LV Bunkley-Shelton could only shake his head as he picked up Jayden Daniels’ fourth down pass and handed it to the official, stunned with the realization that his team would leave the Coliseum without a win after victory seemed certain just minutes ago.
After a fourth-quarter comeback effort by Kedon Slovis, No. 20 USC (1-0) defeated Arizona State (0-1) 28-27 in the first game of the Pac-12’s return.
With the Sun Devils up 13, a Jermayne Lole sack put USC in a fourth-and-13 situation from ASU’s 26-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Then, during the game’s most critical moments, ASU’s miscues began.
Tyler Johnson vaulted offsides before the snap. Slovis saw the movement, set his sights on the end zone, and fired in the direction of Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The ball was tipped up in the air before landing in the hands of Bru McCoy for Slovis’ first touchdown pass of the afternoon. The extra point brought the Trojans within six points.
With 2:52 left on the clock and no timeouts to burn, the Trojans opted for an onside kick. Chase McGrath booted it toward Ricky Pearsall, but he couldn’t corral the ball.
Riding the momentum, Slovis found Drake London for what would be the game-winning touchdown on another fourth-down conversion.
The lead change took just a little more than a minute and a half. Along with the two touchdowns in the game’s final minutes, the sophomore quarterback would finish with 381 passing yards and an interception.
Daniels, who had three-game winning drives last season, couldn’t get the Sun Devils into field goal range.
“We had a lead and we didn’t finish the game,” Coach Herm Edwards said. “You’ve got to give [USC] credit, they made the plays they needed to make, and we did not.”
For three and a half quarters, the Sun Devils gashed the Trojans on the ground. Junior transfer running back Rachaad White weaved his way to 76 rushing yards while adding 70 more yards through the air.
Freshman DeaMonte Trayanum made his presence felt early, knocking off a USC defender’s helmet on his first collegiate rush attempt. He would end the game with 84 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Daniels outdid both members of his backfield, moving the chains with his legs and gaining 111 yards as he routinely beat the pursuit angles of USC’s defenders.
He completed 11 out of 23 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, a short pass to White, who maneuvered a multitude of gold and cardinal jerseys for a 55-yard score.
After a Christian Zendejas field goal gave the Sun Devils a 13-point lead, ASU chewed the game clock down to the wire in hopes to eliminate any chance that Slovis could rally his offense.
Although the running backs produced, the young wide receiving corps had a tough time against USC’s secondary. Frank Darby was sidelined in the first quarter with a rib injury, forcing Bunkley-Shelton and Johnny Wilson to take on increased roles in the offense in their first college football game action.
Bunkley-Shelton caught four passes for 28 yards and was targeted on Daniels’ final two throws. Wilson only managed to catch a short pass for no gain from Daniels, which went into the box score as a rush attempt.
“We didn’t get enough out of our passing game,” Edwards said, “and I think that’s something we’ll have to build on. We lost Frank early in the game. We played with a lot of guys with not a whole lot of experience, but they’re going to grow from this.”
“I sensed the nerves, so I expected it,” Daniels said on the freshman receivers. “But at the end of the day, it’s just playing football and we can’t be nervous during the game.”
On defense, the Sun Devils held USC’s receivers in check for most of the game and forced four turnovers, two of which came in the red zone.
Evan Fields forced two fumbles and was a major disruptor in the secondary, which lost senior cornerback Jack Jones to cramps in the third quarter. Fields said Jones’ absence didn’t excuse the defense’s performance down the stretch.
“We should be able to execute with whoever’s on the field,” Fields said. “All of our guys are capable, so I didn’t feel like we changed anything. Those last few drives, that can’t happen.”
ASU will head home to face California at Sun Devil Stadium next Saturday. The game has yet to receive a scheduled start time.