I’m tempted to just type “During this chapter in ‘SC history, a win is a win and it feels good,” and leave it at that. It was not pretty at all, but after losing in the final seconds twice so far this season, it felt great to be on the winning end of a close one.
First, I want to applaud the student section for coming out in force today. I suspected the turnout would not be impressive, but the students filled the student section nicely tonight. The side of the stadium behind the Arizona State bench was pretty empty though, and the official attendance tallied only 68,744.
For those who missed it, Lane Kiffin ditched his iconic visor tonight and didn’t wear his traditional white polo.
The offense looked very sloppy tonight. While they managed 402 yards, the offense never really put together a string of impressive drives and Matt Barkley didn’t look crisp. Early on, Barkley overthrew a wide open Robert Woods for a sure touchdown and the Trojans didn’t end up scoring on that drive. He also tried to force a pass into the end zone after the blocked punt and was intercepted. Some times, Barkley tried too hard to create plays and it leads to turnovers. He needs to remain patient and let the plays develop by themselves. While the Sun Devils had an interception return for a touchdown, the blame falls on the wide receiver for that one. Barkley didn’t throw the best pass, but it was only intercepted because it was tipped by the wide out. Marc Tyler looked good at running back, but he didn’t get a lot of carries and had an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Dillon Baxter shouldered the majority of the carries, and managed just 52 yards on 17 touches. He had some nice runs with cutbacks, but Baxter seemed to have trouble keeping his footing. One thing that hurt the offense is Robert Woods being less than 100%. He had back problems this week and was admitted to the hospital this past week with an illness. Despite the sloppy play, USC’s offense did enough to win this game and did an excellent job controlling the tempo by holding the ball for over 36 minutes.
The Tampa 2 bent tonight, but it did not break. USC didn’t give up many big plays and held the Sun Devils below their season average in terms of yards. They created pressure up the middle and forced Steven Threet into two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Meanwhile both ASU running backs turned in just over 50 yards. The Sun Devils registered 33 points, but the defense was only responsible for 20 of them because the offense and special teams allowed ASU to score. Furthermore, the Sun Devils only converted on 3rd down 4 out of 13 times. The defense did a good job of getting off of the field when they needed to and giving the offense ample opportunity to put points on the board. Most importantly, the Trojan defense showed some backbone in crunch time. In the last minutes of the game, ASU had a chance to drive down for a touchdown and win the game. Unlike past games, the defense stood stout and forced a long field goal, which was missed.
What a roller coaster night for the special teams unit. Joe Houston missed two field goals early in this game, which were both relatively easy kicks. Despite the misses, he bounced back to center his third kick which ended up being the difference in the game.
Poor tackling ended up hurting the Trojans on kick returns. LeQuan Lewis was hit near the 15 yard line and evaded three tackles before he sprung to the right side for a touchdown on a kickoff.
Overall, special teams had more of a positive effect than a negative effect. Early on, the punt coverage team brought the heat and blocked the ball off of Thomas Weber’s leg to set up the USC offense at the ASU 10. Perhaps the turning point in the game came when Arizona State scored a touchdown to go up 33-29 and lined up to kick the PAT. USC blocked it, scooped it up, and took it to the house for a rare 2 points. That put USC down by only 2, and it allowed them to kick a field goal with 3:06 left instead of having to march into the end zone. When the Sun Devils had a chance to kick a game winning field goal, the special teams unit brought enough pressure to force the kicker to choose between missing left or getting blocked. Each game USC has won, special teams stepped up and had a large impact. John Baxter has done a fantastic job with the special teams and deserves credit for bringing big-play ability to USC.
It was not a pretty football game. USC only led 14-7 at the half and squeaked by 34-33. However, I will take a win any day. Whether it be ugly or beautiful, a win carries the same amount of weight in the win column. Hopefully the team elevates its play next week, because Arizona is a quality team that will be riled up after getting run off of the field by Stanford.
Fight On! Beat the Wildcats!