USC receiver Marquise Lee breaks free after making a catch against Arizona… (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles…)
Despite two consecutive losses, USC will play for the Pac-12 Conference title if it can defeat Arizona State at the Coliseum on Saturday and UCLA at the Rose Bowl next week. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the matchups and story lines for the game between the Trojans and Sun Devils.
Last month, on USC's trip home from Utah, receiver Marqise Lee lobbied Coach Lane Kiffin to let him play defense.
Lee might get his chance against Arizona State as Kiffin seeks to enhance the sophomore's Heisman Trophy chances and bolster the Trojans' struggling defense.
Lee, who played safety at Gardena Serra High, leads the nation in all-purpose yards with an average of 223 per game and is second with averages of 9.8 receptions and 143 yards receiving. He ranks 11th in kick returns with an average of 29.4 yards.
An interception to go along with his highlight-reel plays on offense and special teams might punch Lee's ticket to New York as a Heisman finalist.
Matt Barkley said this week that one of his goals was to finish the season without another interception.
USC's senior quarterback has passed for 30 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He had two passes intercepted in a 39-36 loss at Arizona and two in a 62-51 loss to Oregon.
Ranked 11th nationally in passing efficiency, Barkley passed for 493 yards against Arizona and 484 against Oregon. Lee and Robert Woods are his main targets, but emerging freshman Nelson Agholor also will play a role against a Sun Devils pass defense that ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh nationally.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, a third-year sophomore from Idaho, runs the Sun Devils' spread attack. He has passed for 20 touchdowns with six interceptions, and rushed for 383 yards in 97 carries.
Chris Coyle has 43 receptions, two for touchdowns.
Tailback Silas Redd carried five times during USC's first possession against Oregon and finished with 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns in 18 carries.
Equally significant: He did not fumble.
Senior Curtis McNeal appears sound after sitting out against Arizona because of a concussion. McNeal rushed for 35 yards in five carries against Oregon and caught three passes. Sophomore D.J. Morgan also is ready to contribute.
No Arizona State running back averages more than 44 yards rushing per game.
Marion Grice has scored 13 touchdowns, seven receiving and six rushing. Cameron Marshall, who ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns against the Trojans last season, has six rushing touchdowns, one receiving. And freshman D.J. Foster has four touchdown catches and two rushing touchdowns.
Coaches spent the week absorbing criticism for the Trojans' poor defensive performances against Arizona and Oregon.
But USC players know they must tackle better and capitalize when turnover opportunities present themselves.
Monte Kiffin oversees a unit that in the last two weeks has dropped from 30th to 65th in total defense and from 18th to 49th in scoring defense.
Arizona State ranks 24th in total defense, 42nd in scoring defense. The Sun Devils are second nationally with 38 sacks. Lineman Will Sutton has 91/2, linebacker Carl Bradford 71/2.
USC kicker Andre Heidari made a 39-yard field goal against Oregon and has converted seven of 10 attempts. Punter Kyle Negrete has averaged 44.3 yards per kick.
The spectacular Lee had 251 yards in kickoff returns against Oregon. Nickell Robey has averaged 9.5 yards per punt return.
Alex Garoutte has made six of 11 field-goal attempts for Arizona State. Punter Josh Hubner ranks third nationally, averaging 47.4 yards per kick.
Rashad Ross returned a kickoff for a touchdown and has averaged 26.2 yards per return. Jamal Miles averages eight yards per punt return.