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ASU Football: Positional Grades vs. USC

The Sun Devils struggled in just about every phase of the game during their defeat to the Trojans.

Arizona State v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t pretty, and this time, the Arizona State Sun Devils were unable to turn things around en route to a 41-20 defeat at the hands of the USC Trojans.

Things fell apart early for ASU as it was unable to crawl back from a 21-point half-time deficit. Missed tackles, a nonexistent running game, and an injury to the team’s starting quarterback culminated with the team’s first loss of the year.

Let’s take a look at how each unit performed:

Quarterbacks: C-

Manny Wilkins started off well. Through the first quarter, he was 8 of 11 for 105 yards with an interception, but he looked confident throwing the ball. The interception he flailed into coverage and the overthrow of an open Jalen Harvey were his only miscues early on.

Then the second quarter came. He suffered through a stretch during which he threw six straight incompletions. He was later removed from the game after suffering an injury to his left leg, finishing with a stat line of 13 for 24 with 148 yards and the interception. He was also sacked three times.

His replacement, Brady White, didn’t look all too much better. His first four full series resulted in three-and-outs, and it was clear the USC defense was able to key on the inside run phase of ASU’s run-pass option plays.

Running backs: C

Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and Nick Ralston didn’t do bad—they just didn’t do very well, either. It was a pedestrian performance, as USC’s run defense seemed to stuff any inside run plays, along with the off-tackle rushing plays.

There was no opportunity for any of the three to really thrive, as the unit finished with a combined 81 rushing yards on 13 carries (3.24 yards per carry).

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+

As far as individual grades go, Tim White would be the highest scorer in the grade book, as his performance was very good. However, the Sun Devils receivers did drop some passes against the Trojans, and struggled to consistently separate from coverage.

Kody Kohl was excellent in the run game, particularly when ASU was rushing off tackle utilizing him as a lead blocker. Raymond Epps’ first catch of the season went for B. White’s first career touchdown pass, too.

Offensive Line: C-

The stat sheet says the group only relinquished three sacks, but ASU’s quarterbacks were under duress for much of the evening on Saturday. The group didn’t generate much of a push in the run game either.

The unit faltered to the tune of six tackles for losses (which combined for 30 total yards lost), three sacks (combined for 25 yards lost), and one quarterback hit.

Defensive Line: B-

In the absence of nose tackle Ami Latu, freshman George Lea battled hard in the trenches despite not it not being revealed on the stat sheet.

Defensive end JoJo Wicker was dominant, in fact, the Trojans began to run plays away from his side of the field because he was able to influence his side of the line of scrimmage so much.

It was tough sledding for group in the run game, though. USC’s offensive line managed to create enough gaps and running lanes for Justin Davis to get loose. It ended up being a huge factor in the outcome.

Linebackers: C-

In filling against the run and defending the pass, the linebacker group as a whole struggled.

Salamo Fiso played well, but it was the rest of the unit that looked overwhelmed at times, especially in space when asked to track down ball carriers and in pass coverage. The middle of the field nearer to the line of scrimmage was often available to the Trojans, and Sam Darnold and Co. obliged in the defense’s offer by taking advantage throughout the contest.

Cornerbacks: C-

The corners weren’t as bad as you actually think they were.

Kareem Orr was once again great against the Trojans. Whether you agree or disagree regarding his pass interference call was correct or incorrect (it wasn’t wrong, by the way...) is up for your own discretion.

However, when lined up in man, the Sun Devils cornerbacks were stingy. Most of Darnold’s completions came against zone coverage when his outside receivers were given a seven-yard cushion, on screen plays designed to take the cornerback completely out of the play, or over the middle.

No, I don’t think Gump Hayes is a bad defender—he’s not a good tackler, but to say he isn’t ASU’s best option to man the field corner role is silly. What should have been done, was allow Orr to track Smith-Schuster the entire night instead of allowing USC to have the option of running plays away from his side of the field, which is closest to the boundary.

Safeties: C

Laiu Moeakiola came inches away from impacting plays on several occasions against USC. However, he was also on the wrong end of a few plays, as receivers flooded his zonal areas forcing him to stick one player while leaving another.

Meanwhile, Armand Perry wasn’t able to have any impact near the line of scrimmage against the Trojans like he was able to in previous weeks.

Greater influence in the passing game—tackling at the back end, particularly—would be something the defensive unit would be more than welcome to have moving forward. However, it’s understood why they didn’t have much of anything to contribute while the ball was in the air, considering USC’s passing attack too such a horizontal approach.

Kicker/Punter: C+

Whatever you do, do not kick the ball to Adoree’ Jackson.

Whatever you do, do not kick the ball to Adoree’ Jackson.

Whatever you do, do not kick the ball to Adoree’ Jackson.

Guess what both Zane Gonzalez and Matt Haack did on Saturday night?

They kicked the ball to Adoree’ Jackson, but luckily the speedster didn’t break off for any game-altering returns.

Gonzalez knocked home the Sun Devils’ lone points of the first three quarters, however he was surprisingly unable to drive the ball out of the end zone during kickoffs like fans have grown accustomed to. Still, he did set the Pac-12 record for career field goals made, which currently stands at 86. So, good on Legatron for that.