- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Lane Kiffin summed it up pretty well.
"You're only as good or bad as your last game," the USC coach said when asked about his team's defense. And in USC's case, you can go back to the last two games. Before USC gave up 62 points at home to Oregon, it surrendered 39 points on the road in another loss at Arizona.
Now sitting on a two-game losing streak -- and on the verge of dropping three in a row for the first time since 2001 -- the Trojans are hoping to get back on track with Arizona State coming to town Saturday.
Things haven't exactly been going swimmingly for the Sun Devils, either. After starting off 5-1, ASU has dropped three in a row and has given up an average of 41.3 points per game during that stretch. While multi-game losing streaks are uncharted waters at USC, it's becoming a frighteningly familiar theme for ASU fans.
Last season, the Sun Devils were 6-2 -- including victories over ranked Missouri and USC -- but collapsed on the back end and lost four in a row to unranked teams before losing their fifth straight to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl. In 2009, they started off 4-2 only to drop six straight at the end of the year.
Both the Trojans and Sun Devils still have much to play for. ASU is looking, first and foremost, to gain bowl eligibility. But scenarios exist where it can still win the Pac-12 South. USC is also in a strong position to win the division -- so long as it gets past the Sun Devils and UCLA next week.
Kiffin said that's helped his team knock the cobwebs off this week after the shootout loss to Oregon.
"I think they're great, kids are very resilient," Kiffin said when asked what the mood of his team has been this week. "They have a lot of other stuff going on in their life besides football. But they were excited to get back to work. We're very fortunate to still have a lot on the line, even though we screwed some games up, because of the balance of the South. I think that helps as well."
Todd Graham, in his first year as coach of the Sun Devils, said even though his team has lost three in a row, there are signs that it is maturing.
"I have been very proud of how they have played," Graham said. "They have had many opportunities in the last three weeks to implode or to take a step backward but they haven't done that."
Aside from the Oregon defeat, ASU has been competitive in the two other losses. The Sun Devils lost on a last-second field goal to UCLA and hung with the Oregon State Beavers well into the third quarter. Graham knows his defense will be tested again, by the likes of Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. That's notable, since Arizona State has the league's top pass defense, allowing just 161.6 yards per game. And after having just seen Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks at OSU, now the Sun Devils have to face another dynamic receiving corps.
"Obviously Barkley has a phenomenal arm and a great deep ball," Graham said. "I've watched some passes that are just phenomenal. Marqise Lee is hands-down the best receiver in the country. He can catch the short screen pass, he can catch the vertical route, and he can take it to the house any time he puts his hands on the ball. Watching the Arizona game and watching the 300-plus yards receiving was absolutely phenomenal. Obviously, Woods is right there. He gets the ball the most. They have other receivers as well, but Woods is a special receiver. I think the thing that makes it all work is the quarterback."
Last year the Sun Devils scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 20 minutes to shock the Trojans. But ASU hasn't won at the Los Angeles Coliseum since 1999. Still, Graham insists this isn't the same old Sun Devils.
"We've had three tough weeks here, but let's get to the end of the season and we'll evaluate where we're at," he said. "Just don't give up on us. I can guarantee that there's no give-up in our guys."
2dChantel Jennings and David Lombardi