After letting a game they could have and probably should have won slip away with mistakes, missed chances in the red zone and undisciplined play last Saturday at Illinois, the ASU Sun Devils face a higher-caliber adversary this weekend in Pac-12 South rival USC, 3-0 and ranked 23rd in the nation.
It's a home game under the lights, but the Devils will be without reigning Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year Junior Onyeali for this game and likely the next. Onyeali, injured during the Illinois game, will get an MRI of his knee.
"Our trainers seem to think that it's probably not an ACL (tear)," coach Dennis Erickson said Monday," but you don't want to say anything until they look at it."
Already without a number of key players on defense -- safety Eddie Elder appears questionable with a concussion and was to meet with a team physician Monday -- ASU faces the prolific Trojans with quarterback Matt Barkley and standout wide receiver Robert Woods, stars of an offense that is running-back heavy.
"They've got more running backs than we have on campus," Erickson said. "Robert Woods might be the best receiver in our league."
The picture gets bleaker for ASU, as running back Cameron Marshall is not 100 percent, Erickson said. This could mean more touches for Kyle Middlebrooks and a different role as ball carrier for Jamal Miles, who is normally a receiver. Miles should see some time in practice this week at running back. Marshall figures to play vs. USC, how much is anyone's guess at this point.
Erickson talked about quarterback Brock Osweiler holding onto the ball too long before getting rid of it. Those situations turned into sacks, as did missed blocking assignments on blitzes against Illinois.
This week's game takes on more importance for at least two more reasons: ASU seeks to win the Pac-12 South outright and get to the conference title game, and beating the Trojans would be a major step toward that end; and there are plenty of ties to Southern California on the team, which is to say that there's no doubt many Sun Devils want to beat their hometown team. ASU and USC often face each other in recruiting players from that area as well.