(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
In what was built up in the preseason as a game that could determine who was on the fast track to win the Pac-12 South, No. 19 USC dismantled Arizona State in Sun Devil Stadium, 42-14.
The game started on a semi-high note for the Sun Devils when freshman safety Kareem Orr picked off USC redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler. It was Orr’s first career interception and Kessler’s first of the season. ASU sophomore running back Demario Richard followed that up with a 61-yard carry.
That was the last glimmer of hope for the Sun Devils. Richard would fumble later on that drive, and USC turned that for an 80-yard touchdown reception from Kessler to sophomore Adoree Jackson.
“We tried just about everything (to stop USC),” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “We had guys on guys. They got underneath us. It wasn’t the deep ball. It was the unders.”
Following a pair of drives that ended with missed field goal attempts by junior Zane Gonzalez, ASU found itself down 21-0 but with an opportunity to cut the lead to two touchdowns. With the ball on the USC 1-yard line, USC redshirt senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons raced into the ASU backfield, forced a fumble, and redshirt sophomore safety Chris Hawkins took it 95 yards the other way for a Trojan touchdown.
“I thought if we had punched that thing and scored, I really, really thought because we were dominating the line of scrimmage defensively that we could win the game,” Graham said.
On the ensuing kickoff, ASU redshirt senior De’Chavon Hayes fumbled on his return to set up another Kessler-to-Schuster-Smith touchdown. In the span of 22 seconds, ASU went from staying in the game to being the furthest thing from competing as the half came to a close.
“We got to get the turnover deal under control because you cannot win and turn the ball over like that,” Graham said. “That’s the number one thing we emphasize in our program is taking care of the ball. Obviously, we’re not getting it.”
In what was a nightmare-scenario for the Sun Devils, USC ended up scoring 28 points off Sun Devil turnovers, and ASU lost this game as much as the Trojans won it.
“We’re putting the ball in jeopardy way too much, and we’ve never done that,” Graham said. “If you do that, that’s why I say that all the time, that you’re not going to have the chance to win games.”
While ASU held USC’s rushing attack to 80 yards – well under its average of 208 per contest through the first three weeks of the season – Smith-Schuster and Jackson combined for eight catches and three touchdowns. The duo also combined to average 32.2 yards per reception.
“A lot of it is on me,” redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone said. “I got to do better. I got to be a better leader out there, and we just got to cover them better. It’s flat-out. They beat us on plays, and that can’t happen in the secondary.”
USC killed ASU on third downs throughout the night, and the Trojans finished 9-for-15 on third down, including going 8-for-10 in the first half.
“They did a great job of executing,” Graham said. “We got them in third down and long over and over and over again early, and you got to give them credit. They did some good things moving Adoree around, and we knew they’re very, very fast.”
ASU would show signs of life in the second half, but it was in vain. Richard led with 131 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns, and USC only forced ASU into two three-and-outs, but ASU’s miscues did everything to take away any type of rhythm for the Sun Devils.
Coming up empty handed on drive after drive hurts even more considering ASU only went 3-and-out twice during the game and won the time of possession battle.
“When we do get down to the 40, 30-yard line, we have to start moving forward into the red zone and start putting up points,” Bercovici said.
Graham and his team will have little time to wallow in this defeat as it gets set to travel to play the UCLA Bruins, who are fresh off a 56-30 victory over Arizona.
“My confidence in our team will never change,” Simone said. “They were the better team tonight.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com