USC’s Cody Kessler is hoping for better results this time at Arizona State

USC quarterback Cody Kessler throws a pass in front of Arizona State linebacker Christian Sam during the Trojans' 38-34 loss to the Sun Devils at the Coliseum on Oct. 4, 2014.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler throws a pass in front of Arizona State linebacker Christian Sam during the Trojans’ 38-34 loss to the Sun Devils at the Coliseum on Oct. 4, 2014.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Kessler’s last trip to Arizona State did not go well.

Two years ago, in his first season as USC’s starting quarterback, he had two passes intercepted — one that was returned for a touchdown — in a 62-41 defeat that ended the Lane Kiffin era at USC.

But Kessler is looking forward to returning to Sun Devil Stadium for Saturday night’s Pac-12 Conference South Division game.

“I’m a big fan of away games,” Kessler said Tuesday after practice. “You’re kind of the underdog. There’s automatically adversity without you even stepping onto the field, just by the crowd.”

Kessler and the Trojans are attempting to put their most recent setback — a 41-31 loss to Stanford — behind them. To do it, they will need a better defensive performance and a more consistent offense, especially on third down.


Kessler, a fifth-year senior, is completing 79% of his passes, 10 for touchdowns, with no interceptions. He ranks third nationally in passing efficiency. He passed for 272 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford but was unable to rally the Trojans in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know what more we could really ask of the guy,” Coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s playing at a high level.”

Productive defender

Linebacker Su’a Cravens made 13 tackles, including a sack, and broke up a pass against Stanford. Not that it made him feel any better.

“It wasn’t enough to get the win,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter.”

Cravens must continue to be a playmaker if USC hopes to rebound at Arizona State, which is 2-1 after last week’s victory over New Mexico.

Sarkisian said on Sunday that instilling a “bully mentality” in the defense remained a work in progress.

“We’ve always had it,” Cravens said. “It’s just deciding if we’re going to go out there and execute it every time we go out onto the field.”


Asked whether goals and instructions from coaches were getting lost in translation, Cravens said it was up to players to carry out the game plan.

“A lot of people say it’s the coaches, but sometimes it’s the players,” he said. “When we go out, we just have to execute our assignments.”

Moving on

Sarkisian said USC did not platoon against Stanford as much as it did in the first two games because the Cardinal “really taxed us mentally in the game. They gave us just a myriad of personnel groupings, formations. ... They really gave us a lot of stuff to try and make us think.

“And we just tried to keep the guys out there that we felt like could do the best of getting aligned, getting assigned and operating fundamentally.”

Did the USC coaching staff make adequate adjustments?

“Sure,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t have any problem about us making adjustments. I think at the end of the day we need to coach our guys better to finish on plays. ... We had to make some adjustments on the fly of different things they presented to us.


“I thought our guys handled it well. We went to some extra D-linemen, we moved our front around, so for the most part, yeah.”

Quick hits

Defensive tackle Antwaun Woods and linebacker Scott Felix did not practice because of sore shoulders, Sarkisian said. … Tailback Tre Madden (calf) was limited but said he would play Saturday. Cornerback Kevon Seymour (knee) also was limited.

Twitter: @latimesklein