(Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
With USC driving into red zone, Sun Devil safety Alden Darby anticipated exactly what the Trojans had in mind and intercepted Matt Barkley's pass in stride en route to another Arizona State touchdown.
1 Point: Play occurred in a Sun Devil loss
2 Points: Momentum changing play
6 Points: Play resulted in a defensive touchdown
7 Points: Big Play (30+ Yards)
Total: 16 Points
On November 10th, the Sun Devils hit the road for the second consecutive week as they traveled to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans. Undoubtedly, Arizona State had hit a lull heading into the match-up, and USC represented the fourth straight game the Sun Devils would play against a ranked opponent.
In the team's three previous outings against Oregon, UCLA, and Oregon State, a variety of problems plagued the Sun Devils including inconsistent quarterback play, a defense prone to giving up game-breaking plays, and a lack of the focus Arizona State fans became accustomed to seeing throughout the first six games on the schedule.
As the losses piled up, some fans began to wonder if Todd Graham really did instill meaningful changes in the Sun Devil program or if they had simply reaped the benefits of a weak schedule in the early going. While Arizona State struggled mightily in their grueling midseason games, the Trojans were dealing with enough problems of their own.
Unrest began to grow in Los Angeles after a team that was expected to compete for and win a national championship suffered three conferences losses in its first nine games.
When the teams prepared to do battle on a sunny November afternoon, few of the preseason prognosticators could have predicted that these teams would be playing a game with Pac-12 South implications. The Sun Devils were expected to be rebuilding, and the Trojans were expected to crush their competition, but things change over the course of a season.
A win for the Sun Devils could have propelled them into an instant contender for the Pac-12 South and a loss for the Trojans might have spelled death for Lane Kiffin's job security.
As the teams took to the gridiron, the early play suggested that the Sun Devils and Trojans would be involved in a dogfight. While Arizona State could not capitalize on its first possession, the Sun Devil defense came up with a huge play when Carl Bradford stripped Marquise Lee on the Trojans' first play from scrimmage.
Soon after, Taylor Kelly led the offense 38 yards on a quick scoring drive and the Sun Devils jumped out to a somewhat surprising 7-0 lead. After a few more admirable stands by the Arizona State defense, the Trojans took control for their fourth possession of the game and wasted little time making things happen.
Quarterback Matt Barkley found Marquise Lee streaking down the field on a beautiful 80-yard touchdown play that left even the most ardent Trojan bashers in awe of Lee's speed.
Amazingly, Lee's score was not the most impressive play of the afternoon, as Sun Devil defensive back Alden Darby later proved.
With the score tied at seven and the Trojans driving down the field early on in the second quarter, the Arizona State defensive back made a play that only a devoted student of an opponents' game film could make.
After the Trojans entered the Sun Devil red zone, a series of penalties pushed the USC offense back behind the 20-yard line and left Lane Kiffin searching through his playbook to find an answer to the question posed by a third and goal situation from the 24-yard line.
Before the Trojans had a chance to call their play, Alden Darby probably anticipated what was coming. The Sun Devil safety likely narrowed down the possibilities of what the Trojans could run in this situation, and the ensuing formation could have provided a valuable tip.
USC aligned with two receivers spread to the left, a receiver inside the right hash mark, and split backs flanking Matt Barkley out of the shotgun.
When one of the USC backs went in motion towards the dual receiver side, Alden Darby crept up from his initial position 11 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
By the snap of the ball, Darby was in a full sprint towards the motion back and managed to escape the vision of Barkley during his run.
As Barkley turned to pass the ball in the direction of the motion back, the Sun Devil defensive line came bearing in on him in an effort to stop the play before it got started.
Barkley rushed his pass and hit a man in stride, but that man was Alden Darby. Darby leaped in the air and snatched the football into his hands before darting 70 yards straight into the Sun Devil end zone to give Arizona State the lead.
The degree of difficulty behind Darby's pick-6 is absolutely astounding. Not only did Darby anticipate the exact play the Trojans prepared to run, he left his position in time to catch a swing pass an whopping six yards behind the line of scrimmage. Additionally, Darby maneuvered by a USC receiver attempting to block him and leaped high in the air at full speed to complete one of the best interceptions of the season in college football.
Though Darby stunned Barkley and the Trojans, the Sun Devils could not hold onto the lead heading into the half. Ultimately, Arizona State crumbled in crunch time, but Darby's play did alter the course of the game for the time being.
Darby's play likely represented a 10-point swing as an incomplete pass could have led to a Trojan field goal. However, the interception gave Arizona State the fleeting hope that the Pac-12 South might actually be there for the taking.
While Darby's play lands at No. 7 on our countdown list, a Sun Devil victory could have sent this play much closer to the top.
For a complete breakdown of our "12 Plays of Christmas," click here