By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com columnist
The Obvious: The No. 19 USC Trojans (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12 South) will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing home loss to Stanford last weekend with this Saturday evening’s clash with unranked Arizona State (2-1, 0-0 Pac-12 South) in Sun Devils Stadium (7:30 p.m. PT/MT).
The Not So Obvious: This will be the Trojans first road game of the season, and, boy, the Pac-12 season may just be on the line. The Trojans will either leave ASU 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12 or 2-2 and 0-2 in the Pac-12. The bigger immediate conference picture is that this game is a Pac-12 South Division game, which puts enormous pressure on the Trojans to come back to L.A. with a victory.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 6-point favorites to defeat Arizona State.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have lost three of its last four games against the Sun Devils, including last year’s shocker on an end-of-game “Hail Mary.” Tempe has traditionally been a rough outing for the Trojans, losing seven of its 12 losses in the series there. The Trojans hold an 18-12 edge in its series with Arizona State (not including Troy’s 2005 road victory later vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record 19-11).
The Obvious: The USC/Arizona State game will be televised on ESPN 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters for Saturday night’s game will be Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analysis), and Tom Luginbill (sidelines).
The Obvious: The Trojans radio broadcast (ESPNLA 710 AM) will feature Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans four-hour pre-game show will commence at 3:30 p.m. (PDT) with Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz, Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the season opener.
The Not So Obvious: The Arizona State broadcast can be heard on flagship station KTAR 620 AM with Tim Healey (play-by-play), Jeff Van Raaphorst (analyst) and Doug Franz (sidelines).
The Obvious: John Robinson is a Trojans former head football coach who is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Not So Obvious: Jolly John will be the analyst for the national radio broadcast of the USC/Arizona State game for Sports USA Radio Network. Robbie had 2-4 coaching record at the Sun Devils while coaching the Trojans.
The Obvious: Through three games, the Trojans offense is averaging 48.3 points per game while the Arizona State defense is allowing 23.0 points per outing.
The Not So Obvious: Through three games, the Arizona State offense is averaging 28.7 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 18.7 points per game.
The Obvious: The Tempe weather report for Saturday calls for mostly sunny with a high of 105 and a low of 75 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans can bounce back from the crushing loss to Stanford and rebound at Arizona State, a place that has not been to kind to the Men of Troy in the past. A major key will be whether ASU decides – on both sides of the ball – to try and recreate the Stanford physical dominance that helped eroded any chance of a Trojans victory last weekend. You can be sure that feisty ASU head coach Todd Graham will be looking for the same Stanford formula to abuse the Trojans defensive line. We’ll see whether Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson can do something to send a charge through his down linemen to compete physically with the Sun Devils offensive line. If the Trojans can’t get a sack or at least pressure ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici, it won’t be whether the Sun Devils signal caller has a big day, it will be how damaging will that day be.
The Trojans offense has to score and score and score to achieve victory. Whether they can do that against a team that Todd Graham says is potentially his best at ASU remains to be seen. Remember, Graham’s forte’ is defense. This will be another opportunity for Trojans Heisman hopeful quarterback Cody Kessler to show his stuff to a national audience. The truth, however, is that Kessler could be under intense pressure if the ASU offense catches fire and the game becomes an offensive explosion for both teams. We’ll also see whether Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian maintains his own poise if things get tight in the second half, which it figures to be. Sark will have all eyes focused on him to see what he can come up with and what adjustments he will make on both sides of the ball, especially with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox being under extreme heat by Trojans fans and the media.
Lastly, we’ll find out whether this Trojans team on the road for the first time can handle the pressure of a hostile Sun Devils Stadium crowd and whether the draining desert heat, even at night doesn’t also play a huge part of the outcome.
The Obvious: The Trojans head coach is Steve Sarkisian, who is now under intense scrutiny to not only win the Pac-12 South Division opener, but to make sure his defense doesn’t get abused for the second week in a row.
The Not So Obvious: Sarkisian and Trojans athletic director Pat Haden have been under intense scrutiny because of the Trojans loss to Stanford. A win on Saturday night would go a long way in silencing the mass media in Los Angeles. If the Trojans don’t win on Saturday night, it’s hard to imagine the heat getting turned up higher, but it will, no doubt.
The Obvious: The head coach of Arizona State is Todd Graham, now in his fourth season with the Sun Devils.
The Not So Obvious: The real intriguing coaching match-up is Graham, a defensive-minded coach, matching wits with Trojans offensive coordinator Clay Helton with an assist from head coach Steve Sarkisian. What is still unknown is how much input Sark has on Helton with the course of a game.
The Obvious: The ASU offense is led by senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, who last season in the Coliseum threw for a Trojans opponent record of five touchdowns and a Trojans opponent pass-rush yardage record of 505 yards.
The Not So Obvious: Besides Bercovici, the Sun Devils have potential difference makers on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Sun Devils also feature wide receiver D.J. Foster, who leads the team in pass catching and also is a threat running the ball. Foster has 4,184 career all-purpose yards, has a reception in the past 43 games, and is about to become just the fourth player in NCAA history with at least 2,000 career yards rushing and receiving. Running back Demario Richard is ASU’s leading runner (In the nation’s Top 20 all-purpose runner). Other offensive leaders include UCLA transfer WR Devin Lucien and multi-threat running back De’Chavon Hayes. The Sun Devil defense, Top 10 nationally (and best in the Pac-12) in pass defense and tackles for loss, features linebacker Christian Sam, 20th nationally in sacks, along with defensive back Jordan Simone and linebacker Viliami Moeakiola, both 19th nationally in tackles for loss.
The Obvious: ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici attended local Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High.
The Not So Obvious: One of his Taft teammates was Trojans starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods.
The Obvious: The Trojans currently have one player, tight end Cyrus Hobbi from Arizona (Saguaro High)..
The Not So Obvious: ASU has 37 players from California.
The Obvious: True freshman Cameron Smith has started the first three games for the Trojans at inside linebacker.
The Not So Obvious: Arizona State also features a Cameron Smith, who is a wide receiver.
The Obvious: And finally, Saturday will be nationwide Coach to Cure MD Weekend.
The Not So Obvious: Trojans and Sun Devils coaches will be wearing a Coach to Cure MD logo patches during Saturday night’s game.