No. 16 USC hoping to keep Arizona State downPosted: Updated:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The last time Southern California faced Arizona State, the resulting blowout loss cost Lane Kiffin his job a few hours later.
Although the Trojans' season got much better from there, they tried not to think about that low point while they prepared for the rematch.
When the Sun Devils (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) arrive at the Coliseum on Saturday, they'll have to face 95-degree temperatures and the No. 16 Trojans (3-1, 2-0), who are off to a more promising start under new coach Steve Sarkisian.
Although Arizona State's big win last season changed the Trojans' trajectory, it wasn't a popular topic of conversation for either team this week.
"We had to forget all about that game after it ended," USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "We had to focus on making this season better, and there's not much you can take from that game."
The Trojans gave up a school record-tying 62 points in Tempe - the same number of points yielded last week by the Sun Devils in their own embarrassing loss to UCLA.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is eager to see how his club responds to that dismal defensive effort when it faces USC's numerous playmakers, including efficient quarterback Cody Kessler.
"I wish we would quit having these games, but we have one a year that is very difficult," Graham said. "We are probably playing the best team that we have played to this point, and so we have to play our best game. We were able to do that last year, and now we have to do it this year."
Taylor Kelly will miss his second straight game with a foot injury, so the Sun Devils will go again with Mike Bercovici, a Calabasas, California, native who played high-school ball in the San Fernando Valley. Bercovici set school records for completions (42) and attempts (68) while throwing for 488 yards in last week's loss.
Bercovici will be tested by the Trojans, who haven't allowed a touchdown pass this season. But he'll get plenty of help from running back D.J. Foster against a USC run defense that was shredded three weeks ago by Boston College.
"We're going to have to be really good up front," Sarkisian said. "Both teams are going to go fast, and we really have to prepare ourselves."
Here are some more things to watch at the Coliseum:
THROW THE BALL: While the Trojans' pass defense has been stellar even without suspended senior defensive back Josh Shaw, the Sun Devils have one of the FBS' worst marks in pass efficiency defense while playing extensive man-to-man coverage. After nine Trojans caught passes in last week's win over Oregon State, Sarkisian is hoping to distribute the ball widely among his receivers and tailbacks - but he also wants the ball to go more often to Nelson Agholor, who had only three catches against the Beavers.
QUICK START: USC is trying to get off to a commanding lead in the Pac-12 South standings with a 3-0 record in conference play. The Trojans hadn't even won their first two games of the Pac-12 schedule since 2007, so this early-season success is an unexpected boon for a team that hasn't put together a dominant conference season in several years.
HOT START: An October heat wave hit Southern California on Thursday, and it's expected to linger through Saturday. The game-time temperature in downtown Los Angeles is likely to be above 90 degrees. Luckily for the Sun Devils, they have a bit of experience with heat.
LONG TIME COMING: Arizona State hasn't won at the Coliseum since 1999, the year before Pete Carroll took over at USC. The Trojans have won 12 of 14 in the rivalry, but the Sun Devils have won two of the last three.
TOP TAILBACKS: Foster leads the Pac-12 with 135 yards rushing per game in the league's most potent run attack, but he managed just 30 yards last week while Arizona State threw the ball trying to catch up. USC tailback Javorius Allen ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 108.3 yards per game, and sophomore Justin Davis is emerging as a solid change-of-pace back.
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