojans

Sep 22, 2023, 9:06 AM | Updated: 9:37 am

ASU QB Drew Pyne (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

ASU QB Drew Pyne (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

The Arizona State Sun Devils enter Saturday against No. 5 USC as major underdogs in the Pac-12 opener for 2023.

Quarterback play has been a major question mark as ASU’s top three players on the depth chart have battled injury throughout the first three weeks. Jaden Rashada and Trenton Bourguet remain sidelined, but Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne will start under center, head coach Kenny Dillingham confirmed Friday.

“He has done a really good job prepping this week,” Dillingham told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta.

“He played a lot of games at Notre Dame and won a lot of games there. This will be his first start coming off his own injuries. … He is extremely dialed in to what we are trying to accomplish this week from a schematics standpoint, he understands the looks he is going to receive. Now, it’s just about going out and executing.”

Although, Pyne is no stranger to head coach Lincoln Riley and USC’s scheme. Notre Dame played the Trojans in Week 11 of the 2022 season, a game in which Pyne went 23-for-26 (88.5%) for 318 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss, far and away his best game for the Fighting Irish last season.

But the problem is that the Sun Devils’ offense has taken major hits all around, but especially on the offensive line.

The team has failed to score in its last six quarters while struggling to run the ball and protect the QB and will be playing a USC team that is aggressive on defense and can do virtually anything on offense.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams is the head of the dragon on an offense that averages 59.3 points and 580.7 yards per game as a whole.

The likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft has amassed 875 passing yards on 55-of-70 passing (78.6%) for 12 touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 66 yards on 12 carries for a score.

Williams has wowed with his ability to not only extend plays out of the pocket but find receivers downfield while throwing out of awkward stances and arm angles.

But the juggernaut offense does not stop at quarterback as the Trojans have four players with 10 or more rushes that are averaging at least 5.1 yards per carry, including Williams. The team also has six receivers with over 100 yards with all of them averaging at least 11.1 yards per catch.

“For me, I always want to play the best,” Dillingham said. “If you go to the gym and want to play pickup 1-on-1 and there are three people there, you pick the worst player because you want to score the most points on or win the most games, that is cowardly.

“I want to pick the person I should barely ever beat and go make that person play me 15 times, eventually scratching his eyes out and win. We want to play the best in the country and do whatever we can to win the football game, plain and simple. I will never be the person that wants the easy way out, I want the hard way.”

Dillingham will get his wish as USC marks the start of a stretch of playing seven currently ranked teams in eight games. This will be the last ASU-USC matchup of the Pac-12 era.

Keys to the game

The first glaring fix for the Sun Devils will be to limit the turnovers. ASU turned the ball over eight times against Fresno State, a mark that is extremely difficult to overcome regardless of who the team plays.

USC has recovered three fumbles and one interception through three games, adding eight sacks. Abolishing turnovers will give an already limited offense that much more of level playing field at home.

The Sun Devils must establish an effective run game to limit Williams and USC’s time of possession on the field, an area of play which severely hurt ASU in the loss against Oklahoma State.

Defensively, the Sun Devils will need to keep constant pressure in Williams’ face to force mistakes and errors, something he has not shown to be privy to in his college career so far.

ASU has yet to snag an interception or recover a fumble through three games, but has sacked the QB nine times.

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