TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State (1-3, 0-1) welcomed USC (2-0, 2-0) for the last time as Pac-12 Conference rivals, and despite being 34.5 point underdogs, the Sun Devil’s didn’t play like it. The Trojans had to fight every down for their 42-28 win in front of a sold-out crowd at Mountain America Stadium.
ASU put together its most complete game in all three phases of the game, but the offense saw the biggest improvement with coach Kenny Dillingham calling the shots. The Sun Devils offense featured trick and gadget plays, which found success early.
“We’re trying to attack...bottomline,” Dillingham said on his approach. “You have to play this game attacking if you want to beat teams like that; if you want to beat offensive coaches like Lincoln Riley and offensive quarterbacks like Caleb Williams, you have to attack.”
Dillingham announced he would take over offensive play calling ahead of Week 5 to get his anemic offense into a rhythm, and he got it humming.
“We wanted to call every shot we could in the game and I probably called three too many there in the second half — first down, its a six-point game — that I’d like to have back,” he said.
Dillingham’s offense ran through running back Cam Skattebo, both figuratively and literally. Skattebo set the tone running with attitude, but also pawned as a Swiss army knife, accumulating 190 all-purpose yards.
He registering a 53-yard pooch punt, 111 yards off 20 rushing attempts and four receptions for 79 yards paired with two completions for 42 yards. He also reeled in two scores, one rushing and one receiving.
“It was super aggressive,” Skattebo said of the play calling. “We ran the ball a lot more than we have in the past. We were downhill attack. We knew we could run the ball on these guys and it was working. So we stuck with it. We called our shots when our shots needed to be called. We had a couple of mistakes that kind of bit us towards the end of the game. But I mean, I’m pretty happy for the most part.”
Arizona State was able to keep the Trojan defense honest with creative play calls and methodical drives that allowed the Sun Devil defense to catch its breath. ASU led USC in time of possession, ran 11 more plays and put up a season-high 28 points.
Yet, Dillingham said he is not happy with the outcome, but he is, however, happy to see improvement.
Dillingham said he did not call plays well enough on early downs to better protect his offensive line, which is down five of its top eight players. He credited USC’s coach Grinch for the schematics and the job he has done, but ultimately, Dillingham took responsibility for the mistakes in the second half.
“I got to do a better job of protecting our guys on those early downs so we don’t get behind the chains,” he said. “That was the tale of the two halves. First half, we were ahead of the chains. Second half, first downs were aggressive calls that we were getting sacked on. We got to throw the ball away or not call those calls so we can stay ahead of the chains and stay in a rhythm.”
The Sun Devils trailed the Trojans by seven in the fourth quarter, but the sever lack of depth Arizona State possesses paired with the playoff caliber pedigree USC holds, was the difference.
Arizona State will travel for its first away game of the season and its second Pac-12 Conference opponent at Cal for noon kickoff for Week 6.