Some players are so damn good, it is hard to get mad when they make plays against your team.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is one of those players.
Arizona State had no answer for the sophomore phenom, and the Sun Devil offense continued their second half woes from a week ago in another disappointing loss that has taken all of the air out of ASU's fast start to the year.
The action in this Pac-12 South showdown began fast and furious, if not at times sloppy.
The Sun Devil offense showed off their fastest tempo of the year, and was able to effectively move into Trojan territory, but the drive ended on a turnover on downs, as Marion Grice was stopped just short.
It wasn't long before ASU had another chance. Carl Bradford forced a Marqise Lee fumble on USC's first play, and it was recovered by Steffon Martin. ASU made them pay, as Taylor Kelly avoided pressure on a third down play, which allowed Chris Coyle to get behind the coverage on the right sideline and Kelly hit him for a 34-yard touchdown.
The Sun Devil defense was exerting their will on the Trojan offense, led by Will Sutton and Bradford, each registering a first half sack.
But with the talent of Lee, it's just a matter of time until they strike.
Following a touchback, Lee beat Deveron Carr and hauled in a Barkley pass and raced 80-yards untouched for a game-tying touchdown. It looked to go from bad to worse, when Rashad Ross fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by the Trojans.
But the mistakes continued for both teams.
Following the fumble recovery, Barkley was intercepted on a great leaping effort by Chris Young, who just managed to get his left arm down in bounds. However, that momentum was short lived, as Kelly badly missed Coyle, and was easily intercepted by T.J. McDonald.
Later in the quarter, USC managed to drive inside the ASU five-yard line. They appeared to take the lead after Robert Woods hauled in a touchdown pass, but he was called for offensive pass. A delay of game penalty further backed up the Trojans, and on third down, Barkley's pass into the flats was read beautifully by Alden Darby, who intercepted the ball and ran 76-yards for the ASU touchdown.
The Trojans were able to make something happen before halftime. Thanks to another pass interference call on Carr-his second of the half-that extended a drive that ended with a Barkley touchdown pass to Xavier Grimble.
The mistakes continued into the second half.
After a terrible out of bounds kickoff gave USC the ball at their 40-yard line, Barkley looked to toss a screen on the first play, but Bradford had other ideas. Sniffing out the play, he jumped up to deflect the pass, and showing his great athleticism, came down with the interception.
Kelly found Coyle on a third down play for a key 32-yard gain, but the drive stalled and ASU had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Jon Mora to take a 17-14 lead.
USC responded, once again aided by a terrible short kickoff by ASU. `Riding the legs of running back Curtis McNeal, who started in place of Silas Redd, the Trojans drove 59 yards and McNeal scored from five yards out on third and four to give the Trojans their first lead of the day.
The curious case of Mike Norvell's playcalling then returned in force. After converting an earlier fourth down on a Michael Eubank sneak, Norvell called a playaction pass out of the shotgun a set of downs later. The slow developing play was quickly overwhelmed, and Kelly was sacked.
With that great field position, USC methodically marched down the field. Facing a third and 12 from the ASU 22, USC dialed up a screen to McNeal, who ran his way into the endzone thanks to excellent downfield blocking by the Trojans.
The Sun Devil offense continued to struggle mightily. The offensive line was unable to keep pressure off of Kelly, who in turn threw rushed and inaccurate passes. Norvell's playcalling was suspect and the ASU wide receivers continued to be unable to get open downfield.
Meanwhile, USC drained the clocked by keeping the ball on the ground, where the Sun Devil run defense was continually gashed. The highlight/lowlight came on a play in which Lee took a reverse and appeared to set for a seven-yard loss with three ASU players around him. Three cuts later, he had a 38-yard rush that helped set up a USC field goal to make it 31-17. The Trojans would tack on another touchdown in garbage time, with a 27-yard scoring run by McNeal, who finished with 148 yards on the ground.
The second half continued a worrisome regression from Kelly. He again appeared scared of incoming pressure, and had two inexplicable panic-driven interceptions late in the fourth quarter. He finished 19 of 30 for 174 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
The real story of the game was Lee. He hauled in 10 passes for 161 yards and ran six times for 66 yards. His kickoff returning skills forced ASU into two ugly kickoffs early in the second half that gave USC terrific field position.
The loss drops ASU to 5-5 on the year after a 5-1 start. They will catch a break next week in hosting the trainwreck that is Washington State. If there is any team ASU can beat right now, it's Wazzu.
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