Arizona State (3-1) at (16) USC (3-1) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Arizona State, a team desperate to bounce back, will face a stern test when it travels to the Los Angeles Coliseum for a Pac-12 Conference clash with the 16th-ranked USC Trojans.
The Sun Devils entered last weekend's matchup with then No. 11 UCLA sporting a 3-0 record and a No. 15 national ranking. They were set for what was advertised as a Pac-12 showdown with conference title implication, but then the game happened, ending in a 62-27 letdown that sent the Sun Devils spiraling out of the national polls.
"I wish we would quit having these games, but we have one a year that is very difficult," Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, referencing the team's 42-28 loss to Stanford last season.
USC had a less torrid run through week five, finishing off Oregon State rather easily (35-10) to improve to 2-0 in Pac-12 play and 3-1 overall. The Trojans moved up to No. 16 in the most recent AP Poll due to the victory, and now they set their sights on landing another blow to Arizona State's South Division title chances.
"I think in general as a team, we have to remain hungry and have the mind set of the relentless drive to achieve perfection and not be satisfied with this game," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Oregon State game. "As a staff we're going to continue to tweak things, and we're going to continue to work with individual players because we have to continue to improve."
Lane Kiffin was still the head coach for the Trojans when these teams met last September. He was fired soon after the game, which ended in a 62-41 final in favor of Arizona State. USC still leads the all-time series, 18-11.
The Sun Devils were playing with quite a disadvantage last week, as starting quarterback Taylor Kelly was out with a foot injury. He is still listed as out indefinitely, which means Mike Bercovici will once again be called upon to lead the charge. In his first start, Bercovici did some things well, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns. However, he also made plenty of mistakes, winding up with two interceptions.
D.J. Foster was man-handled by UCLA's front seven, which did no favors for the rest of the offense. Foster is the leading rusher in the Pac-12, with 540 yards on 63 carries, but he had only 30 yards against the Bruins. It was the first time this season he has had less than 140 yards, let alone less than 40. Foster is a key player in the passing game as well, with 16 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. He was better in that regard against UCLA, with 68 yards on five grabs.
A return to form by Foster and improvement by Bercovici will be needed for Arizona State to maintain its spot as the second-best offense in the Pac-12 (560.8 ypg). Although, even with each of them struggling, the Sun Devils still finished with 626 yards against UCLA.
Perhaps the only group that had a good game against UCLA was the receiving corps. Jaelen Strong tallied a season-high 12 receptions for 146 yards, and Cameron Smith added 95 yards and a score on eight grabs. Strong (31 receptions, 412 yards, two TDs) leads the Sun Devils in receptions and receiving yards, and Smith (15 receptions, 198 yards, two TDs) clearly has skill as well.
Of course, the unit that should have Graham most concerned going forward is his defense. The Sun Devils allowed 580 yards to the Bruins, and the 62 points they allowed was a little more than double their average yield (30.8 ppg).
The desire for redemption will fall hard on leading tackler Damarious Randall (38, 4.0 TFL), as well as a defensive front that has accumulated only seven sacks.
USC may not be the offensive juggernaut that head coach Steve Sarkisian wants, but the Trojans are certainly making strides. They are posting 447.5 yards and 32.8 points per game, counting the 461-yard output against Oregon State.
The first quarterback Sarkisian has been working with at USC is Cody Kessler, and the results have been stellar. Kessler has thrown for 1,107 yards and 10 scores. Even more impressively, he has completed 72 percent of his passes without an interception. Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are the only players in the country to have such a stat line.
Kessler really spread the ball around against Oregon State, hitting nine players with at least one pass. However, Nelson Agholor (26 receptions, 239 yards, three TDs) is obviously the top option. He may have only had 27 yards on three catches against the Beavers, but Agholor will continue to get the majority of the targets. JuJu Smith (14 receptions, 183 yards) hasn't done much since his 123-yard effort against Fresno State.
The backfield also has a guy to lean on in Javorius Allen. The redshirt junior has tallied 433 yards and two scores on 80 carries. He finished with 115 yards against Oregon State for his third 100-yard game of the season. Additionally, Allen has racked up 164 yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions.
Sarkisian was fortunate to inherit a talented defensive team when he took over at USC. The Trojans have maintained that reputation in the early going, ranking third in the Pac-12 in total defense (354.3 ypg), and second in points allowed (17.5 ppg).
Arizona State is not as bad as it looked last week, but without Kelly the Sun Devils are not considered a serious contender in the Pac-12. USC has gotten off to a strong start under Sarkisian, and that should continue this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 30, Arizona State 20