• John Skinner

2017 Arizona State Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Clay Helton is experiencing some “second-year blues” with the coaching staff- The honeymoon phase is over and tension between some coaches and differing philosophies has reared its head.  This is somewhat expected considering this is Clay Helton’s first rodeo as a head coach.  Regardless of how the season ends up, expect some changes to the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where some discontent has already leaked to the media.

Helton Part II- Clay Helton is well-liked by the administration and most of the players appreciate his no none-sense/calm approach.  He will be given every opportunity to build a championship program despite what you may read online. Unless the wheels fall completely off the bus, Helton will be evaluated after three years.  The time period will provide a fair assessment of where the program stands and it also financially makes sense when it comes to Helton’s contract.

Athletic Director Lynn Swann is not part of the long-standing SC athletic administration-  If the day comes in which he leads the search for a new coach, the sense around campus is that it will have a much different feel then the past three hires.

Fall camp was an early preview of the turnover issues that plague SC- Turnovers have been a big problem for the Trojans, especially when it comes to Sam Darnold. In the past three weeks, Darnold has committed five fumbles on top of throwing two interceptions.  If you look back at fall camp, Darnold had issues with consistently turning the ball over.  The excuse of young receivers and a solid defense was used. Unfortunately, this was a precursor of things to come.  Last season, Darnold threw only one interception during fall camp and threw just nine all season.  Interestingly, Matt Barkley threw a lot of interceptions in the fall camp of 2012 on his way to 15 for the season…he threw only 7 in 2011 when he threw hardly any in camp.

Pac-12 is going to continue to fall behind other Power 5 conferences- According to Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News group, who has a very informative blog about the Pac-12, he projects each conference school in the Big Ten will get $51.1 million next year from all broadcast revenues. Each SEC school will get $45 million while each Pac-12 school will get about $32.5 million. Over the next five years, that’s a $95 million deficit for each Pac-12 school against a comparable Big Ten school.

Wilner Part II- According to Wilner, every Pac-12 school that has played back-to-back road games with the second being on a shortened week, has lost.  It is an 0-5 mark over the past two seasons.  Only one Pac-12 team has had to do it twice- USC…speaking of which…

Back-to-Back road games are brutally hard to win…especially after flying across the country-  The Pac-12 did everything it could to handicap SC this season when it came to the schedule.  It is extremely difficult for a college football team to play well in back-to-back road games.  The season is already a physical and emotional grind and adding two straight games of traveling, twice in one season, and without a BYE is ridiculous.  SC was already tripped up with a loss at Washington State in which they played very poorly after traveling to Cal the week before.  Now, they just traveled to Chicago and took an emotional butt-kicking and now have to turn around and play in Tempe in front of a sold-out crowd against a resurgent Sun Devil team with a shot at the Pac-12 title on the line.  If SC does pull out a victory and/or even plays well it will be a minor miracle.  SC needs to demand the Pac-12 surround the Notre Dame game with home games and not have to play two back-to-back road match-ups in one season.

It was obvious SC was going to get blown off the line of scrimmage vs. Notre Dame- Notre Dame has arguably the best offensive line in the country and they were all seniors while the SC defensive front was riddled with injuries and only had one senior.  Six of ND’s front seven on the defensive line were seniors with no major injuries while SC started two true freshman and only showcased one senior.  Experience is a major factor when it comes to line play.  Defensive lineman Brandon Pili will be a stud one day, but not as a true freshman who was expecting to redshirt and not in the physical condition to play 40+ snaps.

Quick look at ASU- The Sun Devils (4-3) are the hottest team in the Pac-12 despite being picked to finish fifth in Pac-12 South preseason poll.  ASU is exceptional in the red zone converting 96% of the time and the one trip without a score was a kneel down against Washington at the end of the game.  QB Manny Wilkins ranks fourth in the conference in passing yards per game and 6th nationally in completion percentage.  Wilkins has been phenomenal under pressure with an 88.9 QB rating when facing pressure, which ranks third nationally.  He is also a good scrambler that can pick up quite a bit of yardage when plays breakdown.  It is a good thing that Wilkins has been so good under pressure since he pressured nearly 35% of the time on his drop-backs which ranks them for the 13th most nationally when it comes to QB hurries and they give up a ton of sacks, ranking 125th in the nation.  Pac-12 analyst and former SC assistant coach Yogi Roth feels Wilkins manages the zone read better than anyone in the conference.  6’5 receiver K'Neal Harry is his top receiving threat with 51 catches and Jalen Harvey gives them one of the best 1-2 combos at wideout in the conference.  The Sun Devils have a solid running back duo in Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard who have combined for ten rushing touchdowns but they aren’t necessarily big play threats.  ASU largely looks to Wilkins to set the pace of the offense which ranks 1st in the Pac-12 in time of possession, which is concerning considering SC’s depth issues on defense.

Defensively, ASU will follow the recent successful theme against SC which is to constantly mix-up coverages and throw an assortment of blitz packages at the young Trojan line.  ASU is extremely disciplined and rank first in the nation for fewest penalties.  Jojo Wicker leads the team in tackles for losses and sacks.  LB’s Christian Sam and DJ Calhoun lead the team in tackles and are amongst the leaders in the Pac-12.  For an in-depth look at the game, check out Tom Haire’s in-depth preview.

Geller’s Take- Consistently running the ball and involving the tight ends will be the key offensively vs. ASU- When the Trojans have been at their best this season from an offensive standpoint, they have consistently run the ball and involved the tight ends.  In both of SC’s losses, the tight ends did not have a reception and SC did not consistently run the ball. When the Trojans defeated Stanford and had a great offensive performance in the second half against Utah, the common themes were utilizing the tight ends and running the football.  It seemed obvious heading into the Notre Dame game the tight ends would be a key factor but that obviously did not happen.  SC has too much talent at tight end and running back to not have them heavily involved in the offense.  *Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica High School and interned for uscfootball.com

SC needs something out of its special teams- In the first seven games, SC has just 6 punt returns for 27 yards. . .Last year, Adoree Jackson had 27 returns for 414 yards. . .SC is on pace to be 87% worse than last year.  That said, despite Jack Jones fumbling his first ever punt return attempt at South Bend (why was that his first attempt instead of say Oregon State?), he is the right guy for the job and we expect him to make some big plays in the next couple of weeks.

Quick-Hitters-

*Linebacker Porter Gustin might be available for about 15-25 plays against ASU. This would definitely give a boost to the defense that lost his back-up Christian Rector to a broken hand in practice this week.

*CB Iman “Biggie” Marshall injured his knee against the Irish and will be out at least 2-3 weeks. Isaiah Langley will make his first start.

*Look for wide receiver Jalen Greene to get an opportunity to throw the ball this week on a double-pass or reverse.

*Sam Darnold’s adjusted Quarterback rating “QBR” for the 2016 season was 86.2.  This year, it is only 70.3, and he has only been above last season’s average once, which was the Stanford game in which he had a 97.4 rating.

Betting guide- SC is favored by 3.5 points over the Sun Devils after opening as 4.5 point favorites.  SC is 1-7 on the season against the spread while ASU is 4-3.  ASU is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games at home against teams with a winning record.  The over/under is 59 and the total has gone over in seven of SC’s last ten games on the road against ASU.  ASU has won two of the last three meetings at ASU and SC is 1-3 ATS in its last four games on the road vs. ASU.  SC has a history of bouncing back the week after losing to Notre Dame with a 42-24 win over Utah in 2015 and a 19-3 win over Utah in 2013.

Carol Skinner Memorial tid-bit- USC has the second most turnovers in the nation…yet they are 6-2 while playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation.