Southern California coach Pete Carroll hopes to keep his top-ranked team from letting up as it faces another stiff test this Saturday against unbeaten Arizona State.
The 15th-ranked Sun Devils are just trying to prove they belong in the national title argument with their Pac-10 rivals.
“I think you can say we’re for real,” Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter said.
The Trojans (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10) will have to contend with an Arizona State (5-0, 2-0) team off to its best start since 1995, when the Sun Devils won 11 straight en route to the Rose Bowl.
USC has been tested early and often during its defense of the AP national title. The Trojans had to rally from behind for last Saturday’s 23-17 victory over No. 8 California—just two weeks after coming back to beat Stanford 31-28.
Carroll insists that his club won’t get caught looking back on what it has accomplished.
“We are not being affected by what happened, but by what is coming up,” he said. “Every week is a new test and we are being tested again this week.
“I live in fear of a letdown,” Carroll added. “It’s why we have such a constitution about ourselves. It’s why we talk the way that we do. We do it to maintain a mentality that most teams can’t do. We are trying to separate from what is expected to meet the challenges every week.”
The Trojans have won 14 straight games, 25 of their last 26 and 17 straight at the L.A. Coliseum. They beat Cal with a goal-line stand in the final two minutes after managing just 12 first downs to 28 for the Golden Bears. USC also lost the yardage battle to Cal 424-205.
Cal’s Aaron Rodgers completed his first 23 passes to tie an NCAA single-game record for consecutive completions and was 29-of-31 for 267 yards before misfiring on his final three attempts with the game on the line.
USC faces another outstanding quarterback this week in Andrew Walter, a senior who has completed 98 of 179 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns with only one interception for ASU.
“We have seen him so much over the years. We have watched him grow up,” Carroll said of Walter. “He is the best that he has ever been. He just won’t give the ball up. He is a marvelous talent with a great arm. Not only does he have strength, but he is also accurate. He can throw the ball down the field as well as anyone in the country.”
The Trojans have been hit by injuries in the secondary, where they were vulnerable to begin with, and at wide receiver.
“We are going to try to get resourceful and work things out,” Carroll said.
Starting safety Darnell Bing didn’t play against Cal because of a shoulder injury but is expected back this week. His replacement, Scott Ware, injured his foot against the Bears and won’t play against ASU.
Steve Smith, USC’s leading receiver with 27 receptions for 414 yards and two touchdowns, broke his left leg against Cal and is sidelined indefinitely. That leaves sophomore Chris McFoy and freshman Dwayne Jarrett as the starters.
However, the Trojans still have the luxury of having two of the top offensive players in the country.
Tailback Reggie Bush leads USC with 555 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns. He also has a team-best 434 return yards. Quarterback Matt Leinart has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Arizona State should be well rested after having last weekend off.
Walter threw three touchdown passes and third-string tailback Hakim Hill ran for 134 yards and a touchdown to lead the Sun Devils to a 28-13 win over Oregon on Oct. 2.
USC leads the all-time series 11-9, and has won the last four meetings, including last October’s 37-13 rout.