For the USC Trojans, one of the most important factors to their plan for success against ASU on Saturday night will be to find their rhythm on offense.
There has really only been one game this season -- the victory over Boston College -- where the offense was really on track. There was balance (257 yard rushing, 264 yards passing), a strong running attack with 43 attempts and a well-spread out passing game that completed passes to eight different receivers.
Chances are good that the run game will be there against the Sun Devils. The Trojans have been very consistent with the commitment to the run while averaging 42 attempts per game with 4.2 yards per rush (176.5 yards per game). ASU ranks No. 11 in the Pac-12 in rush defense at 174 yards per game.
The big key will be for the passing game to be there as well. Against Boston College, Cody Kessler hit on 14 straight passes at one point and led the team on four long scoring drives. Kessler and Max Wittek combined to finish the game by completing 17 of 19 passes with an average of over 15 yards per completion. In the three other games this year, the Trojans hit on only 47 of 90 passes at just over eight yards per completion. Against Washington State, the average completion was only 4.9 yards.
It’s not like the Trojans went to an aerial circus against Boston College in order to achieve a balanced offense. There were 19 attempts but they were called in an effective manner. It also helped that passes were caught that day. Drops have admittedly been an issue in other games.
Kessler followed that performance by hitting on eight of his first 12 passes for 106 yards against Utah State before suffering a bruised hand. After the injury, he completed just five of his last 14 throws.
Assuming Kessler has recovered by Saturday, it will be critical for him to hit enough passes to keep the Sun Devils from crowding the line to stop the run, a strategy that worked for the Aggies last week. The ASU pass defense is strong -- ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 while giving up only 159 passing yards per game. Trojans receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor are certainly capable of big games against anybody but a lot will depend on the ability of the USC offensive line to give Kessler time when needed. ASU has the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year with defensive lineman Will Sutton while the Trojans have given up nine sacks already this year.
If the Trojans can find that balance and rhythm for the offense on Saturday it would go a long way toward coming out of Tempe with a victory.