October 10, 2008

USC preview

For the first time in more than three years, the Arizona State football team may have a new signal caller on Saturday.

Quarterback Rudy Carpenter suffered what is essentially a sprained ankle in last week's loss to Cal and although he practiced on Thursday, Coach Dennis Erickson said he will be a game-time decision.

"I'd be surprised if [Carpenter] could play but I'm not going to rule it out," Erickson said Thursday.

"I can't tell you anything more [about who will start] because I don't know anything. I wish I did. I wish I could tell you but I don't have an answer for you."

But Carpenter wants to play -- he always does -- and in his mind he'll be ready to go Saturday.

"I [told Erickson I could play] on Monday," Carpenter said. "I did it on Wednesday. I did it [Thursday]. I made him jog with me [Thursday] at practice.

"I personally always feel like I can play no matter what happens. Obviously I'm not the best judge of that because of just my character and I want to play. That's why Coach E will make the decision for what's best for the football team and also what's best for me personally."

If Carpenter doesn't play, Danny Sullivan will take over the starting role.

Sullivan took snaps with the first team all week and has looked very strong.

The junior was accurate, he has a big arm and he made good decisions with the football.

But practice isn't the same as a game.

Games are much faster than practice. Instead of about 20 people in attendance, there are more than 70,000 fans out there on Saturdays. In practice if you make a bad throw it's not a big deal, you get the ball right back. On Saturday you just have to try to block it out and move on.

Those are the factors that will be facing Sullivan if he starts this weekend.

"It's kind of hard to tell [what kind of quarterback Sullivan is]," Erickson said. "A lot of times you're one in practice and the other in a game."

Sullivan has not played any meaningful minutes in his career. As a Sun Devil, Sullivan has completed 26 of his 52 pass attempts for 257 yards to go along with two touchdowns and one interception.

But despite those numbers, Sullivan has support from the whole team, especially the man who he could potentially replace.

"Danny's worked hard and he's practiced hard and he's ready if the opportunity comes," Carpenter said. "I just told him to stay confident and be relaxed and trust and believe in yourself."

As for Sullivan, he is excited with the possibility of making his first career start. He said it is a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

"I'm pretty excited," Sullivan said. "Rudy is a good guy and a great player. I don't want to have to start because of injury. But when you're given the chance you have to step forward and take this team to the next level and try to beat USC."

But regardless of who is lined up under center for the Sun Devils, their biggest concern is ending their current three-game skid.

ASU has never made a bowl game in a season in which it lost four consecutive contests, so the team knows how important this game is.

"No matter who we're playing we need to get a win fast," Sullivan said. "Even though it is USC, we need a win. It would get us to 2-1 in the Pac-10 and put us in the top of the conference again. This is a huge game for our season."

If ASU wants to leave The Coliseum with a win, its defense needs to be as dominant as it was in the final 42 minutes of last weekend's game.

After allowing 17 points and 202 yards in the first 18 minutes against Cal, the ASU defense was stifling the rest of the way only giving up seven points and 75 yards.

However, the defense will be without starting defensive tackle David Smith who is sidelined with stingers. Paul 'Unga will start in his place.

Also, ASU will need to improve on a running game that is ranked last in the Pac-10.

Lat week, ASU only managed 71 yards on 32 rushes.

On the season, the Sun Devils' longest run has only been 20 yards.

"That's an area we need to work on," Erickson said.

Earlier this week, Erickson said Ryan Bass could be in the mix Saturday.

The true freshman has noticeably improved his consistency in practice of late and would add some much needed depth and quickness to the position.

But more than anything, the Sun Devils need to head to Los Angeles believing in themselves. The coaches and players said even with the losing streak, they all are as confident as ever.

"There's tons of faith," Sullivan said. "Why not go out there against the No. 8 team in the nation and try to beat them?"

About USC

Head coach: Pete Carroll (7th season)
2007 season: 11-2
2008 record: 3-1 (1-1)

Offense

Earlier this week, it appeared that USC was in the same quarterback predicament as ASU.

Starter Mark Sanchez was nursing a sore knee and his status for Saturday's game was up in the air.

However, Sanchez practiced Thursday and USC Coach Pete Carroll said Sanchez will most likely start on Saturday.

But Erickson said he doesn't care who the Trojans start under center. Whether it's Sanchez or backup Mitch Mustain, ASU will prepare the same way.

"Watching their offense with Mitch and Mark they do the same things," Erickson said. "All you can do is defend [their system]. When you start defending quarterbacks you've got some problems, unless there is just a drastic difference between them, which I don't see that personally."

In the backfield, USC may have four of the most talented rushers in the conference in Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford.

Carroll splits the carries fairly evenly among them and only McKnight averages more than 50 yards per game. However, all four have combined to average 144.8 rushing yards per game.

The Trojans also have one of the conference's top receiving corps headlined by Damian Williams and Patrick Turner.

Williams is averaging 77.5 yards per game and has four touchdowns on the year.

Turner, who is 6-foot-5, is averaging 56.5 yards per game and has three scores this season.

With all those weapons, USC is ranked second in the conference in total offense averaging more than 450 yards per game. The Trojans average 38 points per game.

Defense

While the USC offense is good, its defense is better.

It has the big names: Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Taylor Mays.

It has the stats: opponents average only 11.8 points and less than 245 yards per game.

And it is one of the best defenses in the country.

"They're the fastest team I've seen on film this year," Sullivan said. "Georgia was pretty fast at linebacker, but these guys are a little bit faster I think. They're more disciplined too and more aggressive.

"That's why they are a top-5 defense in the nation."

Up front, the Trojans come to the line with Clay Matthews and Kyle Moore at defensive end. Those two along with USC's top defensive end reserve Everson Griffen have combined for 5.5 sacks on the year.

The Trojans defensive tackles are Fili Moala and Christian Tupou.

Maualuga and Cushing lead USC's linebacking corps.

Maualuga, who starts in the middle, was named pre-season All-American by many publications and has been playing like an All-American so far. In three games, Maualuga has recorded 19 tackles and one interception that he returned 48 yards for a touchdown.

Maualuga was questionable for Saturday's game with a sore knee, but he Carroll said he will play.

Cushing, who plays on the strong side, was also a pre-season All-American. He has totaled 26 tackles and one sack through four games.

Kaluka Maiava rounds out the Trojans' starting linebacker group.

USC's starting cornerbacks are Cary Harris and Josh Pinkard. Neither has recorded an interception in 2008.

USC has two of the top safeties in the conference in Mays and Kevin Ellison.

Ellison leads the team in tackles with 33 and also has an interception.

Mays has recorded 25 tackles on the year.

ASU vs. USC

Saturday will mark the 25th time ASU has played USC with the Trojans leading the all-time series 15-9.

USC has been particularly good at home against ASU, where it has won seven of 11 contests.

However, the last time ASU beat USC was in 1999 and that win came in the Coliseum.

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