Can they go 5-0? 3 questions and a prediction for Arizona State Sun Devils vs. USC Trojans

Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-30 18:31:36-04

The Arizona State Sun Devils are 4-0 and are about to return to the site of one of the most incredible plays in the history of the program.

The last time ASU paid USC a visit, the famous (or infamous, if you're a USC fan) Jael Mary took place.

Can the Sun Devils leave Los Angeles with another victory against the 1-3 Trojans? Here are three questions and a prediction for ASU vs. USC, which begins Sunday at 5:30 on FOX.

1. Can ASU avoid a slow start?

ASU has won its last two games despite trailing by 16 points in the fourth quarter at UTSA and by 14 points at halftime vs. Cal.

The Devils have shown tremendous resilience in coming from behind, and ASU coach Todd Graham isn't terribly concerned about his team's slow starts...

...but there's no doubt the Devils can't continue to afford falling behind by double digits, especially on the road against a team with as much potential as the Trojans. Can ASU get rolling early and avoid having to climb out of another hole Saturday night?

2. Will Manny be better away from home?

One of the primary reasons for ASU's sluggish starts is the play of Manny Wilkins, who has looked outstanding at times but has under-performed in the first half of ASU's last two games.

Wilkins completed just 5 of 10 passes for 62 yards last weekend vs. Cal before turning it on in the second half. One week earlier, he completed just 15 of 31 passes in his first-ever road game vs. a mediocre UTSA team.

If the Devils want to hang with USC, the redshirt sophomore will have to be sharper in the early going. The Trojans' defense is the third-worst in the conference in pass efficiency defense, although you have to consider who they've played and remember that cornerback Adoree' Jackson is among the Pac-12's best. Can Wilkins take advantage and make some big plays early to help the Devils set the tone in L.A.?

3. Can the Devils deal with Darnold?

USC's offense is at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most categories, but again, you have to consider who they've played -- Alabama, Stanford and Utah -- in their first four games.

Nonetheless, the Trojans made a change at quarterback last week to help provide a spark to their offense. Enter freshman Sam Darnold, who completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards and rushed nine times for 41 yards and a touchdown at Utah last weekend.

The Sun Devils are allowing a Pac-12-worst 404 passing yards per game, although they've played two of the nation's most prolific passing teams in Texas Tech and Cal. Can ASU, which has recorded 11 sacks this season, disrupt Darnold in the backfield -- or will the freshman find enough time to torch the Devils' secondary?


USC is just 1-3, but most Pac-12 teams would have the same record if they played the Trojans' schedule. Don't discount USC's talent on both sides of the ball, including running back Justin Davis, who's averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The pass-first Golden Bears ran the ball well against ASU for most of last week's game.

Despite the naysayers, ASU deserves to be 4-0. But the Sun Devils will face a desperate, dangerous team in the Trojans on Saturday, and they'll do so in hostile territory. The Devils are better than many of their fans thought they would be, but USC will remind them they have a lot of work to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

USC 37, ASU 24