One could say that the USC quarterback situation at the beginning of the season is what is producing these low offensive output, but the Trojan's offensive line has been a rather befuddling achilles heel as well in advanced pass protection. While USC's front seven on the other side of the ball has shaped into one of the best in the country, the Trojans offense line has struggled to keep opposing defenses out of the Trojan's back field.
Although USC has found success running the football in the second half of play the past two weeks, they now rank 106th in total offense at just 340 yards-per-game. At the front and center of this discussion has been the offensive line, which ranks 103rd overall in sacks allowed and 96th in overall tackles-for-loss.
In regards to the offensive line, head coach Lane Kiffin said in his Sunday press conference, "We're not playing great."
Through four games against teams with not-so-stellar defenses, the USC offensive line has given up nine sacks for a total of 47 lost yards, this for a unit with two young starters on the left side of the line (Chad Wheeler . However, as the Trojans now dive further into Pac-12 play, they are going to be seeing stronger defenses that will be dialing up the pressure in order to get to Kessler and the Trojan's running backs behind the line of scrimmage.
This Saturday will be the first real test for the USC offensive line as they matchup in the trenches with an Arizona State defensive line that allotted 56 sacks last season and features all-american defensive tackle Will Sutton, who has yet to record a sack this season after being the Pac-12's #2 leader in sacks in 2012.
Sutton's inability to produce sacks reflects the Sun Devils as well, who have only put up three sacks through three games. Therefore, the battle battle in the trenches between the USC offensive line and the ASU defensive line is going to be one between two struggling units. Who is going to be the first to hold their ground in this crucial Pac-12 South matchup?
Well, if there has been one bright spot in theTrojan's offense , it's been their running game lead behind resurgent redshirt sophomore running back Tre Madden, and true freshman Justin Davis. While the USC offensive line has not really done a good job in protecting their quarterbacks, it has opened up some good holes for their running back to make big plays. Establishing the running game early in Saturday night's game will be crucial for USC's success in this ever-important road tilt, so that they can open up the passing game as the night goes on.
Kessler has started to prove that if he drops back and has time to throw, he can make some very strong and accurate throws into space, and this all starts with the trench work of the offensive line. If they can keep Sutton and the rest of the ASU defensive line out of the backfield, Kessler should be able to take advantage of the Sun Devils's secondary with Lee and Agholor on the outside.
Saturday night's matchup in Phoenix, Ariz. shapes up to be a "war of the trenches" and whichever team comes out victorious here should end up winning a game that is absolutely crucial if they want to have any chance at beating out UCLA for the Pac-12 South crown.