While the Trojans have been relatively lucky on the injury front, there are a few key contributors that could return Oct. 13 at Cal, including linebacker Lamar Dawson, corner Torin Harris, and running back Amir Carlisle.
Dawson's absence in the last two games with a sprained ankle has forced starter Chris Galippo to play every meaningful snap, resulting in a decline in his production. Not having Harris forced USC to play its base defense, even against the four and five receiver sets of Arizona.
Getting those two back will be critical in stabilizing a defense that has been abused the past two weeks.
The USC defense has cut down on explosive plays surrendered this season. Unfortunately, they have balanced things out by being a sieve in the red zone.
Opponents have scored on 16 of 17 possessions inside the 20-yard line – Arizona State let the clock run out – with 14 touchdowns. Arizona went five for five, leading USC head coach Lane Kiffin to declare it a major point of emphasis this week.
If not for the historic performance by offense, that inability to get stops or even limit foes to a field goal here and there could have cost USC a win.
With the high-powered attacks of Stanford and Oregon on deck, plus a trip to Notre Dame, the defense has to step its game up.
Each of USC's next three opponents use a 3-4 defense, so this time off represents a good chance to transition for an offensive line still trying to put everything together.
They fared quite well in pass protection, allowing four sacks in five games, but have been inconsistent in run blocking. The Trojans' best output, 175 yards against Syracuse, came by rolling up 112 yards in the fourth quarter with the game long since decided.
If they deliver, quarterback Matt Barkley should continue his strong play. Against Stanford and Cal last season, both of which feature the 3-4, he threw for 792 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Under Pete Carroll, bye weeks represented an opportunity to get a look at the future, and occasionally the present. Young players, especially freshmen, were given lots of practice time during open weeks to get an idea of where they were. Occasionally, a standout like offensive tackle Winston Justice would force his way into the starting lineup.
It won't be like that, Kiffin said on his weekly teleconference Sunday. The Trojans have far too much to work on.