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ASU faces late night, tough fight

No. 8 Southern Cal looks fully stocked by Troy Schulte | September 5, 2015 at 3:16 a.m.

JONESBORO -- When Arkansas State booked its ticket to Southern California more than two years ago, it signed on for a school-record payday and a shot at a national power on a downward turn.

That's not the case anymore.

Today’s glance

Arkansas State at USC

WHEN 10 p.m. Central

WHERE Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

RECORDS Arkansas State 0-0; Southern California 0-0

RANKINGS USC is No. 8/10 (AP/Coaches polls)


COACHES Blake Anderson (7-6 in second year at Arkansas State and overall); Steve Sarkiskian (9-4 in second season at USC, 44-33 in seventh season overall)

SERIES First meeting

TV Pac-12 Network

RADIO KASR-FM, 92.7, in Little Rock/Conway; KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro


When ASU takes the field at 10 p.m. Central tonight at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it won't face a 7-6 team, which is what USC was in 2012 when the game was scheduled. The Trojans are ranked No. 8 nationally, brought in the nation's top recruiting class last season and are stocked with more talent than maybe any team ASU has played in the past three years.

"They rebuilt in a hurry," said ASU Coach Blake Anderson, whose school is getting $1.3 million for tonight's game. "You can do that at USC."

Anderson was still the offensive coordinator at North Carolina on June 26, 2013, when ASU announced tonight's game. Bryan Harsin had yet to coach his first game for the Red Wolves, and current USC Coach Steve Sarkisian was in his fourth year at Washington. USC also was hampered by scholarship restrictions brought on by NCAA sanctions.

That penalty expired last year. Now the Trojans have 77 scholarship players, and they've won 19 games over the past two seasons. Sarkisian was 9-4 last year in his first season at USC, and his time there has been marked by an effort to rebuild a team that had only 44 scholarship players for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl.

"We're trying to raise the quality of the roster and continue to raise it and continue to raise it," Sarkisian told reporters this week. "I think we've done a good job of that in the last two classes."

Anderson hopes his team won't be affected by USC's collection of talent, the atmosphere of playing in an unfamiliar venue or the late kickoff time. Anderson said ASU handled both of its games against Power Five conference teams fine last season, a 34-19 loss at Tennessee and a 41-20 loss at Miami, but a handful of Red Wolves seniors can draw on a better comparison for what they will face tonight.

ASU opened the 2012 season with a late-night game on the West Coast against a top-10 team. No. 5 Oregon scored 50 first-half points in that game on its way to a 57-34 victory over ASU in Gus Malzahn's first game as the Red Wolves' head coach.

Eight players who expected to play a significant role tonight saw action in that game, and they believe they are better equipped to handle the situation this time.

"I got kind of lost in the moment," senior cornerback Rocky Hayes said of the Oregon game. "Now I'm just focusing on myself and what I have to do, and that's what's really going to make the game slow down for me."

ASU hopes that is enough and is banking that the auxiliary elements won't be too much to overcome.

"It's a great atmosphere, it's a great history," quarterback Fredi Knighten said. "But at the end of the day history doesn't win football games, players win football games."

USC has plenty of good ones. In addition to Kessler, USC returns all five offensive linemen, including 6-9, 360-pound right tackle Zach Bonner. ASU offensive coordinator Walt Bell also compared outside linebacker Su'a Cravens to Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

"Suh was kind of that anomaly that was so dominant that he separated himself," Bell said. "[Cravens] is that way. ... Probably as good of a football player as I've seen on tape in a long time."

Anderson called Adoree' Jackson, who will likely line up at defensive back and receiver and will return kicks for the Trojans, "the fastest human on earth."

Of USC's 77 scholarship players, 53 were ranked as four- or five-star players by ASU has only one player ranked so highly, defensive tackle Dee Liner, and he isn't even making the trip because he is sitting out this season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

Still, ASU's players insist they aren't intimidated.

"We look forward to those big games," nickel back Charleston Girley said. "It kind of gives us a little bit of fire. We look at it as a challenge that we're ready to face head on."

One thing is certain. ASU won't alter its overall offensive game plan in an effort to accommodate for that talent gap. ASU's fast-paced offense will remain fast-paced.

"There's really no secret to our offense," receiver J.D. McKissic said . "It's really just lining up and going fast. Just another ballgame."

Sports on 09/05/2015

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