Welp. That wasn't fun.
One week after the exhilaration of a come-from-behind win against Cal, the Sun Devils were flat in all aspects Saturday night at the Coliseum, losing to a 1-3 USC team by a score of 41-20. The loss marked the first defeat of the year for ASU, and prevented them from making a debut appearance in the upcoming AP Top-25.
After putting up record numbers on offense and showing encouraging signs of being further along down the line of development than many expected coming into the season, the Sun Devils fell flat and left with the sour taste of familiar frustration. What stood out most from the defeat?
1. Another year, another collapse game: Todd Graham's ASU teams have been consistent in one thing, and that's their pattern of experiencing nightmarish games with shuddering results in big games nearly every year. Blowout losses to Stanford soured the 2013 campaign, and UCLA came into Sun Devil Stadium the following year and embarrassed the Sun Devils. Last season, USC made up for the Jael Mary by putting 35 up in the first half en route to a 42-14 domination.
Most of the Sun Devils that took part in those games aren't still around to have made the trip out this weekend to Los Angeles, but the pattern of everything falling apart at once reared its ugly head again. Vegas set this game by favoring USC by six points, a number that looked surprising considering the teams' records coming into it, choosing the raw talent of USC. On Saturday, that raw talent won out.
2. The offensive line finally shows its age: Much of the early surprise in the Sun Devils' start this season has been the superb performance of the offensive line in pass protection, playing admirably despite breaking in three new starters. That play didn't carry over into Saturday, as USC manhandled the Sun Devils on the interior, forcing Manny Wilkins out of the pocket earlier than he wanted to.
Most of the time he was able to elude tacklers and pick up positive yardage, but one bad play ended his night early. It happened late in the second quarter, as Wilkins was crunched by Rasheem Green and hurt his leg in the process. Graham gave no indication regarding the severity of Wilkins' injury during his post-game presser, but we could potentially be looking at a couple weeks of Brady White.
3. ASU's defense is worse than we thought -- and we knew it was bad: It seems that what Graham made his name in college football for -- defense -- is the one thing that hasn't seemed to progress at all over his time in Tempe. We wanted to write off the performances against Texas Tech and Cal as products of their opponent's nature, but there's no way to overlook how thoroughly the Sun Devils were pounded on the defensive side of the ball.
ASU's pass defense -- ranked last in FBS coming into Saturday -- let Sam Darnold walk all over them to the tune of 23 of 33 passing for 352 yards and three scores. ASU's tackling after the catch was atrocious, and Max Browne -- the QB who lost his job to Darnold after losses to Alabama and Stanford -- even managed to work his way into live action in mop-up duty.
But the pass defense wasn't anything new to this season. Getting pushed around in the trenches was. ASU was tops in the Pac-12 in rushing defense headed into the tilt against the Trojans, but allowed 123 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries to Justin Davis on the night. The interior defensive line was moved at will and the pass rushers struggled to get to Darnold in time to make a difference.
You can't expect to shut down a team as talented as USC, but to see Graham's teams perform this terribly this consistently in the one facet of the game that he made his coaching name in is reason for real concern.
In summation: Yikes.
4. At least we get to see what Brady White can do now, right?: The benefit of nobody knowing who was going to take the first snaps of the season against Northern Arizona until August is that both Brady White and Manny Wilkins had to get prepared for in-game action. Graham went with Wilkins, but White's preparation for the starting job was going to serve him well in the case his number was called.
That case came to fruition Saturday, and while ASU was too far behind to make a legitimate rally at that point, White made some throws that reminded why he was once a four-star recruit. It'll be interesting to see how Chip Lindsey evolves this offense to fit White's strengths, and I wouldn't be surprised if the passing game finds a more consistent rhythm moving forward with the one-dimensional White staying in the pocket.
5. The Pac-12 South is still wide open: It's hard to take a whole lot of positives from a blowout loss like this, but if the notable losses from previous seasons have taught us anything, it's that the narrative of the campaign can't be written in October.
ASU rallied from that Stanford loss in 2013 to make the Pac-12 title game, rallied from the UCLA loss in 2014 to get to No. 6 in the nation late in the season and the thrilling win in the Rose Bowl against UCLA in 2015 came a week after being dominated by the Trojans.
The only team left in the Pac-12 South without a conference loss is Colorado. Is anyone confident they're going to be able to keep that clean sheet the rest of the way? ASU has plenty of football left, and plenty of opportunity remains to turn 2016 into a great season.