LOS ANGELES — The defeat was swift, and it was humbling.
By the time the final gun had sounded at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Arizona State Sun Devils had suffered their first defeat of the season. But really, it only took the game’s first 30 minutes for the USC Trojans to dispose of the visitors, coasting through the next 30 minutes to an eventual 41-20 win.
But this was just the tip of the ice berg as for the Sun Devils’ (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) woes.
The defense couldn’t find a way to stop USC quarterback Sam Darnold. In his second career start—first at home—the freshman tossed for 352 yards and three touchdowns, completing 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards and two scores in the first half alone.
Darnold’s effort combined with that of running back Justin Davis (14 rushes, 123 yards, one touchdown; two catches, 38 yards) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (seven catches, 123 yards, three touchdowns), who paired for 178 yards and three touchdowns on 16 total touches through the game’s first two quarters.
The trio’s play lifted the Trojans (2-3, 1-1) to a 27-6 half-time lead.
There was nothing to counter the USC attack, as ASU’s offense couldn’t get going.
During the first quarter, kicker Zane Gonzalez made field goals from 34 and 40 yards out, scoring the Sun Devils’ lone first-half points. His two conversions made him the Pac-12’s all-time leader in field goals made.
Aside from Gonzalez’s scores, ASU was kept off the board. The offense particularly struggled throughout the second quarter, as quarterback Manny Wilkins (13 of 24, 148 yards, one interception) played through a stretch during which he tossed six consecutive incompletions.
He would never get a chance to rebound. With just over a minute left in the first half, Wilkins was sacked, and didn’t get up from the ground. He suffered a lower left leg injury, and was taken to the locker room to be looked at.
He did not return.
Meanwhile, the ASU defense struggled to bring down ball carriers, specifically in space.
Smith-Schuster reeled off a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown which was followed by a Darnold three-yard rushing score to push the Trojans’ lead to its highest at 41-6.
In place of Wilkins, redshirt-freshman quarterback Brady White took the reigns of the offense. The Sun Devils’ offense was unable to get much of anything going, as the unit was forced into four consecutive three-and-out series to start the second half.
It wasn’t until White connected with receiver Tim White (seven catches, 84 yards) for a 41-yard gain that the offense recorded a first down with B. White (6 of 13, 80 yards, one touchdown) under center. The substitute would engineer a six-play, 80-yard drive which ended in a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Raymond Epps.
The passing score—the first of B. White’s career—made the score 41-13 with eight minutes left in the final quarter. Running back Nick Ralston would tack on a rushing score from 10 yards out later in the frame for the game’s final change at 41-20.
For the Sun Devils, they had what was easily their worst offensive performance of the season. The ASU rushing attack managed just 75 yards on 33 carries—an average of just 2.3 yards per carry.
The biggest concern, however, will hang over the status of Wilkins, who was not able to return to the contest, along with questions regarding what can be done to alleviate the struggles of the back-seven defensive unit composed of the linebackers and secondary.
Next up for ASU is a home matchup against the UCLA Bruins next Saturday.