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First look: USC vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State is playing to save its season, which could make Saturday’s late-night game at the Coliseum a dangerous proposition for USC.

The Sun Devils (4-4, 2-3 in the Pac-10) likely need to win three of their final four games to play in a bowl game and Saturday’s game is one of only two remaining against unranked teams. ASU still must play No. 13 Stanford and at No. 15 Arizona.

Recent history isn’t on ASU’s side, as it has lost 10 in a row to the Trojans.

As a rule, things haven’t been going well for coach Dennis Erickson’s team and he could be under some pressure if the Sun Devils don’t reach the post-season. His team hasn’t won back-to-back Pac-10 games since sweeping the Washington schools last October.

Quarterback Steven Threet calmed some nerves in the desert with his nearly perfect day (26-of-32, 300 yards, three touchdowns) in a 42-0 demolition against Washington State Saturday. Then again, Washington State tends to cure to a lot of team’s ills. The Cougars have lost 15 straight conference games. The week before, Threet had struggled (and gotten a concussion) in a blowout loss at Cal.

Indications are Saturday’s game could be high-scoring even though both teams have talented players on defense. Some of Arizona State’s best defensive players are young, including freshman defensive end Junior Onyeali and sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was briefly benched by Erickson earlier this month for a series of cheap shots. Burfict pulled a hamstring in the fourth quarter Saturday and didn’t play after that, but Erickson has said he expects Burfict to practice this week.

The Sun Devils appeared to fix some of their defensive problems by playing extensive nickel coverage against WSU. They had two interceptions, five sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Washington State managed to rush for eight yards.

“That’s as good a defensive effort as we’ve had in a long time,” Erickson said.

Then again, Matt Barkley and USC’s offense should pose a stiffer test, particularly coming off a middling effort against No. 1 Oregon on Saturday. Barkley had one of his worst games of the season, completing 26 of 49 passes and throwing two interceptions.

ASU’s defense has one similarity to Oregon’s that could prove troubling to the USC offense. It tends to send extra players after the quarterback. Oregon blitzed more than 80 percent of the time Saturday and the pressure seemed to knock Barkley out of his rhythm.

“There is somebody in his face and the quarterback very seldom gets to set his feet and throw the ball,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said.