Tempe, AZ – The 23rd-ranked USC Trojans are playing with a 12 Conference showdown.
Lane Kiffin's Trojans are ineligible for a bowl game this season, continue to be on probation and are playing with fewer scholarship players than the norm because of NCAA sanctions. Still, USC is off to a 3-0 start and has cracked the Top-25. After fairly narrow victories over both Minnesota and Utah to open the campaign, the Trojans cruised to a 38-17 victory over Syracuse last week. Including this weekend's affair, three of the next four tilts for USC will take place on the road.
As for Arizona State, it opened the 2011 season with back-to-back victories, including a thrilling overtime triumph over Missouri. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they couldn't remain perfect last weekend, as they fell to Illinois on the road by a 17-14 final. Dennis Erickson has been coaching long enough to know how to refocus his players, and ASU has the obvious advantage of playing at home this weekend.
"We didn't protect very well," said Erickson after the Illinois loss. "It wasn't anything we didn't know was coming. There was a lot more pressure than the first two football games, and there will be a lot more pressure the next 10 football games."
USC owns an 18-9 series advantage over Arizona State, which includes 11 consecutive wins over the Sun Devils. Last season's matchup was one to remember, as the Trojans escaped with a thrilling 34-33 triumph.
Through three games, USC is generating 26.7 ppg and 429.3 total ypg, and quarterback Matt Barkley is the key to the offense's success. Considered one of the best players in the nation at his position, Barkley has completed 69 percent of his passes for 892 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception. There is no doubt who the top receiving option is on the USC roster, as Robert Woods already has 33 catches for 361 yards and four scores. As for the ground attack, Marc Tyler has rushed for 154 yards in the two games that he has played.
USC has been strong defensively, as the team is limiting opponents to 16.0 ppg and 317.3 total ypg. The Trojans have been particularly tough against the run, having permitted 88.0 ypg at a clip of just 3.3 ypc to date. Of the six touchdowns scored by opposing offenses, only two have been of the rushing variety.
Against Syracuse, Barkley threw for 324 yards and a school record-tying five touchdowns to five different receivers. He didn't have an interception in the game and continues to play nearly flawless football.
"It's about time," said Barkley after his team's big offensive effort against Syracuse. "It kind of felt like Trojan football again. If they're going to leave guys open, we're going to exploit that."
The defense limited the Orange to 331 total yards and excelled against the run as usual, permitting just 3.5 yards per carry.
Facing that tough USC defense this weekend will be ASU's Brock Osweiler, who is likely still sore after taking a beating in the loss to Illinois. Osweiler was sacked six times and tossed a pair of interceptions, as he was seemingly under heavy pressure all game.
"They brought a lot of pressure," Osweiler said. "Shoot, it seemed like every snap."
ASU is scoring 33.0 ppg this season while racking up 457.0 total ypg. Osweiler is connecting on 66 percent of his passes for 871 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, and Aaron Pflugrad has shined at receiver, having logged 18 receptions for 305 yards and four scores.
It is hard to place too much blame on the ASU defense for last week's loss to Illinois, as the Sun Devils surrendered only 240 total yards, including a mere 2.3 yards per rushing attempt. ASU came up with three takeaways, including a pair of fumble recoveries, but those positives weren't enough to avoid defeat.
Opponents are posting 20.3 ppg against the Sun Devils, who are permitting 328.0 total ypg. Colin Parker paces the defense with 24 total tackles, while Vontaze Burfict has four sacks to his credit.