With both teams entering the contest on a losing streak, only the ASU vs USC survivor would still be in the PAC-12 South division hunt. And just like the last four games, the Arizona State Sun Devils came out on the short end of the stick losing 38 to 17. Despite some spectacular plays on defense by the Devils, turnovers, penalties and questionable play calling left ASU at five and five for the year.
Having scored first in 9 out their 10 games (including every game in this four game losing streak), ASU used a Trojan turnover to go up 7-0. The Marqise Lee fumble was just one of five turnovers for USC on the day, which should be enough for an ASU victory. Quarterback Taylor Kelly continues to regress week by week as he finished 19-30 with three interceptions and seven sacks. The sacks all can’t be blamed on Kelly, but my beleaguered point of him holding onto the ball to long continues to rear its ugly head. A positive note offensively is that ASU ‘re-found’ TE Chris Coyle. After a hot start to the season, Coyle has slowly disappeared from the game plan coincidently with ASU’s four game losing streak. Coyle’s final line was 5-85 with one TD.
In addition to the slow demise of Kelly, the two items Coach Graham has been preaching all season, ball security and undisciplined play (penalties) have been all but non-existent. In addition to Kelly’s three picks was a Rashard Ross fumble and seven penalties for 49 yards. Two of them gave USC a first down. For this ASU team to go into halftime tied at 14 should have been enough lift to finish off an exposed USC team (Arizona & Oregon scores), but like the last three losses, ASU faded in the second half. For whatever reason, the Sun Devils continue to slowly fade into losses in the second half.
Halfway through the 3rd quarter QB Michael Eubank was inserted into the Devil offense. Once Eubank makes an appearance, most defensive units can focus on the run as exhibited by Eubank’s line of only attempting three passes and running the ball five times. One of those passes was a third down pass to DE Davon Coleman. Actually it was thrown behind him and to his feet. The only thing worse than that throw was the actual play calling today. After that errant pass to Coleman, Kelly came back in on fourth down, set up in a shotgun formation and then took a sack. With potent running backs DJ Foster and Marion Grice getting only eight carries on the day was confusing. Post game comments by Graham directed some heat towards Offensive Coach Mike Norvell. It’s been interesting to listen to Graham shoulder all the heat early in the year for any issues on the field, but lately start to distribute blame to coaches as well as players. Regardless of blame, the plays being called are not very good and haven’t been executed very well.
A positive to the game were some of the best defensive plays this Sun Devil team has had in years. A Chris Young over the shoulder interception near the goal line as well as a Carl Bradford pick were nothing less than spectacular. Will Sutton also continued to wreck havoc in the center of the line. Alden Darby’s pick six was also another great play sniffed out by the defense. But with all these great plays and forcing five turnovers, the Devil offensive couldn’t capitalize. The one player ASU couldn’t cover (nobody can) was wide out Marqise Lee. His 38 yard scamper in the fourth quarter left every one of the 80,000 plus in attendance in simple awe as he eluded just about every one of the ASU defenders. His final line of 67 yards rushing and 161 yards receiving definitely back breakers.
ASU’s punting game has been great all year as Josh Hubner averaged over 47 yards a kick today, but the short kicks on kick offs puzzled many in the press box. It’s understood you don’t want to kick to Marqise Lee, but to short kick and give the Trojans the ball on their own 40-45 yard line is just not smart football.
ASU still needs one more win to become bowl eligible with Washington State and Arizona on the horizon to finish the season. If the penalty, turnover and second half fades don’t get turned around, this team could lose out. And no matter how much each player and coach denies the similarities to last years team, when you lose out, it doesn’t matter ‘how the mood’ is in the locker room is, or ‘how much each player hasn’t quit’ yet. A loss is a loss and when they’re strung together it gets more and more frustrating. A big win against the Cougars with all facets of the team running on all cylinders is a must to get this team ready for the Territorial Cup game against UofA in Tucson.