USC takes on Arizona State

USC takes on Arizona State
USC quarterback Cody Kessler completed 24 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State on Sept. 27. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

With a game at unbeaten Arizona looming next week, USC plays its Pac-12 Conference South Division opener at home against an Arizona State team coming off a loss to UCLA. Gary Klein examines the story lines:

Heat index


Game-time temperatures forecast to be in the 90s will test the stamina of both teams' defenses.

USC ran a Pac-12 record 105 plays in its season-opening victory over Fresno State.

Arizona State tied the record in its 62-27 loss to UCLA last week.

Controlling interest

USC quarterback Cody Kessler is on pace for a record-setting season.

The junior has completed 95 of 132 passes for 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns, with no interceptions. He entered the week ranked 16th nationally in passing efficiency, and was the only major college quarterback who had more than 106 attempts without an interception.

Taylor Kelly remains sidelined because of a foot injury, so fourth-year junior Mike Bercovici will start at quarterback for Arizona State.

In his first start last week against UCLA, Bercovici completed 42 of 68 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions — one that was returned for a touchdown.

Bercovici, who is from Calabasas and played at Woodland Hills Taft, faces a USC defense that has not given up a touchdown pass and has made seven interceptions.

On the run

USC is coming off a 200-yard rushing effort against Oregon State, a confidence boost after gaining only 20 net yards rushing against Boston College.

Tailback Javorius Allen has rushed for more than 100 yards three times this season. He ran for 115 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State.

Sophomore Justin Davis, who had off-season ankle surgery, finally appears comfortable. Last week, he rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.

Arizona State's D.J. Foster is averaging 135 yards rushing per game, which ranks first in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally. Last week against UCLA, Foster was limited to 30 yards in nine carries.


Receptive to opportunity

Nelson Agholor leads a USC receiving corps that will work against a Sun Devils defense ranked 115th among 125 major college teams in passing-efficiency defense. (The Trojans are sixth.)

Freshman JuJu Smith has 15 receptions, junior George Farmer 11 and sophomore Darreus Rogers seven, including a touchdown on a Hail Mary pass last week.

The Trojans also are more frequently using tight ends Randall Telfer and Bryce Dixon.

Arizona State's Jaelen Strong has 31 receptions, two for touchdowns.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Strong, ranks 11th nationally with 7.8 receptions a game, and is 19th nationally with 103 yards receiving a game.

Foster is the Sun Devils' second-leading receiver with 16 receptions, one for a touchdown.

In their defense

USC's defense rebounded from a poor performance at Boston College by not giving up an offensive touchdown against Oregon State.

Lineman Leonard Williams is the leading tackler for a unit that appears to have received a spark with Su'a Cravens' move from safety to linebacker.

Cravens returned an interception for a touchdown against Oregon State and leads the Trojans with five tackles for losses.

Freshman cornerback Adoree' Jackson could start for the first time.

Arizona State safety Damarious Randall averages a nation-leading nine tackles a game for a defense that ranks 94th nationally.

Special teams

USC kicker Andre Heidari has made four of six field-goal attempts, and Kris Albarado is averaging 40.5 yards a punt.

The Trojans gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return against Oregon State.

Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez has made five of six field-goal attempts. Punter Matt Haack averages 43.5 yards per kick.

The Sun Devils gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return against UCLA.