A roller coaster is supposed to be a thrill ride. With peaks and valleys with moments of anguish, the ride for Sun Devil fans ended with a smile Saturday afternoon.
It certainly wasn’t a favorite game for ASU head coach Herm Edwards, but he’s not one to harp on a victory.
“Talking to other coaches you realize that eventually you’re going to win a close game,” he said. “You’re hoping that this is something we realize we can do now. It takes a play or two, but in the end we took the knee and that’s always a good thing.”
The Arizona State Sun Devils (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) defeated the USC Trojans (4-4, 3-3) Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum by a final score of 38-35.
It was the first home loss for USC head coach Clay Helton, who had previously been 19-0 at the Coliseum since taking over the football program.
Early on it looked like ASU was going to coast out of Los Angeles with an easy victory. They were leading 24-7 with less than two minutes until halftime.
Then disaster struck, it’s been a very familiar storyline of the 2018 team.
The Trojans turned a 17-point deficit into a 28-24 lead in only 4:48 of game action. The Coliseum was rocking and it felt like the knockout punch to a frustrating season.
Luckily for the Sun Devils, their superstar was waiting to put his touch on the contest.
Junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry fielded a punt falling to his right at the ASU eight-yard line. He then weaved all the way back across the field, in one of those ‘please no, wait yes,’ N’Keal Harry moments the world has come accustomed to. Receiving a handful of fantastic blocks from his teammates, he strutted down the sideline into the west end zone.
ASU was up for good.
“I noticed there wasn’t a lot of room in the middle of the field and I just tried to get it outside,” Harry said. “There’s no way I’m scoring without the blocking my teammates made.”
Many have criticized ASU for putting Harry deep to return punts, especially after he was dinged up against Colorado.
One thing stays the same. If you put your star in a position to make the plays, they usually find a way.
The Sun Devil defense also came up with a big play in crunch time. With 10:22 remaining in the game and trailing by three, USC was facing a 4th and 1 at the ASU 20-yard line. Helton called a timeout and decided to go for it after initially sending out the field goal unit. It received a negative reception from the USC fans.
The Trojans dialed up a handoff to senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware, he was stuffed at the line by the trio of freshmen linebackers Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler and redshirt senior Dasmond Tautalatasi.
It was Sun Devil ball, and the air was out of the Trojan faithful.
“I thought we had a good play called and we got penetration in the A-gap on a power play that worked for us earlier,” Helton said. “I have total faith in Ced Ware. He’s a senior and a vet a I know he is as physical as all get-out and he was running the ball extremely well at five-yards per carry. I have total faith in him to do that.”
Edwards knows what Helton was facing, and he says the boo birds often creep into a coach’s head.
“We were really good on third down,” Edwards said. “On fourth down, you can tell — and I’ve been there as a coach — you start listening to the fans.”
ASU walked into the Coliseum at an opportune time. The Trojans were down there starting quarterback, leading tackler and sack man. USC was barely clinging to second place in the South division entering play, the loss was a definite backbreaker.
The Trojans starting their true freshman quarterback Jack Sears found trouble early, but the first-time starter eventually got into the flow of the game.
Sears finished 20-28 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He was instrumental in leading USC’s comeback and showed great promise as a collegiate quarterback.
Lost in all of ASU’s success was the great effort from running back Eno Benjamin. The sophomore had 29 carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns, as he easily dismantled one of the worst rushing defenses in the conference.
“Eno was fabulous. He ran the football and then started shrinking the game,” Edwards said.
Benjamin gave credit to his offensive line for paving the way.
“Watching film we saw that they had some young linebackers, and we just trusted our o-line to get the job done,” Benjamin said. “We just went out there and did everything we could possibly do.”
Arizona State now welcomes the new leader of the Pac-12 South, the No. 23 Utah Utes. The Sun Devils steamrolled the Utes last season in Salt Lake 30-10. Utah now has an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the division, expect the Utes to look and make a statement next Saturday afternoon in Tempe.