USC vs. Arizona State: Breaking Down Key Matchups in Week 5 Pac-12 Clash

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IISeptember 27, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans hands off to Tre Madden #23 during the second quatrter against the Utah State Aggies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 21, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After a month of college football action, it's clear that Southern Cal still isn't the same dominant team that it has been in the past.

And we're not really sure what the Arizona State Sun Devils are to this point either.

That brings about a lot of uncertainty when trying to predict their upcoming Week 5 matchup in Tempe, Ariz.. The last time that the two Pac-12 giants met in the desert, Arizona State got the better of their conference rivals.

With the Trojans struggling offensively, it looks like they have a good shot at winning two in a row in front of their student body and fans. But stats can be misleading, as the two rivals have played against much different opponents leading up to this clash.

So, we'll look at some positional matchups that might provide some better insight as to what will go down on Saturday night.


ASU Rush Defense vs. USC Offensive Line

After romping Sacramento State and holding the Hornets to 51 rushing yards, the Sun Devils were bullied by Wisconsin and Stanford in consecutive weeks. The two ranked opponents put up 231 and 240 rushing yards, respectively.

While the Trojans' offense has struggled, rushing the ball has been their saving grace. They're currently competent, at the very least, averaging 176.5 yards on the ground. If they can get rolling against the Sun Devils' seemingly porous rush defense, Lane Kiffin's team will have a shot to keep this one close.


USC Receivers vs. ASU Cornerbacks

Marqise Lee is widely believed to an NFL talent at wide receiver. Unfortunately for Lee and the Trojans, the team's passing game hasn't exactly prospered to this point.

Lee has just one touchdown after three weeks, but has been the star of the team's passing game with nearly 300 yards receiving.

Arizona State hasn't allowed a receiver to go over 100 yards yet this season and is holding opponents to 159 yards passing per game, for the 17th-best passing defense in the nation. Perhaps that's due more to the Sun Devils' struggles against the run.

Quarterback Cody Kessler hasn't emerged as a legitimate threat to really challenge defenses. Through four games, Southern Cal is averaging just 163.5 passing yards per game. Can Kessler and Lee get in a groove and challenge the Sun Devils' seemingly stout pass defense?


Trojans' Front Seven vs. High-Tempo Sun Devils Offense

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 14:  Quarterback Taylor Kelly #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils looks to pass under pressure from linebacker Chris Borland #44 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on September 14, 2013 in
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While the matchups for the Trojans on offense are important to their success in this one, they pale in comparison to their challenges on the defensive side of the ball. Their tough defense will be tested by a high-octane Sun Devils' attack.

But as fast-paced and potentially explosive as the Sun Devils can be, they haven't been exceedingly successful on third downs.

Through three games, they have converted on 42 percent of their third downs. Meanwhile, the Trojans have been excellent at getting stops, holding opponents to just a 28 percent success rate on third down.

Pressure will be another key on Saturday night. Last week, Arizona state quarterback Taylor Kelly was sacked three times and Stanford recorded 10 tackles for a loss. USC has proven to be potent with its 5-2 front in creating different looks to get pressure. The Trojans have 16 sacks through four games.

The Sun Devils have to be better up front against the Trojans than they have been so far this season if they want to beat Southern Cal for just the second time in 14 tries.