USC-Arizona State: What To Watch For

USA TODAY Sports

Will Arizona State's up-tempo offense wear down the USC defense? Can Cody Kessler limit his mistakes in his first conference road matchup? And will the Trojans finally be able to score in the third quarter. We examine that and much more in our game preview of USC-Arizona State.

1. Tempo

Todd Graham's squad likes to play fast. The Sun Devils rank sixth in the nation in plays per game. At home, that figure increases to 94 per contest. Factor in average time of possession (28:16) and Arizona State averages a play every 19 seconds. The Trojans, meanwhile, rank 91st in the nation in plays per game. Part of that, according to coach Lane Kiffin, is due to sanctions, which forces USC to play at a more deliberate pace. But sanctions aside, this will be USC's first true road test against a quality opponent, and Arizona State will push the tempo in the Tempe heat. That's not a good combination, but the Trojans defense has looked rock solid through four games. Will they be able to keep up in a hostile environment as the game progresses?

2. Ground Game

Tre Madden narrowly missed his fourth straight 100+ yard rushing game against Utah State, but he still piled on 93 yards, plus a touchdown. Establishing a running game is part of controlling the tempo, particularly on the road. The Sun Devils allowed 240 rushing yards to Stanford and 231 to Wisconsin. Expect Madden and Justin Davis to get the ball a ton to also help ease the pressure off Cody Kessler.

3. Protecting the Ball

Kessler gets his first crack in a conference road matchup against an Arizona State defense that has recorded three sacks and three interceptions through three games. The stats might not be telling, but just a year ago, this Sun Devils unit ranked second in the nation in sacks and fourth in interceptions. Kessler doesn't need to be a superstar on the road, he just needs to manage the game and control the pace. More importantly, the ability to convert on third-down will be paramount not just for the offense to get into a rhythm, but also for the defense to rest on the sidelines.

4. Third Quarter Woes

The Trojans have scored just seven points this season in the third quarter - a touchdown in their season opener at Hawaii. They've been held scoreless in the opening frame out of halftime for three straight contests. Dating back to last season, they've been shut out in the last five third quarters. For whatever reason - halftime adjustments or inconsistency on offense - USC has ben unable to find the end zone. The defense has done its part in limiting opponents to just seven total points (a touchdown vs. Utah State) through four games. But can the Trojans sustain any type of offensive rhythm in the third quarter, especially on the road?

5. Penalties

This feels like a recurring theme, but USC ranks 102nd in the nation in penalties per game. Against quality opponents like Arizona State, silly mistakes like these will plague the Trojans. But of more importance, how will USC's offensive line, who has experienced some growing pains and inconsistency this year, fare in a hostile road environment?

USC-Arizona State kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT and will be televised live on ESPN2. You can also listen live on 710 ESPN Radio.

Follow Trevor on Twitter: @Trevor_Wong.

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