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USC-Arizona State: A look at how the teams match up

USC-Arizona State: A look at how the teams match up
The USC sideline celebrates after the Trojans defense forced a turnover on downs against Colorado on Oct. 13. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC (4-3, 3-2) vs. Arizona State (3-4, 1-3)

Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Coliseum. TV: Channel 7. Radio: 710.

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Marquee matchup

USC rushing offense vs. Arizona State rushing defense. Time is running out for USC to prove it can generate a consistent rushing attack in 2018. The Trojans pounded away at Utah’s tough defensive front last week 29 times for 83 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and once again put everything on JT Daniels and the passing game. It was too much for Daniels, and USC could not extend drives, failing to convert on all 10 third downs in the first three quarters. With Daniels out because of a concussion he sustained against the Utes, USC will ultimately have a small chance to win without the ability to run the ball. Jack Sears will be taking his first college snaps, and, while he has the talent, the game will be moving at an extraordinary pace for him. USC will have to toughen up and grind out yards with Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai — and an occasional quarterback run for the swift-footed Sears.

Getting offensive

USC (381.3 ypg/26.0 ppg): The Trojans’ offensive line needs to show the same kind of improvement in the run game that it has in pass blocking since early in the season. There is no excuse for an offense as talented as USC’s to be 115th in the nation in rushing offense. The Trojans have the playmakers on the outside to win one-on-one battles with the Sun Devils, but Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Amon-ra St. Brown do not have the rapport with Sears that they do with Daniels. The offensive line’s ability to open running lanes and protect Sears on clear passing downs will decide this game.

Arizona State (419.1 ypg/27.4 ppg): The Sun Devils haven’t been able to finish drives against good defenses this season — a big reason why they’ve lost four games, each by a touchdown. They’re close to being a competent group with quarterback Manny Wilkins, running back Eno Benjamin and wide receiver N’Keal Harry all capable of making big plays.

Getting defensive

USC (356.1ypg/27.4 ppg): Are the Trojans a subpar defensive outfit or a group decimated by injuries and an offense that routinely puts them in a bad position? On a week-to-week basis, it is hard to figure. USC will once again be without Cameron Smith in the middle, and depth in the secondary is dubious. But without Smith and with this same inconsistent offense, the defense was dominant against Colorado at home.

Arizona State (381.1 ypg/21 ppg): This is where the Sun Devils can win and give Herm Edwards’ program a big boost in Year 1. Arizona State will look to feast on Sears, forcing him into drop-back passing scenarios in which they can bring pressure to force mistakes.

Something special

This will be a game in which USC will need some big plays in the return game to set up better field position for a struggling offense. Look for Vaughns, Carr and Velus Jones Jr. to try to break a big one.

Of note

USC has won three in a row against Arizona State.

Injury report

In addition to Daniels, backup quarterback Matt Fink is out with broken ribs. Smith is out with a hamstring injury and a knee injury.

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