A tough season for Arizona State just became a lot tougher after last night's five point loss to Southern California. Dennis Erickson's squad played well, but once again, not good enough to earn a victory.
The USC Trojans came into Tempe hobbling after a rough road trip to Eugene last weekend, and for Pete Carroll's bunch, the second consecutive road game almost ended in another nightmare.
Arizona State had a very physical gameplan, both offensively and defensively. The problem, and the main reason why the Sun Devils were not able to pull off the victory was because of turnovers.
Erickson and Offensive Coordinator Rich Olson, who was calling plays for the first time this season, had a very physical and domineering gameplan, that was nearly a perfect success until Freshman running back Cameron Marshall fumbled inside of the USC ten yard line. The Sun Devils were set on a first and goal from the nine yard line, but all hopes of a seven point lead in the first quarter were shot down when USC recovered the football.
However, the physicality of the Sun Devils was not only evident on offense, but also on defense with Craig Bray calling blitzes more so than ever, and Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley could not find a rhythm.
But Barkley was not the only USC Trojan struggling last night, the offensive line was not able to block the ferocious pass rush of the Sun Devils, especially Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy. Both of whom seemed like they should have been paying rent, they were nearly living in the USC backfield, and the result of that was Southern California struggled to find a consistent running game.
USC tailbacks Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford did combine for 29 carries and 145 yards. However, neither of the running backs managed to score a touchdown. The entire USC offense was shutdown in the first half of this game. The only points that USC had to their name came from the arm of ASU senior quarterback Danny Sullivan.
Sullivan was trying to engineer a late first half scoring drive to put the Sun Devils up by either six or ten points, but instead Pete Carroll could breath a little easier since cornerback Will Harris intercepted Sullivan and ran 55 yards to make the score 7-3 at halftime.
And for all intensive purposes, the Arizona State Sun Devils dominated this first half. Although it might not have seemed like the Sun Devils were pounding the football by their stats, Marshall and Dimitri Nance were a solid one-two-punch that kept drives alive and the clock ticking during the first half.
Sullivan was inconsistent in the first and second sessions, while throwing two interceptions under pressure, but the Senior did finish the first half with 113 yards, which was one more than his USC counterpart, Matt Barkley totaled for the entire contest.
However, not only did the fans see Sullivan's inconsistency this week, but Erickson had enough with the Senior's lack of production as well. And in the second half, Brock Osweiler had his helmet on and Sullivan, was the quarterback that was wearing the white hat on the sideline once again.
Although the second half did not start well for Erickson's Sun Devils. USC scored on their second play from scrimmage, when Damian Williams took a short pass from Barkley and turned it into a 75 yard touchdown that would virtually close the book on ASU, pushing the Sun Devils deficit to eleven points.
But Brock Osweiler tried his best to force some late game heroics, and that debate had even more substance after the 6 foot 8 inch quarterback led ASU down the field, and threw a 23 yard touchdown pass to Senior wide receiver Chris McGaha. Thomas Weber's extra point was blocked due to poor blocking up front.
Unfortunately, the 14-9 score would be as close as ASU got to pulling off the upset. But don't get me wrong, Erickson's maroon and gold squad had chances and numerous opportunities to seal the Trojan's fate in this matchup, but ASU could never hammer in the nail into the USC coffin.
Barkley did throw an interception late in the fourth quarter that had ASU sitting pretty deep in USC territory, but in the end, penalties and incompletions by the inexperience Osweiler led to no points, not even a field goal attempt, but just a short punt by Trevor Hankins.
When the game matter the most, Osweiler was under center and seemed to be as inexperienced as the coaching staff billed him to be. The two minute drill at the end of the half was tough to watch, to say the least. But Osweiler did finish with 153 yards in the second half to go with his touchdown to McGaha and a hail mary pass that was intercepted on the last play of the game.
For all intensive purposes, Osweiler will start next Saturday in Eugene, to try an find a spark on offense, and earn their fifth win of the season. But following this contest, the Arizona State Sun Devils lost another close game this season to a top 25 opponent. That now makes three losses this season to previously ranked opponents, by a combined point total of 10 points.
And the Sun Devils' schedule does not receive any relief as the maroon and gold players will fly to Eugene, OR next week, where USC's Rose Bowl chances were put on life support just last Saturday.