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ASU Football: 5 takeaways from Sun Devils' loss to USC

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What did we learn from ASU's 42-14 loss against the Trojans?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It was déjà vu all over again for Arizona State on Saturday night. For the third time in three years, the Sun Devils played a September conference game against a ranked opponent, and for the third time in three years, they failed miserably on a big stage. Before we look ahead, let's take one final look back at the Trojans with our five takeaways from the game.

1. Todd Graham now has a Steve Sarkisian problem: While Todd Graham has had a lot of success against his peers in the Pac-12 conference, the coach he struggles with the most is Steve Sarkisian. In their two meetings since Sark has taken over in Los Angeles, Graham's teams have been outcoached and outplayed by USC for about 105 of the 120 total minutes.

Why this happens, I'm not completely sure. Sarkisian seems to take a lot of heat from both his own fan base and others, and I've always found that to be a bit unfair (although, games like the one this year against Stanford and Boston College last season were some big head-scratchers). The one thing I do know is that he has Graham's number, and the maroon and gold need to figure out a fix before next year's meeting.

2. The sky isn't falling: The good news is that Arizona State will not have to face USC again this season. As House of Sparky managing editor Ryan Bafaloukos stated in Sunday's column, the point is worth reiterating that the Sun Devils have fallen on their face in early season games before and things have worked out just fine.

Is it concerning that it keeps happening every year? Of course. But this is a smart coaching staff with talented players that haven't even come close to reaching their full potential. There are eight games left, and things will get better over that period of time.

Even if this thing doesn't get turned around, that's OK. Every good program has a down year now and again. That is just the nature of college football. It's happening at Texas, Nebraska, and Oregon, and it could happen at Arizona State.

That's life, and that's football.

3. The zone read needs work: It is now safe to say that the drop off from the Taylor Kelly/D.J. Foster era has been steeper than most imagined. The chemistry between Mike Bercovici and Demario Richard just isn't where it needs to be. Richard tries to run outside when his line is opening perfect holes up the middle for him. Bercovici has success whenever he decides to keep the ball on the option, but he does it way too sparingly. In order for it to become a proper option, the quarterback needs to increase the amount of times he calls his own number.

In addition, first down from the 1-yard line and under is not the time to be using this package. They need to go to a jumbo or goal line set and run either a quarterback sneak or a fullback/halfback dive. That's on the coaching staff.

4. Gonzalez will be fine

Kickers, just like great hitters in baseball, go through slumps. Zane Gonzalez is in a bad one right now, but he will be fine. The most important thing Graham can do is to maintain confidence in him.

The only way to get out of a slump like this is to keep kicking. This happens to every kicker at least once during their career. Gonzalez has made clutch kicks for this team before and will most likely do so again.

5. Adjust the third-down defense

USC gained an unbelievable 220 yards and scored three touchdowns on the eight third downs it faced in the first half on Saturday. Arizona State fans can can blame turnovers and poor special teams play all you want, but they can't win many games when they can't get off the field on third down.

Whether it is easing up on the cover zero blitzing or going into a zone on third and long, the Sun Devils need to figure something out. All that hard work they are doing on first and second down is going to waste.