ASU football wins big, but USC presents bigger challenge

Arizona State football put up some impressive numbers on Saturday.

The Sun Devils rolled up almost 500 yards of total offense, 296 of those before the second half even started, and put six touchdowns on the board.  They scored on all but one opportunity when in the red zone.

Quarterback Steven Threet had his best game of the season, going 26-of-32 for 300 yards – and he didn’t even play the whole game, turning over the job to back-up Brock Osweiler midway through the third quarter.

On defense, the Devils limited their opponents to eight yards rushing on 33 attempts and forced three turnovers, including two interceptions.  Freshman lineman Junior Onyeali had four tackles and three of the team-total five sacks all by himself.

And the boys in maroon and gold managed to limit lost yardage due to penalties, a problem that has plagued them all season long.  The Devils limited their miscues to five penalties for 35 yards.

And Threet, who has thrown more interceptions (13) than any quarterback in the Pac-10, was picture-perfect.  Not a single INT.

OK, here comes the “But…”

But… the opponent was Washington State, winless in conference this season and not-so-proud owners of a 15-game losing streak to Pac-10 opponents.

Next up is USC in a nationally-televised game.  And that’s a whole different animal.

Yes, the Trojans are a 5-3 team this year and sport the same 2-3 conference record as the Sun Devils.  But they are every bit as dangerous as the Golden Bears of California, who beat ASU in a 51-17 rout just two weeks ago in Berkeley.

USC brings to the table an offense that is ranked in the top 25 nationally in just about every statistical category, behind Matt Barkley, a quarterback who has already passed his way into the school’s top 10 all-time list.

And then factor in the fact that ASU has not been able to beat the Trojans since the 1999 season, losing the last one in Tempe, 14-9.  This year, USC gets to host the Devils in the Coliseum.

Add to that the fact that ASU head coach, Dennis Erickson, has not had much luck dealing with the Trojans through the years.  He has taken three different Pac-10 teams into battle against USC, but has just one win in eight tries to show for it.

This time he takes a team into LA that is ranked No. 16 nationally in passing offense, so he’s got the firepower he needs, and No. 15 in defense against the run.  ASU is also ranked at the top of the Pac-10 in tackles for loss.

The Trojans are coming off a loss to Oregon.  The Ducks beat them by three touchdowns, but that’s been the margin of victory in pretty much all of Oregon’s games.  That’s why they’re the No. 1 team in the country right now.

ASU is coming into Saturday’s game with momentum after recording the third largest shutout victory in school history.  USC is coming into the game with a chip on its shoulder after an embarrassing loss.  Each team needs a win desperately.

But the Sun Devils may be a little more desperate.  USC is ineligible for post-season play this year due to NCAA penalties levied on them.  They’re playing for pride.  However, the Devils are still clinging to an outside shot at a bowl game.

But they need three wins out of the final four games left on their schedule.

And the USC game may be one of the more winnable.

After USC, the Devils face UCLA, Stanford, and University of Arizona.  Stanford is ranked No. 10 in the country and Arizona is just a couple notches below at No. 13.

Erickson reinforced that thought in his pre-game interview with the media.  “We feel like it’s the last third of our season and there are a lot of opportunities out there,” he said.  “There are just a lot of great football teams (left to play)… they’re all challenges, to say the least.

“We feel like we can compete with any of the teams we have left.  We just have to go out and do it.”

That makes a nice motto for Nike, but getting it done is not going to be that easy.

USC wins by a touchdown.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Jason Wise)