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O/NSO: Arizona State edition

The Obvious:  With their national title hopes extinguished last weekend at Notre Dame, the No 21 USC Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12 South) are now in a weekly must-win Pac-12 South Division situation, and the first of four consecutive South Divisional gauntlet of games begins on Saturday night (7:45 p.m. PT/10:45 p.m. ET) against a dangerously improved Arizona State Sun Devils team (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12 South) in Tempe, Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: A Pac-12 South Division loss to ASU would really put the Trojans behind the proverbial eight ball, so winning in the desert this weekend is almost imperative. If the Cardinal and Gold suffer a second consecutive loss – especially a divisional conference loss – there’s no question that the heat on Clay Helton (photo above) will be amped up considerably. Helton, about as nice and respected guy as you’ll find at the collegiate level, has said many times that college football is a production based business, and no place is that more evident of that than at the University of Southern California. It would be hard to imagine the Trojans completely missing out on both major goals – a national championship dream and a Pac-12 title shot – within weeks of each other, but it could happen.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 4-point favorite over the Sun Devils.

The Not So Obvious: All you need to know about Saturday night’s game with the Sun Devils is that last Saturday ASU dominated Utah, 30-10, in Salt Lake City, no less. Yes, the same Utes team that narrowly lost to the Trojans, 28-27, thanks to a missed 2-point conversion opportunity in the waning moments in Los Angeles. And don’t forget, the Sun Devils earlier shocked highly ranked Washington, 13-7, in Tempe. FYI, winning in Tempe has always been a major challenge for the Trojans, as seven of Troy’s 12 losses in the series have occurred at Sun Devils Stadium, which figures to be a wild sellout on Saturday night with ASU on a roll.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game featuring the Trojans and Sun Devils will be nationally televised on ESPN (7:45 p.m. PT/ 10:45 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters for Saturday night’s game will be Beth Mowins (play-by-play), Anthony Becht and Rocky Boiman (analysts).

The Obvious: Because of a Lakers’ broadcast conflict, Saturday night’s USC game radio broadcast from Sun Devils Stadium will air live (7:45 p.m. PT) on AM870 KRLA and AM830 KLAA with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans’ pregame show (3:30 p.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, Dennis Thurman, Rachel Frain, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz.

The Not So Obvious: The ASU broadcast can be heard on flagship station KTAR (620AM/92.3 FM) with Tim Healey (play-by-play), Jeff Van Raaphorst (analyst), and Derek Hagan (sidelines). There will also be a national broadcast on Sports USA with Wayne Randazzo (play-by-play) and former Trojans Hall of Fame football coach John Robinson (analyst).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channel 962) and the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Tempe weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 90 degrees, a low of 63 degrees, 16 percent humidity, and 0 precipitation.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can rebound from last Saturday’s embarrassment at Notre Dame. From this point on, it’s all hands on deck, as Helton’s club can ill-afford a Pac-12 South Division loss. Again, we’ll see whether ASU follows a familiar pattern of opponents by trying to out-physical the Trojans… We’ll find out whether the Trojans’ offense can come alive and not repeat the mistakes, fumbles, and miscues they have exhibited through much of the season, and offensive coordinator Tee Martin’s play calling will again be a focal point for Trojan fans. For Trojans’ quarterback Sam Darnold, it should be interesting to see how No. 14 reacts from the five sacks he took at Notre Dame, which also included a fumble and an interception. The Trojans desperately need Darnold to bring back the magic. Confronting an aggressive ASU defense, we’ll find out whether there’s any gas left in the tank of the Trojans’ beleaguered offensive line, a line that has come under intense scrutiny for not playing physical football. The Trojans’ rushing attack was almost non-existent against Notre Dame, and it will be imperative that the Cardinal and Gold mount some sort of rushing attack to offset the many ASU defensive fronts and blitzes. We’ll see whether the O-line can protect Darnold and open some rushing lanes for tailback Ronald Jones ll, something they couldn’t do against Notre Dame… ASU will also present the Trojans with some manly linebackers in junior Christian Sam and senior D.J. Calhoun.

Obviously, all eyes will have scrutiny on the Trojans’ defensive front and the defense in general. After getting run over by the Irish, things didn’t get any better this week when star defender Christian Rector, who leads the Pac-12 in sacks, left practice this week with a broken hand, which required surgery. When it rains, it pours and right now it’s really pouring on this USC team, considering the Trojans have had 12 starters overall miss at least one game. Perhaps some good news this weekend, impact outside linebacker Porter Gustin, who was replaced by Rector after Gustin sustained multiple injuries in Week 3, may actually see limited action on Saturday. We’ll see whether ASU’s offense behind talented quarterback Manny Wilkins, who is in the national Top 20 in completion percentage and completions, causes all sorts of problems for Clancy Pendergast’s defense. However, Wilkins is not noted as a running quarterback. We’ll see whether NFL potential ASU senior running backs Kalen Ballage (6-3, 230/Peyton, Col.) and Demario Richard (5-10, 219/ Palmdale, Ca.) pound away or will head coach Todd Graham choose to attack a weakened USC secondary, which will be missing starting corner Iman Marshall (knee)? ASU has a standout receiver in N’Keal Harry, who is 12th in the nation in receptions. We’ll find out whether the Trojans’ secondary can contain the ASU passing attack…FYI, ASU is also the least penalized team in the country (3.1, first in the Pac-12)… And, of course, with a game of this importance, field goal kicking could be the decider. We’ll see who wins the battle of true freshmen placekickers. We’ll find out whether the Trojans’ Chase McGrath (8-of-10) can make a difference over ASU’s Brandon Ruiz (11-of-14).

The Obvious: The 2017 Trojans’ offense averages 31.88 points per game while the ASU defense is allowing 28.43 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2017 ASU offense averages 29.43 points per game while the Trojans’ defense is allowing 26.88 points per game.

The Obvious: ASU head coach Todd Graham, who was under fire early in the season, is now in his 6th season as the head coach of the Sun Devils.

The Not So Obvious: Assessing the Trojans’ Sam Darnold and the offense, Graham said, “One, I think he’s tough. I think he is very smart. His arm talent is phenomenal. He’s strong and he’s hard to bring down. He’s a guy that you got to have a really solid plan for because he can hurt you. He extends plays and can really really damage you. So, you’ve got to have a plan for that. The thing about USC is they obviously have the best skill players that we’re going to play all year long. They’re the most physically talented football team we’re going to play in the same lines as a Washington. Washington and USC are probably the most two talented teams. He’s got a really great running back and great receivers and that’s the strength of their team, their offense.”

The Obvious: Trojans head coach Clay Helton understands that his offense is coming under a great deal of scrutiny, especially after coming off the stunning loss to Notre Dame, which Helton’s offense could score only 14 points while the defense gave up 49 points to the Irish.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding concern for the offense, Helton said, We’ve been doing the same things, guys, basically since we started. It’s the same plays. It’s the same plays that were being run by Matt Leinart – are still run today. It’s been the same system, and we’ve been really good at it. The difference is you’ve got some younger kids that are growing up, and I look at our wide out corps right now, and how they’re excelling I’ve thought over the last couple of weeks. They’re really coming on. We’re trying to help our offensive line out a little bit with some younger kids that are having to play. But it’s not like we’re making up new plays right now. The system has remained the same, and it’s been successful. As we get healthy, and as our youth grows up, it will be back at full force.”

The Obvious: The ASU quarterback is junior Manny Wilkins (6-3, 200).

The Not So Obvious: Wilkins, a native of Novato, California (San Marin High), has some impressive passing numbers (156 of 234, 66.7%, 1,837 yds., 8 TDs, and 3 int.), but his rushing totals are modest at best (72 tcb., 60 yds., 0.8 avg., and 3 TDs).

The Obvious: The USC/ASU series began in 1978.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead the series 20-12.

The Obvious: USC College Football Hall of Fame coach John Robinson will be the analyst for the Sports USA’s national radio broadcast.

The Not So Obvious: Robinson won 104 games during his USC career, but the Sun Devils were his nemesis, as he was just 2-4 all-time against ASU and never won in Tempe in four efforts.

The Obvious: The Trojans have three players – OT Austin Jackson (Phoenix North Canyon, OLB Connor Murphy (Phoenix Brophy Prep), and S Isaiah Pola-Mao (Phoenix Mountain Pointe) from the state of Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: ASU has 29 players on its roster from California.

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans can make major headway in the Pac-12 South Division race with a win over the Sun Devils on Saturday night.

The Not So Obvious: A loss to the Sun Devils will bring out all the historical demons for past USC coaches that have lost in Tempe. Or maybe you have forgotten Lane Kiffin’s waterloo on the LAX tarmac after being crushed in Sun Devils Stadium 62-41?

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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