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Fork Report: ASU struggles in all phases against USC

Southern California's Cody Kessler (6) throws a touchdown pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Let’s start with the good news: Arizona State won the coin toss.

OK, now the bad news, and where to begin: The Sun Devils missed two field goals, turned it over four times, gave up five passing touchdowns and allowed a 62.5-percent conversion rate on third down.

Add it all up and when time expired ASU (2-2, 0-1) had suffered a 42-14 loss to No. 19 USC in its Pac-12 opener.

Cody Kessler threw four of his five touchdowns, three following Sun Devil turnovers, in the first half as the Trojans held a 35-0 lead at the break, the first time ASU had been shutout in the first half since Sept. 21, 2013 at Stanford.

Kessler went 19-of-33 for 375 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers.

He was pulled with eight minutes to play.

USC (3-1, 1-1) scored 28 points off turnovers and finished 10-of-16 on third down in snapping a two-game losing streak to the Sun Devils.

Mike Bercovici, who stunned USC a year ago on a Hail Mary, was 23-of-44 for 272 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked three times.

Though outgained overall, ASU enjoyed a 182-to-76 yard rushing advantage.

THE GOOD

– With his first-quarter 11-yard catch, D.J. Foster became just the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 2,000+ rushing and receiving yards in a career, joining Stanford’s Darrin Nelson, Tulane’s Mewelde Moore and Texas Tech’s Taurean Henderson. Also, Foster has now accounted for at least one reception in each of the 44 games he has played at ASU, the longest active streak in FBS and matching the school record held by John Jefferson.

– One of the few first-half bright spots for the Sun Devils was their rushing attack. They gained 148 yards on 19 carries, led by Demario Richard’s 82-yard effort. He finished with 131 yards, his third straight 100-yard game, on 14 attempts and scored two touchdowns.

– Healthy for the first time all season, the Sun Devils welcomed the return of running backs Kalen Ballage and De’Chavon Hayes. Ballage had missed the first three games because of illness, reported to be mononucleosis; while Hayes, whose first-quarter 19-yard punt return was ASU’s longest in over a year, was sidelined last week with a hamstring injury.

THE BAD

– Turnovers are momentum killers and each team turned the ball over on their first possession of the game. Kessler was picked off by freshman Kareem Orr inside the red zone, specifically inside the five-yard line, while Richard coughed up the football just four plays after his 61-yard run put the Sun Devils at the USC 37. The Kessler interception was his first of the season.

– On third-and-13, Kessler beat the ASU blitz, throwing a swing pass to Adoree Jackson, who caught the ball and ran 80 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead with 10:31 to play in the first quarter. Jordan Simone had the coverage on Jackson, his first score of the season. The Sun Devils entered the game ranked ninth in the conference and 96th nationally in third-down defense.

– A second Kessler touchdown pass, again on third down, ended in the arms of Steven Mitchell, Jr., capping a nine-play, 74-yard drive that took 2:09 off the clock and made the score 14-0 USC with 11:22 to play in the second quarter. Including the score, the Trojans converted three third downs on the drive plus benefited from a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Demetrius Cherry.

– The third and fourth Kessler touchdown passes — both to JuJu Smith-Schuster — came in the final four minutes of the first half. The fourth throw converted yet another third down, making USC 8-of-10 on third down through the first two quarters, and gave the Trojans a 35-0 lead at the break.

– Of the four Sun Devils turnovers in the first half, the most egregious was the fourth, a 94-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Chris Hawkins. Going out of the shotgun on first-and-goal at the 1, Bercovici lost the football on an attempted handoff to Richard. It marked the second time in three games, the Sun Devils turned the ball over inside the red zone. ASU entered the game fourth in the conference and 62nd nationally in red zone offense.

– Twice in the first half Zane Gonzalez missed long field goal attempts. First, he was wide right on a 47-yard try on ASU’s second possession; and then wide left on a 52-yard try late in the second quarter. Gonzalez entered the game 3-of-4, missing a 28-yard attempt against Cal Poly.

STAT OF THE GAME

28: The number of USC points off turnovers, all scored in the first half

HE SAID IT

“Their skill players, they killed us. Nothing we didn’t work on. We did a poor job, I guess, of preparing them,” head coach Todd Graham said. “The whole deal was the turnovers. Got to give them credit. We just did not play very well. They were the better team tonight.”

NOTED

– Defensive end JoJo Wicker earned his first career start, becoming the third different freshman to start a game .this season

– Junior Stephon McCray replaced center Nick Kelly, who appeared to suffer an injury late in the second quarter.

– Safety Armand Perry missed his second straight game due to a left ankle injury he suffered against Cal Poly.

– Scouts from nine NFL teams — Browns, Cardinals (Terry McDonough, Josh Scobey), Colts, Niners (GM Trent Baalke), Packers, Rams, Ravens, Redskins, Saints — were in attendance.

UP NEXT

After three straight home games, the Sun Devils hit the road for the first time since the season opener against Texas A&M.

ASU visits UCLA (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday, October 3. Kickoff has yet to be determined, but the start time could be either 4:30 or 7:30; and of course, pregame coverage will begin two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Sun Devils have lost three of four to the Bruins, including a 62-27 setback last season.

ASU, though, did earn the win on its last trip to Pasadena, 38-33 in 2013, a victory that clinched the South Division. It was the Sun Devils first win at the Rose Bowl since 2007.

Overall, UCLA leads the all-time series 19-11-1.

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