Arizona State running back Rachaad White is the kind of explosive player that can electrify an offense in any given game. He did just that Saturday night, rushing for 202 yards and 3 TDs to lead the Sun Devils (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) to a much needed 31-16 victory in Tempe over USC (4-5, 3-4).
“They responded how I thought they would respond,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “The message that we try to send them is about dealing with adversity. And when it arrives at your doorstep how do you look at it. In this game, there was some adversity and we didn’t blink.”
The adversity was there, as it always is with this team, but Arizona State played like the better team all night on Saturday. Its offense was more explosive, its defense was more suffocating, and its coaching was superior. The explosivity courtesy almost exclusively of White, is something he expects to see from himself.
“I’m just even keeled, I’m feeling like (I still haven’t done anything,)” White said. “If you start feeling like yeah I’m really doing something right now, sometimes that can make guys complacent.”
We saw the best and the worst from Arizona State early on in this one. The penalties that have plagued the squad in each of its losses were nonexistent in the first quarter. In the second period, however, the Sun Devils were flagged three times.
The most costly of the bunch was a third-down facemask committed by DeAndre Pierce, extending the Trojan drive which was cashed on the next play when Jaxson Dart scampered in for an 11 yard score. A Jayden Daniels interception late in the first half accounted for the other turnover. In his first two seasons, Daniels never threw multiple interceptions in one game. In nine games this season, he’s done it three times.
While they turned the ball over twice in the first half, the Sun Devils offense rolled otherwise. Leaning on its dynamic run game, touchdown drives of 94 and 75 yards accounted for ASU’s 14 first-half points.
White exploded for 102 yards on the ground in the opening half. Highlighted by a 47-yard touchdown run in which the junior college product shot out of a cannon and left four Trojan defenders grasping at turf by the time he reached full speed.
He replicated the run early in the fourth quarter, this time benefiting from a gaping hole opened up by the offensive line. White burst through the hole and put a nifty cut on the free safety. This time heading towards the south end zone, he waltzed in and enjoyed the sweet serenade of the ASU student section.
“It’s just a blessing, all the guys welcoming back and rallying around me,” White said. “I give credit to the guys up front and the receivers for blocking, it’s just a blessing and I’m really grateful for this moment.”
Edwards mentioned this past week that nothing is going to change procedurally. ASU wouldn’t try to re-invent the wheel, and would stick to its guns when it comes to practice and preparation.
“We were on fire Monday,” linebacker Darien Butler said. “Something about this week, got us really dialed in offensively and defensively. Those last two games aren’t us. Never been us.”
The final score indicates a comfortable victory for the Sun Devils, but the 15-point cushion wasn’t achieved until late in the fourth. With last year’s late game collapse at USC creeping into fan’s minds, Arizona State took a one point lead into the fourth quarter and clinically executed two touchdown drives to ice the game. Drives of over four minutes, and nearly seven minutes proved to be the nail in the coffin for USC.
“We finished it. I told them that, I looked up at the clock and I said I want to get down to under a minute,” Edwards said. “They did it, and left two minutes on the clock, and then the defense went back out and did a nice job to get a stop.”
The win was much needed, not just for Arizona State’s standing in the Pac-12, but also for the morale in the locker room. Players voiced frustration this week with reports that they had quit on their coach and or on each other. Chase Lucas, a senior and captain, let it be known that neither of those things are the case, and that this group is as tight knit as ever before.
“It takes a city to raise a football team,” he said. “We’ve never gave up on our coaches, and our coaches have never gave up on us.”