Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler has two passes intercepted and… (Seth Perlman / Associated…)
Three consecutive victories got USC back into the Associated Press poll at No. 23, but the Trojans face their first major test in a game between Pacific 12 Conference South Division front-runners. Staff writer Gary Klein examines at the game's issues and matchups:
The game features two of the Pac-12's strongest passers.
USC's Matt Barkley is coming off the third five-touchdown performance of his career. The junior has passed for nine touchdowns with only one pass intercepted and is connecting at a rate of 69%.
Barkley, sacked only twice this season, also displayed a seldom-seen ability to scramble against Syracuse.
Arizona State's Brock Osweiler has passed for six touchdowns with three interceptions. He has completed 66% of his passes but has been sacked seven times.
In a victory over Missouri, the 6-foot-8 Osweiler completed 24 of 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Last week, in a loss at Illinois, he had two passes intercepted and lost a fumble that set up the deciding touchdown.
Despite the 7:15 p.m. start, the game-time temperature is expected to be in the 90s.
USC players have a history of being tethered to intravenous drips during halftime at Sun Devils Stadium, but Coach Lane Kiffin said, "We pump 'em with stuff 72 hours leading" up to the game so it shouldn't be an issue Saturday.
"The only thing we can do is rotate and play more guys, especially early in the game," he said. "Because once you get gassed and start going to the IVs, you're pretty much gone at that point."
Middle linebacker Chris Galippo began hydrating Tuesday.
"The biggest mistake guys will make is, 'Hey, it's Thursday night. I'm going to start drinking water,'" Galippo said. "You've got to start drinking a ton of water early in the week so you're going through practice flushing your body out and getting used to being that hydrated and playing with a whole bunch of water weight."
Speaking of heat …
… There's those tempers …
On instruction from coaches, members of USC's scout team spent most of the week delivering late hits, verbal insults and indulging in other post-whistle mischief in an attempt to unnerve the regulars.
It was an attempt to prepare the Trojans for a matchup against a team — led by highly-aggressive linebacker Vontaze Burfict — that averages eight penalties a game.
The focus, Kiffin said, was on turning away from retaliation.
"When it gets loud and hot and everything [is] going on with the game, we've got to do our best to keep our composure," he said.
Osweiler and Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson credited a boisterous crowd for making a big difference in the Sun Devils' victory over Missouri two weeks ago.
They hope for similar support against the Trojans.
"If we can have the same impact as our students had against the University of Missouri, that gives us an advantage," Erickson said. "That's the best I've ever seen it here. How they got involved, how much noise they made, how much they enjoyed it, that's the advantage of playing at home.
"When it gets noisy, it bothers you. You can say what you want, but it does. It causes some penalties that you normally wouldn't get if you're playing at home. Just tell them to keep coming and get loud."
The Trojans expect nothing less.
"It's just a classic loud place with a student section, and heat and a night game it just all goes together," Kiffin said. "We're going to have to have great focus."
USC has an 18-9 edge in the series against the Sun Devils. … Greg Burns, Arizona State's defensive backs coach, was a USC assistant from 2002 to 2005.
USC; Category; ARIZONA STATE
26.7; scoring offense; 33.0
16.0; scoring defense; 20.3
298.0; pass offense; 314.7
131.3; rush offense; 142.3
429.3; total offense; 457.0
229.3; pass defense; 203.0
88.0; rush defense; 125.0