(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are now unranked and stand with their back firmly pinned in a corner after a 62-27 loss to the then-No. 11 UCLA Bruins — a loss that ASU head coach Todd Graham aptly described as “embarrassing.” With a road trip to play the No. 16 USC Trojans next on the docket, the Sun Devils will need to recover quickly and correct the mistakes that led to a huge defeat at home.
That’s a challenge that ASU is ready to embrace, as it’s one that the team has overcome in each of the last two seasons under Graham.
In 2013, the No. 23 Sun Devils were blown out by the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in a game that was 29-0 at halftime. They recovered to beat USC, 62-41, in the following week.
In 2012, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks delivered a 43-21 beating of ASU in Sun Devil Stadium, and while Graham’s team didn’t earn a win in the subsequent week, UCLA required a game-winning field goal to defeat ASU, 45-43.
“I wish we would quit having these games,” Graham said of the big losses to top-ranked teams that have occurred during his tenure. “We have one a year that is very difficult. I think there has been an example laid for them by the guys in front of them.”
With one loss in conference play already and another game against a team competing for the Pac-12 South title, ASU’s road trip to face the Trojans is certainly one that qualifies as a “must win.”
If handed a second consecutive defeat, the Sun Devils would be essentially eliminated from contention for the College Football Playoff and would need a tremendous amount of help to have a chance at a Rose Bowl berth.
Avoiding that loss could be difficult against a USC team that has already earned impressive victories over Stanford and Oregon State. On Monday, Graham said that USC’s Javorius Allen may be the best running back the team sees all season, and Justin Davis may be the second-best.
“We are probably playing the best team that we have played to this point and so we have to play our best game,” Graham said. “We were able to do that last year and now we have to do it this year.”
In 2013, ASU managed to score a season-high 62 points against the Trojans in what proved to be Lane Kiffin’s final game as the team’s head coach. Matching that effort without the contributions of quarterback Taylor Kelly who is unlikely to play could be difficult, but Graham is confident the defense will play better than it did against UCLA.
“Our guys are learning defensively and getting better, and I have a lot of confidence that our players are maturing and understanding what we are doing,” Graham said. “Our program is just continuing to improve and I am proud of the young men that we are working with and I love the attitude and character that they have.”
The Sun Devils are scheduled to kickoff against USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 4:30 p.m. PT with television coverage provided by FOX.