Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Faced with the task of stopping a high-octane offense on the road, USC's defense reverted to its 2010 days in Saturday's 43-22 loss to ASU.
Missed tackling was a common theme in the Trojans' five-loss season a year ago, and against a Sun Devils team that featured a heavy dose of swing passes, the glaring issue once again came to a head in week four.
From Cameron Marshall's 70-yard touchdown run (pictured right by Norm Hall/ Getty Images) on ASU's opening drive to the numerous long gains Jamal Miles (9 catches, 55 yards and a TD) accumulated on lateral passes, the once-undefeated Trojans struggled against the Sun Devils' spread offense during the majority of Saturday night's game. While the final score wasn't completely indicative of how close the game was at points, the season-high 43 points USC surrendered could be a troubling sign moving forward.
"Our tackling was poor because we had several situations where we allowed them to gain extra yards, which led to more first downs," USC's secondary coach Sammy Knight said. "We failed to finish off plays. Football is never going to change for you, so tackling will always be a part of the game."
Although redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris (15 tackles coming into the ASU game) was knocked out of the game early in the first half with a right shoulder injury, Knight believes the injury had little to do with the defense's rough evening.
"We had guys come in and step up in the absence of Torin [Harris]," said Knight. "But we needed everyone to come together and play well, and collectively that just didn't happen. We need to stress tackling more in practice. It's time to look at ourselves, as players and coaches, and accept the challenge."
While Marshall's big night on the ground (141 yards and 3 TDs) propelled the Sun Devils (pictured right by Norm Hall/Getty Images) to a rather convincing victory in their Pac-12 opener, several USC players insisted that now is not the time to hang their heads. Although inexperience, a hostile environment and the uncomfortable desert heat all likely played a part in the Trojans' first loss, improvements not excuses have already become the theme heading into next week's home game against Arizona.
"We just need to go back to the fundamentals of our game, which means tackling, wrapping up and running to the ball and hustling when the ball is caught," sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. "We made a lot of little mistakes in this game, so we need to go back on the field this week and correct them. I don't want to make any excuses, it was just a matter of our mindset from first snap. We need to come out with a sense of urgency."
Despite their 1-3 record, the Wildcats will pose problems for USC next Saturday, with a fast-paced, spread offense that is eerily similar to the one they just faced against Brock Osweiler and Co. Led by senior quarterback Nick Foles (1,447 yards, 10 TDs and 0 INTs), Arizona's offense is No.1 in the Pac-12 with over 372 passing yards per game.
"The challenge of stopping [Arizona] will be almost the same challenge we faced with ASU," senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. "They are going to spread the ball around with a quick passing game and we need to be ready for it. We will see what we did wrong on film in this loss and use it to our advantage next week."