Bercovici, Sun Devils get another shot at Trojans
Arizona State's Mike Bercovici played the game of his life in last year's stunning upset of Southern California.
He may not be who the No. 19 Trojans want to see after their defense was picked apart last weekend.
Bercovici looks to add to Southern California's woes in the Sun Devils' Pac-12 opener Saturday night in Tempe.
This game figures to be an entertaining one if it resembles Arizona State's 38-34 win last Oct. 4. The Sun Devils scored three touchdowns in the final 3:53, with Bercovici connecting with Jaelen Strong on a 46-yard score on a Hail Mary on the final play to cap an amazing comeback.
"I don't think it gets any better than that is what I'd tell you," coach Todd Graham said. "You know, I just think just the resolve. It showed a lot about the character of our guys, and collectively."
Bercovici is a Southern California native who threw for a career-high 510 yards and five scores that night. Arizona State rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final 2:43 for its second straight win in this series.
"I think for anybody, especially Southern California kids that commit to ASU, you know that game is automatically circled on your schedule," Bercovici said. "But it's exciting. I think we've done well against the Trojans in the past, but that doesn't matter because this is a completely different year."
Southern California (2-1, 0-1) tries to recover after dropping 13 spots in the rankings following a 41-31 loss at home to Stanford last Saturday. After yielding two touchdowns in two routs of overmatched Sun Belt opponents, the Trojans were shredded by the Cardinal for 474 yards behind senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, who wasn't pressured enough.
"We can't just continually keep calling blitzes to try to get home on the quarterback because when you do that, that opens up more passing lanes, right?" coach Steve Sarkisian said. "That's one less defender in pass coverage. And in turn, our containment issues are still there. We still have to improve on keeping the quarterback in the pocket when we're calling internal pressures."
The Trojans sacked Hogan three times and now will try to get to Bercovici, who has been dropped 11 times -- most in the Pac-12. Nine came in the season-opening 38-17 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 5 that knocked the Sun Devils out of the Top 25.
Arizona State (2-1) has scored 69 points in two lopsided wins since, with Bercovici throwing for 600 yards and six touchdowns.
"They've got a quarterback who's got a gunslinger mentality, he's going to stand back there and let it rip in Mike Bercovici so we're going to have to again, find ways to pressure the quarterback," Sarkisian said.
The Sun Devils could see Kalen Ballage make his season debut after the running back missed the first three games due to illness. Receiver Devin Lucien, a UCLA transfer, is doubtful after suffering a leg injury in last Friday's 34-10 rout of New Mexico.
The Trojans won't have to worry about Strong, a third-round Houston Texans draft pick. They'll be concerned with slowing down Demario Richard, who last week became the first FBS player with 100 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in a game since North Texas' Lance Dunbar in 2011.
USC's Cody Kessler, looking for his first win over Arizona State in three tries, is second in the nation in completion percentage at 78.7 and 14th with 922 passing yards. He was 25 of 32 for 272 yards last weekend.
"He 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," Graham said.
These teams were picked to finish atop the conference's South Division, which has four ranked teams.
"This is a really critical game very early in the season for us that we need to put our best foot forward to try to get the 'W,'" Sarkisian said.