LOS ANGELES -- The last time Arizona State was at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, ASU junior running back Kalen Ballage couldn't bear to watch the last seconds of ASU's "Jael Mary" victory against the University of Southern California.
Saturday night in Los Angeles, all 71,214 in attendance at the Coliseum had eyes on ASU, but for all the wrong reasons.
From dropped passes, to missed tackles, to defensive breakdowns, things went from bad to worse for the Sun Devils as ASU saw a potentially undefeated 5-0 start to its season quickly slip out of its grasp in its 41-20 loss to the Trojans.
With the loss, ASU drops to 4-1 on the season. USC improves to 2-3 overall after dropping all three of its games to AP Top 25 teams. The Sun Devils will now head back to Tempe next week to play UCLA (3-2), who beat the Arizona Wildcats 45-24 on Saturday night in Pasadena, Calif.
“Didn’t run the ball good enough," ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. "Got to give credit to USC. I thought they did a very good job and kept us kind of off balance all night and kind of you know did a really good job of. We are a run team, a run play-action team and we couldn’t get that going and you know just disappointed. Just disappointed we didn’t play better and that’s on me and just got to go to work and go on to the next one.”
ASU may have lost the game to USC, but it potentially lost a lot more when ASU starting quarterback Manny Wilkins was knocked out of the game after injuring his left leg with 1:19 left in the second quarter.
After getting sacked by USC sophomore Rasheem Green, Wilkins tried to walk off the field on his own power and then went into the locker room. He was in a walking boot and on crutches on the sidelines in the second half. Before getting injured, Wilkins was 13-of-21 for 148 yards with one interception. Prior to ASU's game against USC, Wilkins was 84-of-125 for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns.
“I don’t have anything right now," ASU head coach Todd Graham said. "I just know they let me know coming out of the second half he was not available. Had to get some x-rays.”
ASU redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White replaced Wilkins for the rest of the game and got his first Pac-12 action of the season. White finished 6-of-13 for 80 yards and one touchdown. ASU had four straight three-and-outs to open the second half with White at the helm of the Sun Devils' offense.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is, you got to come out and execute and tonight, USC was the better team and we just got to go back and watch film and get prepared for this next week against UCLA," White said.
ASU junior wide receiver Tim White led the Sun Devils in receiving with seven catches for 84 yards. ASU redshirt freshman running back Nick Ralston led the Sun Devils in rushing with 12 carries for 46 yards and one touchdown. ASU junior running back Demario Richard only had seven carries for 26 yards.
ASU's two touchdowns of the night both came in the fourth quarter. The first came off a four-yard touchdown reception by junior tight end Raymond Epps from White with 8:37 left in the fourth quarter and the second occurred on a 10-yard touchdown run by Ralston with 1:51 remaining in the game.
The Sun Devils managed 303 total yards of offense, with 228 passing yards and 75 rushing yards on the night. ASU's offense could never get in sync and gave up three sacks on Wilkins before the third sack of the night proved costly for ASU.
"Didn’t have much offense at all and I’ll give them credit," Graham said. "They did some things a little bit different. They did some pressure. Obviously we didn’t do a very good job preparing."
On the flip side, USC redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold was sacked zero times and started his second career game going 23-of-33 with 352 yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. By halftime, Darnold was 14-of-21 for 212 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
USC senior tailback Justin Davis led the Trojans in rushing with 13 carries for 110 yards and one touchdown. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing game of his career.
ASU's passing defense again struggled as head coach Todd Graham had to make changes in-game with his defensive personnel. The Sun Devils played four players at bandit safety after ASU junior college transfer J'Marcus Rhodes started at the position. ASU switched to junior safety James Johnson after a 37-yard touchdown run by Davis to put the Trojans up 24-6 with 2:30 remaining in the first half.
It was the first action of the season for Johnson, but after another breakdown, ASU senior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola was inserted at Bandit and junior linebacker Marcus Ball replaced Moeakiola at Spur. In the fourth quarter, junior safety Chad Adams came in to replace Moeakiola, allowing Moeakiola to move back to Spur.
ASU's defensive changes at Bandit weren't the only defensive moves for the Sun Devils. ASU senior defensive back De'Chavon Hayes started the game at field corner before Bryson Echols replaced Hayes in the first quarter. Hayes was then inserted back in the game and Echols later replaced Hayes as the game started to get away from ASU. Echols mostly played in a limited role in ASU's nickel package and on some base downs prior to Saturday night.
Against ASU's secondary, USC junior wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster led USC with seven receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Going into the game, Smith-Schuster had 19 receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns this season. In USC's 42-14 victory last season against ASU, Smith-Schuster also exploited ASU's defense, catching five receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster's third touchdown on the night was on USC's first possession of the second half -- a 67-yard catch and run from Darold to Smith-Schuster with 11:11 remaining in the third quarter to put USC up 34-6. Darnold took the ball in himself for a touchdown score with 8:24 left in the third quarter to put the Trojans up 41-6.
“That’s amazing," Graham said about ASU's lack of tackling defending Smith-Schuster's route. "A hitch and route go to the house like that and you know that’s very poor tackling on that play.”
Against USC Saturday night, things started out well for the Sun Devils with ASU senior kicker Zane Gonzalez hitting a 40-yard field goal with 9:50 to give ASU its first points of the game, 3-0. Gonzalez scored ASU's only other points in the first half with a 34-yard field goal with 44 seconds left in the first quarter to pull ASU to within one point, 7-6, of the Trojans. The field goal was Gonzalez's 86th of his career and he broke the Pac-12 career record for made field goals.
Despite Gonzalez's lone two field goals, there weren't many bright spots for the Sun Devils. After Wilkins threw his fourth interception of the season to USC junior defensive back Jonathan Lockett with 7:05 left in the first quarter, USC took advantage of ASU's mistakes with a five-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to Smith-Schuster with 4:35 left in the first quarter to give USC a 7-3 lead.
From there, USC scored two more touchdowns and two field goals in the first half alone, one touchdown being a three-yard score by Smith-Schuster and the other a 37-yard touchdown run by Davis had to put USC up 24-6 with 2:30 remaining in the first half. Davis’ run came off an ASU series that started at its own 25 and ended back on its 10-yard line due to penalties and a sack on Wilkins.
USC junior kicker Matthew Boermeester made both a 49-yard field goal and 26-yard field goal in the first half. The 49-yard field goal was a career-long for Boermeester and the 26-yard field goal increased the Trojans’ lead to 27-6 heading into the halftime.
By halftime, ASU had only managed 169 yards of total offense compared to USC's 306 yards of total offense.null