(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Missed opportunities were not the problem for Arizona State in their 42-14 loss to USC, the problem was giving them away.
A gasp of breath remained in Todd Graham’s Sun Devils as the demoralizing first half was coming to a close. The 21-0 deficit appeared to be all but cut down to 14 points when ASU found itself with 1st and 10 from the one-yard line. That is, until USC blew up the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble which would be run back 94 yards for a touchdown with 25 seconds remaining.
“At the end of the day, we can’t turn the ball over on the one-yard line,” Graham said.
Twenty-seven to nothing seemed nearly enough to put the Sun Devils under for good. That deficit very well could have been enough, but redshirt junior running back De’Chavon Hayes fumbled the kickoff on the very next play, setting up USC’s sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for his second touchdown reception of the half.
Just when the Sun Devils thought they had hit rock bottom, they managed to dig even lower.
“We’ve got to get the turnover deal under control because you cannot win and turn the ball over like that,” Graham said.
The first Sun Devil touchdown came with 1:55 left in the third quarter, coming from a one-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Demario Richard. Leading up to that drive, the nine previous offensive possessions resulted in three punts, three lost fumbles, an interception, and two missed field goal attempts from junior kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Defensively, the Sun Devils had presented USC with plenty of opportunities as well, with the gift of poor tackling. Plenty of offensive plays for USC were extended or created because ASU failed to wrap up in the open field.
“We missed some tackles tonight,” Graham said. “Especially trying to knock people down.”
The biggest examples of this came from two big plays from USC sophomore cornerback/receiver/kick returner Adoree’ Jackson. First being his 45-yard reception midway through the second quarter, and the second being his 45-yard punt return to set up the Trojans inside the ASU 20.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Graham said. “They did some good things moving Adoree’ (Jackson) around and we knew that they’re very, very fast.”
With all this chaos on the ASU side of things, USC redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler took advantage of every Sun Devil mishap. He came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes, and had yet to throw an interception. If anyone in the conference was going to pick this defense apart, it would be Kessler.
He started the game with a 52-yard pass to Smith-Schuster, but his next pass was an interception on a very poorly thrown ball into the hands of ASU freshman safety Kareem Orr. Since that point, Kessler had done his job and did it well.
Kessler finished the game with 375 passing yards and five touchdowns.A lot of the damage came from short passes that broke free due to poor tackling.
“They got underneath us and we were struggling,” Graham said. “It wasn’t the deep ball, it was the unders.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Sun Devils as they are on the road next week to take on UCLA, who throttled Arizona on Saturday 56-30.
“This is the best team we’ve had,” Graham said. “We’re just not playing that way.”