(Photo: ASU Athletics)
LOS ANGELES – The Arizona State Sun Devils upset the No. 16 USC Trojans on a miraculous last-second 46-yard hail mary pass from Mike Bercovici to Jaelen Strong for a final score of 38-34.
Trailing by two with seven seconds to go in Los Angeles Coliseum, it looked as if the Devils would run out of time as an unexpectedly stalwart showing from Bercovici appeared primed to come up just short.
In relief of Taylor Kelly for a second consecutive week, Bercovici stepped up with 510 yards passing, five touchdowns and no interceptions. It seemed like it might not be enough, however, as two fourth quarter touchdowns from the Trojans were almost too much for ASU to overcome.
Avoiding back-to-back conference losses, the Sun Devils have weathered a tricky stretch against two tough divisional rivals without their starting senior quarterback. Bouncing back from an embarrassing home loss against UCLA, ASU managed to overcome being 13-point underdogs to upset the Trojans.
Player of the game: Jaelen Strong
Bercovici is an easy choice, but Strong is the premier receiver for the Sun Devils and looked the part. He found space on multiple occasions and finished the day with 202 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Until the game-winning hail mary reception trumped it, no play had been bigger than his 77-yard play, which was also the longest touchdown pass of the Todd Graham era at ASU, and gave the Sun Devils a second quarter lead. He nearly broke free for another deep pass play, but the ball was just out of his reach, despite a dive. It was his last second heroics that were the story of the game and will likely be the story of his entire career at ASU.
D.J. Foster managed just 13 yards on 10 carries, but it’s difficult to put all the blame on the star running back, as the rest of the ASU running game managed just 18 yards on 12 carries. Neither Foster’s 1.3 yards per carry or the team’s collective 1.4 yards are nearly good enough and it’s because defenders from USC (and UCLA in the week prior) didn’t have much difficulty finding their way into the ASU backfield. The offensive line is supposed to be the single biggest strength of this Sun Devils squad, yet they’re simply not creating room for ASU rushers.
Unsung hero: Kody Kohl
Kohl’s stat-line wasn’t ridiculous (three receptions for 43 yards), but the tight end made for a crucial outlet on multiple occasions, as Mike Bercovici hit him three times, each for big first downs. With only 16 first downs all game for ASU, Kohl bailed out a needy Sun Devils offense that often struggled to find a rhythm and he provided valuable help as a blocker when he wasn’t out running routes.
Stat of the game: 8.0 yards per play
The Sun Devils out-gained the UCLA Bruins in the week prior and ran far more plays, but didn’t have the points to match. The USC Trojans managed to flip the script and 27 plays more than the Sun Devils, who place high emphasis on play counts, but ASU made the most of their opportunities. With an average of eight yards per play, the Sun Devils eclipsed 500 yards of offense and avoided turnovers to score 38.
Arizona State expects to have star quarterback Taylor Kelly back for the team’s next game against Stanford at Sun Devil Stadium after a bye week. After a huge conference win coupled with losses for every ranked Pac-12 team, including UCLA, most importantly, the Sun Devils are back in business and can snag solid conference control with another win.
Cuyler Meade contributed to this story. You can reach Adam Stites on Twitter @AdamStitesASU or by email email@example.com