Pick Sun Devils to Roast Fading Trojans in Pac-12 Upset

arizona state southern cal

Rainman M.

Friday, October 27, 2017 2:09 PM GMT

Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 2:09 PM GMT

Arizona State (4-3) hosts No. 21 USC (6-2) Saturday at 10:45 PM ET. The Sun Devils, who currently sit a half game behind the first-place Trojans in the Pac-12 South, are underdogs of between 3-4 points.

Free NCAAF Pick: Arizona State +3.5Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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No. 21 USC Trojans at Arizona State Sun Devils

Last season, the Trojans were a physical, run-first team. This season, they are relying on quarterback Sam Darnold for their offensive production: USC is 37th in pass play percentage. The Trojans’ new offensive identity bodes well for the Sun Devils, who are 4-0 ATS when allowing 120 rush yards or less. USC’s only cover this season came when Ronald Jones ran 20+ times. By not depending on his production, the Trojans have disappointed oddsmakers’ expectations in every other game.

Darnold is responding poorly to the extra responsibility. He is less consistent with accuracy and making poor decisions. With 10 interceptions, he has already thrown one more than last year. The Trojans will want to stay competitive from the beginning in order to maintain balanced play-calling. Arizona State, however, is 23rd in scoring 8.6 first-quarter points/games.  The Devils have outscored their two opponents since their bye week 16-0 in the first quarter.

Darnold matches up poorly against Arizona State’s 4-2-5 defense, which is aligned especially to cover the short and intermediate routes, which comprise Darnold’s strength.  The Sun Devils’ defense can take away the Trojans’ main source of production, Darnold, while at the same time forcing them to rely on that source.

Even if the Devils fail to achieve their typical quick start, their front 7 has improved its pressure and penetration against the opposing quarterback and backfield. In their two wins after the bye, ASU achieved 15 tackles for loss. JoJo Wicker leads the defensive line with 9 tackles for loss, Alani Latu and DJ Calhoun the linebackers with 6.5 each. The Devils' 10+ sack percentage at home puts their pass rush in the top 3.  The surging defensive line can shred a constantly injury-ridden USC offensive line and attack Darnold, whose pocket presence is restricted with an ankle injury.

Arizona State’s defensive leaders enjoy continuity because they are experienced and remain healthy. This continuity is crucial to their improvement since the bye week. ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett loves to blitz by using a variety of disguises and utilizing the versatility and adaptability of different defenders to either blitz or remain in coverage. The maturing Devils defenders are learning to reduce the big plays that had been their kryptonite. Last year one of the worst in this category, they allow less than 5 yards per completion since the bye week.

USC’s defensive line has been anemic due to lack of skill and frequent injuries. Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins is consistently effective under pressure and makes good decisions. He has only 3 INTs on the season.  Wilkins is mobile and uses his strong arm and consistent accuracy to make plays outside the pocket and keep the chains moving. He relies most on N’Keal Harry, who leads the team with 51 receptions and 627 receiving yards. Wilkins can pick apart USC’s secondary, whose top cornerback is out with injury, with more time to pass, especially as the Devils, who rank 12th in possessing the ball for 55% of the game, wear them down.  The Devils also boast an improving running duo, Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, to keep the defense honest.

 

The Verdict

Offensively, Arizona State boasts a balanced attack. Defensively, the Devils can force USC to be one-dimensional on offense by starting quickly and controlling the line of scrimmage. They can apply pressure on Darnold, force him to resume his turnover difficulties and continue to refute USC’s new Darnold-first offensive identity.

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