USC falls flat in Tempe, loses to ASU 42-22

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Oh, how far the mighty have fallen.

I’m just going to come out and say this because there is no point in sugar coating it: The Trojans were flat out terrible Saturday night in their sloppy loss to Arizona State.

All they had to do was play with focus, and the Trojans could’ve beaten the Sun Devils.

Unfortunately, they did the exact opposite of that and lost, 42-22.

If the Sun Devils had a better squad than USC this loss wouldn’t be so hard to swallow, but when a team shoots itself in the foot so many times that both feet have been blown completely off, it’s just straight up depressing. For the first time in over a decade, the Trojans have given one up to the Sun Devils.

On both sides of the ball, the Trojans were tested against a decent ASU team, and they failed to deliver. Offensively, they played with a fear in their eyes unseen in years, starting with the line and trickling back. ASU’s Defensive front shut down our running game and our O-line couldn’t do anything about it until the second half. The Trojans did manage to amass 175 yards on the ground but these numbers do very little to tell the entire story.

Every time the Trojans got into the redzone, calamity insued. Four times in the first half they invaded ASU territory only to come away with three field goals from Andre Heidari. Marc Tyler was stripped of the ball at the ASU 25-yard line, and Matt Barkley fumbled and threw a pick-six in both the second and fourth quarters. Allowing a team to bully you and have their way in a facet of the game where you’re literally calling the shots is unacceptable.

Robert Woods breaking away from ASU Defenders. C/O Tim Lutes/USCFootball.com

Yeah, it was that bad. And we haven’t even gotten to defense yet.

As far as the interceptions are concerned, all of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback.

In both of the picks, Barkley was not over pressured to throw the ball; he simply made bad decisions and threw it right into the hands of ASU defenders. (to ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s credit though, he did make a great play in jumping the route to get the interception and run it back 37 yards). The fumble came as a result of ASU defensive end Greg Smith coming over tight end Xavier Grimble, not any of the linemen.

When the Trojans weren’t giving the ball right back to the Sun Devils, they were doing a fabulous job of not converting anything in third down situations. This week, the Trojans converted only ONE-of -nine 3rd down attempts, compared to 8-of-15 against Syracuse. ONE!

That doesn’t even make any sense for a team with as much potential and talent as USC has. If you can’t convert, you cannot score, and if you cannot score, you cannot win games.

When this many mental mistakes and productivity errors take place, it is no wonder at all that the Trojans had such a bad performance. To ASU’s credit, they have a monster of a linebacker in Burfict, and he did everything he could to shut the Trojans down. But USC beat itself in a manner that Burfict never could with the number of errors they subjected themselves and the fans to.

And the sad thing is, none of these mistakes are surprising.

Though Matt Barkley is a junior quarterback, he still—without fail—telegraphs his passes. He can get away with it against teams like Minnesota, Utah (barely) and Syracuse, but that will obviously not fly against good teams. An experienced QB should know better than that and for whatever reason, he has yet to develop the ability to look off is receivers and as a result, easy interceptions happen.

And another thing, in his three-year career he has closed only ONE big game for USC, which was when he led the team to victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes during his freshman year.

Since then, he has fallen flat when it mattered the most; even if USC somehow managed to win—like the previous two games against ASU—it was not because of anything the offense did. Maybe because he had not experienced much of it before his time at USC, but Matt seems to be mentally incapable of handling adversity. It’s as if when he’s hit in the mouth he loses his composure and forgets everything he’s learned about playing the quarterback position.

CB Nickell Robey, with a look that says it all. C/O Tim Lutes/USCFootball.com

He will seriously need to work on that if he plans to lead us to victory against Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame.

With that said, it was not entirely Matt Barkley nor the offense’s fault that USC lost to ASU: the secondary grabbed a shovel and helped dig that grave too. If there was any game where USC needed it’s secondary to show up, it was this one, and it just didn’t happen.

ASU knew better than to allow USC’s talented D-line any time for a pass rush, or to give them a running game to completely squash, so Coach Dennis Erickson’s game plan was to allow QB Brock Osweiler to throw the ball quickly and often, playing the game in space, where the defensive line would become almost a nonfactor.

And it worked.

On the fourth play of the game, Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall got past USC’s front seven, courtesy of a missed tackle from one of the linemen, and then completely burned safety Jawanza Starling in a one-on-one, open field situation to score ASU’s first touchdown. Missed tackles—which have been an Achilles heel for the Trojans during Monte Kiffin‘s tenure as defensive coordinator—pretty much gave the game to the Sun Devils.

And to top that off, penalties kept ASU in great field position for most of the game. T.J. McDonald got flagged three times for personal fouls—though two of which are extremely debatable—for 45 yards himself, and Nickell Robey got flagged twice for pass interference (again, one of which was debatable), totaling 30 yards. So, from the secondary alone, the Trojans had 75 of its 87 total penalty yards.

Yikes.

USC team takes the field at ASU before the game. C/O Tim Lutes/USCFootball.com

Turnovers and penalties are what cost them this game.  Turnovers from the offense, and penalties from the defense: a winning combination for absolute failure.

What you don’t get from the box score, however, is the way that the team carried itself. USC allowed Vontaze Burfict and the rest of the Sun Devil squad to stroll out onto the Sun Devil’s home field and to smack the Trojans around like a schoolyard bully. On the sidelines, heads were down, and there was a clear disconnect from what they Trojans prepared to do and what they actually did against the Sun Devils.

The problem is that they’re playing for nothing. Trojan pride comes into play when wins MATTER. Players signed up for a program that would be competing for a right to play for a national championship week in and week out, not one that would be fighting for its relevance against the likes of ASU.

This is what analysts were talking about when they said sanctions would hurt USC. It wasn’t a lack of scholarships, as the best of the best still want to be Trojans, but a lack of motivation and a shift in focus. Shifting back to a winner’s mentality might take a lot longer than anyone may have predicted.

But hey, the game wasn’t ALL bad for USC. We saw moments of brilliance on kick return from Robert Woods and Nickell Robey, who both had excellent returns. Unfortunately, Barkley threw his first interception right after Robey got USC within ASU’s 30 yard line, but it was a great return nonetheless. Andre Heidari delivered on all of his field goal attempts, so that was good. And when he wasn’t fumbing, Marc Tyler had a much better performance in the second half than in the first.

Well, now that it’s over, Trojan fans can all take a big sigh of relief knowing that at the end of the day, this loss doesn’t really matter. Sure, it would’ve been awesome to go undefeated and stick it to the NCAA. But it also would’ve been much, much worse to lose that game being bowl eligible.

The truth is, the Trojans still have a lot of work to do before they need to worry about making statements, but if they are going to make one, it should start next week by dominating the University of Arizona Wildcats when they come to town, and by playing good, competitive football for the rest of the season.

The worst is over. Now it’s time to do what we do best:

FIGHT ON.