USC (3-1) at Arizona State (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 28, 10:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706) -- Tempe, Arizona. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: USC 2-1, ASU 2-0. Away Record: USC 1-0, ASU 0-1. Neutral Record: USC 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: USC 0-1, ASU 0-1. Series Record: USC leads, 18-10.
GAME NOTES: In a key Pac-12 South Division matchup the USC Trojans will visit the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium, with each team in search of its first league win.
It wasn't a particularly strong victory, but it was a win nonetheless for USC this past weekend. The Trojans escaped with a 17-14 decision over Utah State thanks to a 25-yard field goal from Andre Heidari early in the fourth quarter. The Trojans have now won back-to back contests after dropping a 10-7 decision to Washington State in their Pac-12 opener.
Arizona State got its first taste of Pac-12 action last weekend against No. 5 Stanford. The Sun Devils, who were ranked No. 23 at the time, did not have an enjoyable trip, as they were downed 42-28 on the road. Arizona State is now 2-1 on the campaign, including the bizarre 32-30 win over Wisconsin two weeks ago.
In last season's meeting, USC outscored Arizona State 24-3 in the second half and Matt Barkley threw three touchdowns as the Trojans rolled to a 38-17 victory. USC holds an 18-10 edge in the all-time series.
Over the last decade or so, USC has been known as a quarterback factory. This season the two players who have seen time have not lived up to the standard set by past squads. Cody Kessler has been the primary option but has been inconsistent. He has completed 60.5 percent of his pass attempts, but has just four touchdowns and two interceptions. Kessler really struggled against Utah State, where he completed just 48.1 percent of his passes for 164 yards.
The regression of Marqise Lee hasn't helped matters in the passing game. Lee has 23 receptions for 293 yards this season but has not been the explosive threat he was a year ago when he won the Biletnikoff Award. Although part of the issue is the lack of consistent quarterback play, Lee hasn't looked like the same player either.
Tre Madden has been a nice revelation. Madden leads the team with 455 yards and two touchdowns on 90 carries and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three games this year. Madden also leads the team in all-purpose yards (524) by a wide margin.
For all their struggles on offense, the Trojans have remained competitive thanks to a strong defensive effort. USC has held all four of its opponents to 14 or fewer points this season and is currently the top team in the Pac-12 in total defense (230.5 ypg). USC has been able to have success by constantly creating negative plays. USC leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (16) and tackles for loss (38).
Morgan Breslin and George Uko are tied for the conference lead in sacks with four apiece. The two are two of four players to have at least 4.5 tackles for loss with Leonard Williams (6.0) leading the way in that category. Meanwhile, Dion Bailey (24 tackles, two INTs) is an All-American candidate in the secondary.
In this matchup Arizona State has the edge on offense. The Sun Devils might have been somewhat slowed by Stanford, but a lot of teams are. They are averaging 469.3 yards and 38.3 points per game, ranking 15th nationally in scoring.
Marion Grice is leading the charge in that category as he has already amassed eight touchdowns this season, with six rushing and two receiving. Grice also leads the team in all-purpose yards as a running back.
There are a number of other versatile offensive weapons for the Sun Devils. D.J. Foster has brought in 19 passes for 178 yards and although he did not have a carry against Stanford, is a threat out of the backfield. Deantre Lewis is another player listed at running back who has made plays on the ground (70 yards) and through the air (75 yards). Jaelen Strong (24 receptions, 330 yards, two TDs) is the team's top option in the passing game.
Guiding the ship is multi-talented quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has throw for 1,019 yards and eight touchdowns on 59.9 percent passing.
Arizona State's defense has been a middle of the road team in the Pac-12. Arizona State ranks seventh in the conference in both total defense (333.0 ypg) and scoring defense (24.0 ypg). Arizona State has not been nearly as disruptive in opponents backfields as USC, with just three sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Star defensive end Will Sutton has just nine tackles and no sacks on the season as the Sun Devils are still waiting for him to recapture his form from a year ago. Chris Young (19 tackles) leads the team in stops, while Osahon Irabor (17 tackles, 4.0 TFL) leads the way in tackles for loss.
If USC is really going to be a threat in the Pac-12 South it needs to prove that it can play defense against top flight offenses. Arizona State might not be the best offensive team in the conference, but Grice and company present a number of challenges for opposing defensive units, and maybe too many for the Trojans.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 30, USC 24
09/25 10:37:08 ET