In the aftermath of Arizona State's embarrassing primetime loss to UCLA last Thursday, the Internet ran rampant with criticisms of the program and head coach Todd Graham. Sun Devil fans from all walks of life joined together to lament about the performance, and an air of pessimism has been cast over this weekend's game at USC. The Trojans are fresh off a 35-10 stomping of Oregon State and the program that has struggled mightily since Pete Carroll left L.A. is humming under new coach Steve Sarkisian, currently sitting at No. 16 in the AP poll with a 3-1 record.
But in the chaos of negativity and criticism that has surrounded the program since the UCLA loss, it's easy to forget that around this time last year, things weren't so different for the Sun Devils.
After starting the 2013 season with a pair of victories, Arizona State took high expectations with them into Palo Alto for its September 20 game against the Cardinal. They left with a bruised ego and a 2-1 record, having been shut out 29-0 in the first half en route to a 42-28 loss that wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Negativity and criticism followed in the wake of the loss, similar negativity and criticism to that which the Sun Devils are currently facing.
Needing a bounce back win after the defeat in Palo Alto, Arizona State returned home to take on the same team they'll look to bounce back against this week, the Trojans from Southern California.
With the stadium decked out in a maroon monsoon, the Sun Devils and Trojans battled to a draw in the first quarter, each scoring on touchdown runs. In the second quarter, prospects didn't look good for Arizona State after Tre Madden's 10-yard touchdown catch put USC up 14-7. The Trojan defense had done a good job against Kelly and the offense, holding the vaunted Sun Devil attack scoreless for over 18 straight minutes of game time. But workhorse back and touchdown magnet Marion Grice changed that with 7:46 left in the half, catching a 10-yard pass from Kelly for a score. Arizona State added a pair of Zane Gonzalez field goals and held a slim 20-14 lead at the half.
It took until the second half for the Sun Devil offense to get going, but when they did they were nearly unstoppable. Madden's second touchdown of the night put USC up 21-20, but Arizona State immediately responded with a D.J. Foster 74-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive. Two plays into USC's next drive, Arizona State safety Alden Darby picked off Cody Kessler and returned it down the sideline 46 yards for a touchdown that put the Sun Devils up 34-21.
Another Grice touchdown, this time on an 8-yard pass from Kelly, put Arizona State up 41-21 and the rout was on. When Grice scored his third touchdown on the day with a 9-yard run near the end of the third quarter, what was a blowout shifted into a humiliation for the Trojans and embattled head coach Lane Kiffin. USC scored a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to pull within 48-34 but Arizona State didn't let up and left no doubt of which team was dominant in a 62-41 win.
The aftermath of that win was more interesting than the game itself, as USC athletic director Pat Haden didn't even wait until the next day to fire Kiffin. Six hours after the defining loss, Kiffin and the Trojans arrived back in Los Angeles, and Haden let the coach know at the airport then that his time in cardinal and gold was over.