Feisty defense is a mark of Sun Devils

Television cameras will follow the ball when 12th-ranked USC plays at Arizona State, but Saturday’s game might be one in which interior-line play actually qualifies as highlight material.

USC’s offense will go against an aggressive Sun Devil front seven that has helped make Arizona State the Pacific 10 Conference’s top-ranked defense.

Freshman Vontaze Burfict, who originally committed to USC, starts at middle linebacker for a unit that gives up only 296 yards a game.

The Sun Devils, however, also lead the conference in penalties and penalty yardage. They average 9.2 infractions and 89.2 penalty yards a game.


“They’re trying to set an attitude and they do a good job at it,” USC center Jeff Byers said Thursday. “They’re feisty, they’re mean, they’re nasty -- that’s a good thing to have on defense.”

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Burfict starred at Corona Centennial High.

He is the Sun Devils’ second-leading tackler and has two sacks. Burfict also has forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and broken up four passes for a unit that has a conference-best 13 interceptions.

“He’s a young guy that is really trying to make an impression,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said this week. “It looks like he’s effected a very aggressive attitude.”

USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley remembers Burfict from games between Santa Ana Mater Dei High and Centennial.

“He’s a beast,” Barkley said this week.

Byers, a 6-3, 290-pound sixth-year senior, is looking forward to matching up against Burfict.

“I remember when we had two guys named Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing,” Byers said. “They were just like him.”

Williams ready

Receiver Damian Williams caught nine passes, including a touchdown, against Oregon despite a sore hamstring and glute.

The junior is still nursing the injuries but was well enough to complete practice.

“I feel a lot better than I did at this point last week,” he said.

Carroll cited Williams while addressing the Trojans this week.

Carroll said he told players, “This is an example of how you can adapt in dealing with the aches and pains, and sometimes you can find a way to still contribute in a big way.”

Quick hits

With the New York Jets having an open date, former Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez attended team meetings and practice. . . . Linebacker Malcolm Smith (shoulder) and tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) will not make the trip to Tempe, Ariz. Shane Horton will start in place of Smith. Jordan Campbell also will play. Rhett Ellison or Blake Ayles will start in place of McCoy. . . . Defensive linemen Armond Armstead (wrist) and Nick Perry (shoulder) practiced and said they would play Saturday. . . . Receiver Brandon Carswell, who caught a career-best three passes against Oregon, did not practice because of a toe sprain and is questionable. Defensive end Everson Griffen (toe) worked with a trainer during practice and also is questionable. . . . Tailback Marc Tyler, who had season-ending toe surgery last week, attended practice. . . . Center Kristofer O’Dowd, who has not started the last two games, took some first-team snaps this week and is expected to play be- hind Byers against the Sun Devils.