USC’s defense, ranked first in the Pacific 10 Conference and third nationally, will try to stop Arizona State with two starters relegated to backup roles because of injuries.
Junior Kaluka Maiava will start in place of Keith Rivers at weak-side linebacker and freshman Everson Griffen will start in place of Kyle Moore at defensive end, Coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday.
This will be only the second time this season that USC has gone into a game down two defensive starters. Against Washington on Sept. 29, linebacker Thomas Williams played in place of Brian Cushing and cornerback Shareece Wright played for Cary Harris.
Rivers, the Trojans’ leading tackler, sprained his ankle before the Washington game and reinjured it more seriously in the Trojans’ last game against California.
Maiava has been playing with a soft cast to protect a broken left wrist since the Oregon game Oct. 27.
“The only thing that will change is wear and tear,” Maiava said of playing with the first unit. “I’m on all special teams, and now they’re counting on me to start.
“I have to have my conditioning with me. I can’t get tired and I can’t get hurt. I just have to play all game and be ready for it.”
Griffen, an Arizona native, was thrilled when informed that Carroll had announced him as the starter.
Griffen started the opener against Idaho because Moore was late for a team bus, but Moore played most of the game. With Moore slowed by a hand injury this week, Griffen took all of the first-team repetitions.
“I’ve just got to just mellow out, stay calm and do what I’ve got to do,” said Griffen, who had 3 1/2 sacks against Oregon State on Nov. 3.
Carroll intends to monitor Griffen to make sure he does not get overly excited starting in front of his family and friends.
“I’ll keep an eye on him, but I think he’ll be fine,” Carroll said. “I wouldn’t expect him to be out of whack at all.”
The Trojans and the Sun Devils will have college football’s national stage to themselves Thursday at Sun Devil Stadium. The Thanksgiving Day game kicks off at 5 p.m. PST, during or after most fans’ traditional turkey feast.
“The way it’s turned out it is a great focal-point opportunity for us,” Carroll said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “A lot of people are going to be laying on the couch. I don’t know if we’ll play well enough to keep them awake, but we’ll do the best we can.”
Offensive tackle Sam Baker completed all of the practice and will start against Arizona State, Carroll said. Baker sat out the last two games because of a hamstring injury. . . . USC leads the series against Arizona State, 14-9. . . . Arizona State has trailed in every Pacific 10 Conference game this season.
at No. 7 Arizona State (9-1, 6-1)
Thursday, 5 p.m. PST, ESPN