USC Trojans: Osahon Irabor

The Pac-12 has seen a flurry of defensive coordinator movement over the last couple of weeks -- starting with the power struggle for former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the recent exoduses of Stanford’s Derek Mason to Vanderbilt as head coach and UCLA’s Lou Spanos to the Tennessee Titans as linebackers coach. Oregon’s promotion of Don Pellum to defensive coordinator to replace Nick Aliotti will also shine a spotlight on the Ducks’ defense in 2014 and beyond.

And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among the Pac-12 defensive stars entering the NFL in 2014.
Look at the top five scoring defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013: Stanford, Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA, respectively. All five have had defensive coordinators in flux in the young offseason.

That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.

But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.

Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.

In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.

The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.

Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).

But a lot more is gone than is coming back.

That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.

The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.

Sun Devils will test the Trojans

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
5:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC (3-1 overall, 0-1 in the Pac-12) will head to the desert to take on Arizona State (2-1, 0-1) Saturday in a battle between Pac-12 South Division foes. The Sun Devils, coming off a 42-28 loss to Stanford, showcase a high-octane offense and a defense headlined by 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. The Trojans defeated Utah State 17-14 in a contest that featured another phenomenal outing by the defensive front seven, but also a passing game that was stagnant for the third time in four games this season.

Offense
Scoring: 38.3 points per game (No. 8 Pac-12, No. 35 overall)
Rushing: 108 yards per game (No. 9 Pac-12, No. 107 overall)
Passing: 361.3 yards per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 8 overall)
Total: 469.3 yards per game (No. 7 Pac-12, No. 43 overall)

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTaylor Kelly is a valuable weapon on the ground and in the air.
Quarterback: No. 10 Taylor Kelly (6-foot-2, 201, RS Jr.)
Directing ASU’s up-tempo, spread attack, Kelly is a precision passer who can also make things happen on the ground when he has to. He has completed 82 of 137 passes for 1,019 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions in 2013, and he ranks No. 9 nationally in total offense (354.7 yards per game).

Running Back: No. 1 Marion Grice (6-0, 207, Sr.), No. 8 D.J. Foster (5-11, 195, So.)
Grice gives the Sun Devils’ offense a dangerous rushing option, and both he and Foster are also utilized frequently as pass-catchers. Still, there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the output of this group. As a team, Arizona State averages just 2.9 yards per rush.

Wide Receiver: No. 21 Jaelen Strong (6-3, 205, RS So.), No. 82 Kevin Ozier (6-2, 200, RS Sr.), No. 3 Richard Smith (5-9, 172, So.)
Strong, a transfer out of Los Angeles (Calif.) Pierce College, has quickly emerged as Kelly’s go-to receiver, leading ASU with 24 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He made 12 grabs for 168 yards and one touchdown against Stanford.

Tight End: No. 87 Chris Coyle (6-3, 240, RS Sr.), No. 17 Darwin Rogers (6-4, 248, Sr.), No. 12 De’Marieya Nelson (6-3, 226, RS Jr.)
Coyle is coming off an impressive 2012 campaign in which he hauled in 57 passes for 696 yards and five touchdowns. He has six receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.

Offensive Line: LT No. 62 Evan Finkenberg (6-4, 298, RS Sr.), LG No. 74 Jamil Douglas (6-4, 301, RS Jr.). C No. 67 Kody Koebensky (6-3, 298, RS Sr.), RG No. 73 Vi Teofilo (6-3, 302, RS So.), RT No. 54 Tyler Sulka (6-5, 289, RS Jr.)
The Arizona State offensive line had a rough day against Stanford, allowing a constant flow of pass-rushers into the backfield, while also failing to open up lanes for a run game that had only 50 yards on 24 carries. USC racked up seven sacks against the Sun Devils in 2012, and the Trojans’ front seven is even better this time around, so this will be a key matchup to watch.

Defense
Scoring: 24 points per game (No. 8 Pac-12, No. 59 overall)
Rushing: 174 yards per game (No. 11 Pac-12, No. 77 overall)
Passing: 159 yards per game (No. 2 Pac-12, No. 17 overall)
Total: 333 yards per game (No. 7 Pac-12, No. 35 overall)

Defensive Line: DT No. 90 Will Sutton (6-1, 305, RS Sr.), NT No. 92 Jaxon Hood (6-0, 299, So.), DE No. 95 Gannon Conway (6-4, 280, RS Sr.)
Sutton leads an aggressive ASU defense that features multiple fronts, but the Corona (Calif.) Centennial product has yet to perform at quite the same level that he did a year ago, and as a whole, the Sun Devils have struggled against the run. Hood went down with a hamstring injury against Stanford and is doubtful, so Conway will likely see time inside along with Mo Latu (6-3, 380, RS So.), while Davon Coleman (6-1, 283, Sr.) could take on a bigger role at end.

Linebacker: No. 31 Anthony Jones (6-1, 215, RS Sr.), No. 2 Steffon Martin (6-1, 231, Sr.), No. 52 Carl Bradford (6-1, 242, RS Jr.), No. 21 Chris Young (6-0, 244, Sr.)
Bradford, who plays at the hybrid linebacker/end DEVIL backer spot, can be a disruptive force -- he had seven tackles, one sack and two quarterback hurries this past Saturday. Young leads the team with 19 tackles.

Cornerback: No. 24 Osahon Irabor (5-11, 186, RS Sr.), No. 17 Lloyd Carrington (6-1, 185, RS So.)
The secondary has been one of the strengths of the Arizona State defense, evidenced by the Sun Devils’ No. 17 national ranking against the pass. Irabor, who has started 36 consecutive games, has been the star of the group.

Safety: No. 4 Alden Darby (5-11, 192, Sr.), No. 9 Robert Nelson (5-11, 169, RS Sr.)
A 2012 second-team All-Pac-12 honoree, Darby is a rangy playmaker who is also a team leader. Nelson possesses exceptional cover skills for a safety.

Special Teams

Punter: No. 99 Dom Vizzare (6-4, 234, Jr.), No. 26 Matt Haack (6-1, 192, Fr.)
Neither Vizzare nor Haack have looked particularly sharp. Haack assumed punting duties for the first time last weekend and averaged 38.8 yards on four punts, while booting one attempt into the back of a blocker.

Kicker: PK No. 5 Zane Gonzalez (6-1, 162, Fr.), KO No. 25 Alex Garoutte (6-1, 209, RS Jr.)
Garoutte has been solid, drilling 14 of 22 kickoffs for touchbacks. Gonzalez hasn’t been as reliable as the team’s placekicker, however, going 4-for-7 on field goals, including just 1-of-3 from 40 yards or longer.

Kick returner: No. 1 Marion Grice (6-0, 207, Sr.), No. 3 Richard Smith (5-9, 172, So.)
As a team Arizona State averages 21.7 yards per kick return.

Punt returner: No. 9 Robert Nelson (5-11, 169, RS Sr.)
Nelson averages six yards per punt return.

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