Trojans wary of ASU despite win streak

After scraping past Minnesota and playing a close game against

Utah, Southern Cal is facing its biggest test of the season this

weekend – against a team it has beaten 11 straight times.

Hitting the road for the first time this season, the 23rd-ranked

Trojans head into the desert Saturday night to face Arizona State

in a game between the two favorites to win the Pac-12 South. The

Sun Devils haven’t beaten USC since 1999 and have lost five

straight in Tempe, but their potent passing game and

smash-you-in-the-mouth defense certainly has the Trojans’ attention

this time.

”It’s going to be very competitive and they’re going to be

ready to play,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ”They’re a great team

and they’re really great when they play at home, so we’re going to

have to go in there with a lot of young guys and stay

focused.”

USC (3-0, 1-0) had its best offensive game of the season last

week against Syracuse, piling up 501 total yards as maturing junior

quarterback Matt Barkley passed for 324 yards and a school

record-tying five touchdowns to five different receivers in the

38-17 win.

Doing it at home against a school more known for its basketball

program is one thing. Doing it against an athletic, aggressive

defense on the road will be an entirely different challenge,

particularly for such a young team.

Still hampered by NCAA sanctions that have limited scholarships,

the Trojans have a depth chart loaded with underclassmen and

inexperienced players. They handled the first three games at home

fairly well, but will be facing not only a hostile environment at

Arizona State, but players who are known to be hostile

themselves.

Led by feisty and furious linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Sun

Devils have developed a reputation as being a bit nasty, of – at

least in the eyes of some opponents – taking things a little too

far after the whistle. The Trojans certainly fall on the

watch-your-back-against-them side and have even prepared for some

of the extracurricular stuff in practice.

”Our service guys were popping guys right and left after the

whistle, hitting them, hitting their helmets, just to kind of

prepare for that,” Barkley said. ”We’ve given our guys heads-up

about that type of behavior, and we won’t let it affect us.”

Arizona State (2-1) might have some extra motivation, too.

Back in The Associated Press poll last week for the first time

since 2007, the Sun Devils followed it up by floundering at

Illinois.

Able to fight past numerous mistakes to beat Missouri and enter

the poll at No. 22 the week before, Arizona State couldn’t do it

again in an error-filled road loss to the Illini last Saturday.

Hurt by penalties and finding no answer for Illinois’ blitzing

defense, the Sun Devils were humbled 17-14 after being plagued by

penalties, missed opportunities inside the red zone, three

turnovers and six sacks of quarterback Brock Osweiler. A little

embarrassed by their performance, they’re hoping to show it was an

anomaly by playing better against USC.

”The Illinois game, and I’ve looked at it three times now,

there were just some goofy things that happened that wouldn’t

normally happen,” Osweiler said. ”We’ve broken it down as a team

and looked at those mistakes we made, and I can’t go out and

guarantee that those will never happen again, but I have a pretty

strong gut feeling that we’re going to take care of those mistakes

and clean them up.”

They’ll need to against the Trojans.

Despite not being eligible for the postseason and the limits on

the roster, USC is among the most talented teams in the

country.

Barkley isn’t making some of the same mistakes that plagued his

first two seasons, throwing for 892 yards and nine touchdowns with

one interception. He plays behind one of the nation’s best

offensive linemen in Matt Kalil and sophomore receiver Robert Woods

leads the country in receptions with 33 for 361 yards and four

touchdowns.

USC’s defense isn’t too shabby, either, filled with fast,

athletic players who converge on the ball quickly.

The Trojans are, in other words, a lot like the teams that have

had Arizona State’s number for the last decade.

”I don’t see much difference in the USC this year than the

other four years that we’ve played them,” Arizona State coach

Dennis Erickson said.

He and the Sun Devils hope at least the outcome will be a little

different this time.