LOS ANGELES — Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
For as much fun as the first four games of this season were for the Arizona State Sun Devils, their world came crashing down on Saturday night at the LA Memorial Coliseum.
Every worst fear was realized on Saturday as a USC Trojans team that felt like it needed to prove something did just that, running through, around, and over an overmatched Arizona State. The final score was 41-20, but it wasn’t that close.
Indeed, the Sun Devils (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) first loss of the season was a blowout in every sense of the word, and now only time will tell if this team is more like the one seen on this night in Los Angeles, or the one that was able to pull out four straight victories to start the year.
“Give them credit,” said head coach Todd Graham after the loss. “They did some pressures and we didn’t do a good job preparing. They shut us down and we didn’t win in any phase tonight.”
The night got off to a decent enough start as Manny Wilkins and company picked up three first downs on the opening possession of the game. The drive would eventually stall inside USC (2-3, 1-1) territory, but a 40-yard field goal off the leg of Zane Gonzalez drew first blood for Arizona State.
After both teams traded punts, the Trojans took a lead they would never give back off a commanding eight-play, 95 yard drive. Quarterback Sam Darnold was able to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster from five yards out for the go-ahead touchdown, the first of four scores on the night for Darnold and three for Smith-Schuster.
The Sun Devils were able to answer with another Gonzalez field goal (this one breaking the all-time Pac-12 record for made field goals), but 7-6 would be the closest they got for the rest of the night.
Here it is. History.@ZaneG_5 breaks the @pac12 record with his 86th career field goal! Tune in on @FOXTV!https://t.co/nEDoe5Ambt— Sun Devil Football (@FootballASU) October 2, 2016
“Honestly, I didn’t realize until you said it,” Gonzalez said after being asked about breaking the record. “It is an awesome accomplishment, but I wish things had turned out better.”
Those “things” went south very quickly as the home team turned a one-point advantage into a 27-6 lead with a 20-point outburst in the second quarter.
Darnold and Smith-Schuster connected again for a three-yard score to give USC some breathing room at 14-6, and that lead was soon pushed to 18 points after a field goal and 37-yard touchdown run on back-to-back Trojan plays from scrimmage.
USC would tack on three more points before the teams vacated the field at the half, but not before Wilkins left the game for good with a left leg injury.
The quarterback was hit on three consecutive plays, the last one a sack that came on a third-and-long for the Maroon and Gold. The sophomore went down grabbing at his leg and had to be helped off the field and into the locker rooms by the training staff.
He would not return to action, and was later seen on the field using crutches. Graham did not provide any updates on his status to the media after the game.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about his quarterback. “They let me know coming out for the second half that he was not available. He’s got to get some x-rays and then we’ll see where we are at.”
Thrust into the fire for his first meaningful collegiate snaps, backup quarterback Brady White took some time settling in. Only one of the freshman’s first six career throws were completed, and the offense’s first, first down of the second half didn’t come until there was just 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
By that time, Clay Helton’s team had stepped on the accelerator and floored it.
The Trojans tallied two touchdowns in the third quarter to extend their lead to 41-6, and that’s where the score remained until White hooked up with tight end Raymond Epps for the visitors’ first touchdown of the night. Unfortunately for White, Epps, and the rest of a worn out Arizona State team, that score came with just over eight minutes left in the game.
RAYMOND EPPS gets it done for @FootballASU! #Pac12FB— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 2, 2016
The team would score once more, a 10-yard scamper from third-string running back Nick Ralston, before USC finally ran out the clock on its 41-20 victory.
“For us, it was just the little things,” defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood said after the blowout defeat. “We need to get the little things right and be more disciplined in our assignments. We have to put in the work to get better.”
If history is any indication, some improvement should be coming for Graham’s team.
The Sun Devils have traditionally fared well in recent history after suffering a blowout defeat, whether it be upsetting UCLA on the road after losing by 28 against the Trojans last year, or topping USC in the Coliseum a week after a 62-27 loss against the Bruins in 2014.
"They will respond like every team I’ve had,” said Graham. “They’ll bounce back and get to work. It won’t get any easier and you certainly can’t play like that.”
The schedule certainly doesn’t get any easier, and whether history repeats itself still remains to be seen.
What we do know is that Arizona State’s dream start suffered a rude awakening on Saturday, a tune that has been played time and again throughout Graham’s tenure with the Sun Devils.