The No. 19 USC Trojans (2-1) look to bounce back from a tough home loss to Stanford last week when they travel to Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-1) on Saturday night. Last season, Arizona State shocked the then-No. 16 USC on a Hail Mary touchdown at the Coliseum.
The Sun Devils are looking for their third-straight win over USC, but they are not off to a great start. Arizona State fell to Texas A&M, 38-17, in the season opener, and defeated lowly Cal Poly and New Mexico by 14 points and 24 points, respectively. Todd Graham's squad get their first test of the season against a ranked opponent before heading to Pasadena to face No. 9 UCLA on Oct. 3.
"It doesn't get any bigger than this game, and obviously our guys know the implications of this game," Graham said. "It's not hard to get motivated."
Mike Bercovici, who threw the 46-yard pass to beat USC last October, has had an uneven start to the 2015 season. He has thrown just one interception, and has a 140 quarterback rating, but has completed just 61.9 percent of his passes and was sacked nine times against the Aggies.
"Our deal is just finding our rhythm," Graham said. "I have unbelievable belief in Mike Bercovici, and I think he'll prove that as we get moving in the Pac-12."
Running back Demario Richard has done a solid job for the Sun Devils, rushing for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and has caught eight passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. But Graham will add to his depth by welcoming back running backs Kalen Ballage and De'Chavon Hayes, as well as senior wide receiver Devin Lucien, who had left last week's game against New Mexico with a leg injury.
Despite the loss to Stanford, USC received a strong effort from Heisman Trophy candidate Cody Kessler. The senior quarterback looked sharp from start to finish, completing 25 of his 32 pass attempts for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Kessler has yet to throw an interception and has competed nearly 79 percent of his passes.
But USC may consider running the ball a bit more against Arizona State. Tre Madden ran for 7.1 yard per carry against Stanford and a touchdown, but USC only gave the senior nine rush attempts. The USC running game has rushed for an average of 6.4 yards per carry this season.
The Trojans, perhaps feeling the effects of losing star defensive end Leonard Williams to the NFL, could use a better effort from their defensive line. Against Stanford, they unit allowed quarterback Kevin Hogan to complete 18-23 passes, and the Cardinal's ground game rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns. The entire defense often looked outmatched against a consistent Stanford offense.
"Things just started to bleed a little bit," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said Wednesday. "We had some critical mistakes on key plays on key drives, and some of the one-on-ones we were about a step away. That was really what it boiled down to after watching the tape."
Wilcox may need the defense to start forcing turnovers. After two interceptions and two fumbles against Arkansas State, the Trojans defense failed to get a turnover against Idaho and Stanford.
Prediction: USC over Arizona State, 34-21
Kickoff Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Point Spread: USC by 4.5 points (according to Vegas Insider)
Over/Under: 60.5 points