(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Arizona State’s honeymoon came to a sudden and disappointing end Saturday at the hands of USC. The Trojans throttled ASU 41-20 and dominated every aspect of the game.
The frustrating performance put on by the Sun Devils allowed for no shortage of reasons for why the game got away from them.
- Pass defense struggled throughout
In the past few games, the Sun Devils defense, especially the secondary, came up clutch when it was needed. That was not the case on Saturday. Even when the game started getting out of hand, the missed tackles were seen frequently.
“We didn’t win any phase tonight,” head coach Todd Graham said.
It seemed almost as if every secondary member made multiple visible mistakes, allowing Trojans’ quarterback Sam Darnold to essentially pass at will.
The redshirt freshman threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns while staying interception-free. It almost looked like a mirror image of the ASU-USC game last year, when the secondary also allowed 379 passing yards.
Considering the lack of improvement in the second Pac-12 game, expect the pass defense to be even more of an emphasis going forward.
- Justin Davis carved up ASU defense
The problems on the defensive unit didn’t stop through the air. Justin Davis had his way with the front seven of the Sun Devils, picking up 167 total yards, including 129 on the ground.
“For us it’s just getting the little things right,” defensive end Tashon Smallwood said. “We just have to be disciplined on assignments. As a defense and as individuals we have to put in the work to get better.”
Second half adjustments were the key to stopping Cal’s rushing attack last week, but they were nowhere to be found on Saturday as ASU allowed 63 yards on the ground in the final 30 minutes. At the same time, the game was already broken open, so forcing Darnold to pass would not have been of much assistance.
- Sun Devils’ rushing attack silenced
In complete contrast to USC’s successful day on the ground, the rushing game for the Sun Devils was almost completely shut down.
The two feature backs, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, had just 39 yards on 13 carries. Ballage in particular was quiet. It can be assumed that his struggles stem back from an injury he suffered last week that limited him all week in practice.
“They shut the run down,” Graham said. “They were the better team tonight.
“We played really poorly. We couldn’t do anything at all. We didn’t do anything on offense.”
Nick Ralston led the team with 47 rushing yards as he finally got an opportunity during garbage time. He also added his second touchdown of the season, but it was all much too little, too late.
- History repeated itself (sort of)
This marks the third straight season that ASU has come out flat against a Los Angeles-based Pac-12 school. Two years ago, UCLA throttled the Sun Devils 62-27 at Sun Devil Stadium. The next season, USC won on the road against ASU 42-14, a game that, as mentioned earlier, had a lot of parallels to this one.
It doesn’t seem like any certain factor is causing it, but the disappointing games for three consecutive years is hard to ignore.
- Wilkins went down early
It was another up-and-down first half for Wilkins before he injured his knee on a sack. He was pressured all night and in turn wasn’t able to do much running the ball after being a serious factor against the Golden Bears.
Wilkins completed only 54 percent of his passes for 148 yards and had an interception. He had proven to be a second-half quarterback, but never really got his chance due to the injury occurring late in the first half.
Graham had no update on his status after the game.
Due to the injury, Brady White got his first real chance as a Sun Devil and really struggled out of the gate, going three-and-out in his first four drives. He eventually collected himself a bit, throwing for 80 yards and a touchdown to Raymond Epps.
“We can’t put ourselves in those situations,” White said. “We have to get first downs on drives and ultimately put up more points.”
It will be interesting to see the status of Wilkins during practice this week heading into next Saturday’s home contest against UCLA.