It's a new week and time for a new "biggest game of the season" for the Arizona State Sun Devils. This time, however, the hype is justified.
Coming of a disappointing road loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini last week, the Sun Devils return home to to open Pac-12 conference play against their old adversaries, the USC Trojans. The Devils haven't defeated USC since 1999, a span of 11 straight defeats.
However, this just may be there year where the streak ends. If Arizona State will indeed bring about the fall of Troy and begin their run at the Pac-12 South crown, this is what they must do.
1st - Don't Give USC Extra Benefits
No, this isn't rehashing the Reggie Bush soap opera.
A team as talented as the Trojans does not need the help of the Sun Devils habitual mistakes. They are good enough to beat ASU without the aid of pointless 15-yard personal foul penalties or bad punting. USC can beat the Devils without being given two-points off blocked extra points.
There's a reason USC has won every game against the Sun Devils since 1999. They're good. Very good.
However, for the first time since the streak started, ASU is just as good, maybe even better. This 2011 Sun Devil team is loaded at talent on both sides of the ball and is in prime position to line up against the Trojans and hand them a defeat.
ASU was able to walk the razor's edge with their mistakes against Missouri, but fell victim to them in Champaign.
If the streak is going to end at 11, so must the excessive Sun Devil mistakes.
2nd - Win the Two Offensive Line Battles
Simply put, this game will be decided by the play of the two offensive lines.
Both teams live and die by their passing games, and each possesses a top-flight quarterback and the weapons to make opposing defenses lose sleep. However, each offense can quickly be neutralized if the opposing pass rush can get to Brock Osweiler and Matt Barkley.
Last week, the Devils were done in by an offensive line that allowed six sacks of Osweiler and committed five penalties. By the final drive, Osweiler was rattled, and it showed in his accuracy, or lack thereof on his last throws. This was after a sack had resulted in a fumble, which the Illini soon converted into the winning touchdown. The Trojans have a fearsome defensive front led by end Nick Perry, who has the skill to single-handedly destroy the rhythm the Devils' offense requires. The Sun Devils need to replicate their protection performance from the Missouri game if they want to walk out of Sun Devil Stadium as the victors.
There is no debate that Matt Barkley is in the discussion of best quarterbacks in the nation not named "Luck". He's the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after his five touchdown performance last week against Syracuse and his rapport with wide receiver Robert Woods may be the nation's best. The Sun Devils must absolutely prevent him from getting comfortable in the pocket and carving up a lackluster ASU secondary. That task will be made far more difficult without Junior Onyeali, whose likely out for the year with a knee injury.
Can Davon Coleman and Jamarr Jarrett get past star tackle Matt Kalil and get to Barkley? Will defensive coordinator Craig Bray rush the linebackers more to help out?
The answers will decide the fate of the Trojan's impressive winning streak.
3rd - Limit Robert Woods
Fact: Robert Woods is going to make a lot of catches and gain yards.
That is a virtual certainty. What the Sun Devils can't afford is to let Woods go off on another ridiculous 17-catch performance like he had in the season opener against Minnesota.
What ASU has to do is mitigate the damage of those receptions. Woods makes the majority of his catches in the short-to-intermediate range and the secondary must ensure that's where they end. Woods has the ability to easily turn a six-yard route into a 60 yard touchdown. Of the 81 completions thus far for USC, Woods has 33. ASU knows where Barkley will be looking.
4th - Run
That's the rank of the ASU rushing offense, a number skewed greatly by the 217 yards they gained in their opener against UC Davis of the FCS.
In their two games against FBS competition, the Sun Devils are averaging 3.2 yards-per-carry.
That's not going to cut it.
One of the primary, and justified, criticisms of ASU's offensive scheme is that it too often eschews the run in favor of the pass, as was tragically illustrated by the game-turning fumble in Champaign.
This is made all the more dumbfounding when you consider the talent of ASU's backfield. Cameron Marshall will one day play on Sunday. Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks are explosive players, capable of taking each touch to the end zone.
The remedy for this starts up front with an offensive line that has not been able to generate any kind of drive off the ball on running plays. The lanes for the backs simply have not been there.
A prolific running game is a great way to help the defense keep the Barkley-to-Woods combination off the field. And score some points, too.
Goal - Forget History So You Don't Repeat It
Most of the pre-game coverage surrounding this match-up has centered on the Trojans' domination of ASU for over a decade. It's already been mentioned four times in this article.
That was then. This is now.
There is no Carson Palmer. No Todd Heap. No Troy Polamalu. No Derek Hagan.
There is only the 23rd ranked team and division rival coming into Sun Devil Stadium. They are standing in the way of a Sun Devil team that has both the ability and the will to become the dominant power in the new Pac-12.
Throw away the history books. Ignore the ESPN cameras. Disregard the attempted smack talk. Focus only on the white jersey in front of you and the task at hand.
If the Sun Devils can do just that, they will end one streak while starting another.