No. 6 Southern California returns home to Los Angeles and looks to stay undefeated when the Trojans host struggling Pac-12 Conference counterpart Arizona State on Saturday night.
The Trojans (4-0, 2-0) capitalized on four turnovers and a late Caleb Williams touchdown pass to Jordan Addison to escape with a 17-14 win at Oregon State last week.
The game-saving score salvaged an otherwise difficult night for Williams, who completed just 16 of 36 passes while facing heavy pressure from the Beavers’ defense.
“Missed a couple throws; just had one of those nights,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said Tuesday. “It’s like a pitcher in baseball. He wasn’t at his best throwing-wise … Even the most gifted throwers — and he’s as gifted as they come — some days, you’re not going to have your best stuff.”
After averaging 50 points a game in the first three contests this season, USC trailed 7-3 entering the fourth quarter in Corvallis, Ore. But despite going three quarters without a touchdown, Williams and Co. avoided committing a turnover.
The Trojans are plus-3.5 per game in turnover margin, a statistic that is tops in the nation. Only one other team from the Power Five conferences (Penn State, with plus-2.0) has a turnover margin better than 1.50.
Arizona State (1-3, 0-1), meanwhile, enters Saturday’s matchup on the negative side of the turnover equation with six giveaways against five takeaways. The Sun Devils fell on the wrong side of the season-long margin with last week’s three turnovers committed in a 34-13 loss to defending league-champion Utah.
The defeat marked Arizona State’s fourth in a row against FBS competition, dating to last season.
The loss to Utah marked the Sun Devils’ first game since the firing of coach Herm Edwards. Edwards was let go following a 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan on Sept. 17, culminating a tumultuous several months as ASU is under NCAA investigation for potential recruiting violations during coronavirus blackout periods. The assistant coaching staff underwent near-wholesale changes, and 17 Sun Devils from last season’s 8-5 team left via the transfer portal.
Among them was quarterback Jayden Daniels, who has six passing touchdowns with no interceptions and another two rushing scores for LSU.
Daniels’ replacement, Florida transfer Emory Jones, has thrown for three touchdowns and rushed for three on the season but is coming off a two-interception performance against Utah in which he took five sacks.
Arizona State interim coach Shaun Aguano affirmed support for Jones as the Sun Devils’ starter.
“I never had any thought of changing quarterbacks,” Aguano said of Jones. “He’s my guy; I’m going to roll with him.
“We’ll take responsibility, maybe simplify what he needs to do,” Aguano said. “We’ll take that as a coaching staff, making sure that he’s comfortable with what we’re asking him to do.”
Although Jones is new to the Pac-12, he is not unfamiliar to USC linebacker Shane Lee.
Lee — one of a bevy of transfers into the Trojans’ program during the offseason — faced Jones and Florida while at Alabama.
“I think he’s a great quarterback,” Lee said on Tuesday. “He goes to the right guy (in the passing game), throws well.”
Lee and the USC defense will look to put pressure on Jones in the same way Utah did, which starts with slowing the Arizona State rushing attack.
Running back Xazavian Valladay — a transfer from Wyoming — was leading the Pac-12 in rushing yardage before the game at Utah. The Utes held Valladay to 30 yards on eight carries, dropping his average to a still-formidable 97.8 yards a game.
–Field Level Media