Arizona State just misses upset bid in loss to USC, Caleb Williams

Sep 24, 2023, 12:44 AM

USC's Caleb Williams and ASU's Jalin Conyers (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

USC's Caleb Williams and ASU's Jalin Conyers (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils fell short of their upset dreams with a 42-28 loss to USC at Mountain America Stadium on Saturday.

The Sun Devils (1-3, 0-1) pulled all of their tricks out of the bag, throwing running back passes on fourth down, running double reverses and even attempting a (unsuccessful) surprise onside kick.

“We were trying to attack, bottom line,” ASU head coach Kenny Dillingham said postgame. “If you want to beat teams like that … You got to attack and can not play scared. We wanted to call every shot we had in the game, but I probably called about three too many in the second half…”

Attack is exactly what Arizona State did, attempting 39 passes in the contest with multiple deep shots down field. Quarterback Drew Pyne finished with 221 yards and two scores in the air. He also threw an interception.

The Sun Devils trailed by just seven points with under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Running back Cam Skattebo provided the highlight of the night, receiving a ball on fourth down tip toeing near the sideline and evading two defenders for a house call.

But an ensuing three play, 75-yard drive by USC (4-0, 2-0) quickly ended any hopes of the Sun Devil faithful storming field Saturday night.

Despite everything that went well for ASU on both sides of the field in the first half, Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams and the offense seemed to move the ball at will when it was needed.

ASU’s defense was holding up about as well as it could against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, limiting the big chunk plays from an offense that is full of them, as well as keeping Williams in the pocket for a majority of the night. The issue for the Sun Devils was when he did escape the pocket, bad things happened.

Williams finished the game 20-of-31 for 322 yards, three touchdowns and ran the ball for 26 yards and two scores.

Despite somewhat containing Williams, the Trojans’ rushing attack killed ASU. Southern Cal ran for 235 yards on 29 carries (7.3 yards per carry) and scored twice.

ASU took a 21-13 deficit into half but were advantageous on many Trojans first-half penalties, as well as a fumble in their own red zone that resulted in the Sun Devils’ lone first-half touchdown.

Dillingham took over the play calling from offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin and it was evident in the proliferation of trick plays. Dillingham had called plays in the past, but from the booth. Saturday was his first time calling plays on the field.

“Coach [Beau] Baldwin and our entire staff did a phenomenal job communicating throughout the game. The hardest thing was seeing the line twists and the stunts,” Dillingham said.

Skattebo was a jack of all trades in the contest, running for 113 yards, throwing three passes for 42 yards and even hit a pooch punt that pinned USC deep in its own end zone.

“I like to do everything and believe I can do everything,” Skattebo said.

“When they put me in those situations I believe I am going to excel at them. … I am put in the right position with the right guys around me. Im going to keep working hard and listening to what the coaches got for us.”

ASU found some rhythm in the rushing attack, something that evaded the team in the previous week. The unit finished with 136 yards on 32 carries.

“It was super aggressive. We ran the ball a lot more than we have in the past,” Skattebo said. “We ran the ball downhill and knew we could run the ball on these guys, and it was working. We stuck with it and called our shots when they needed to be called.”

Both Skattebo and Dillingham referenced the home crowd and the atmosphere during the sold out Maroon Monsoon on Saturday.

The head coach said that was a prime example of “Activating the Valley” and how this program can turn around building a competitive home-field advantage.

Cardinals connections

There were multiple Arizona Cardinals connections in Tempe on Saturday.

General manager Monti Ossenfort was in attendance (on the USC sideline) to scout Williams and others as Arizona is potentially in the running for the star signal caller atop the 2024 NFL Draft.

Additionally, former head coach Kliff Kingsbury was back on a football sideline in Arizona for the first time since his departure from the Cardinals. Kingsbury serves as an offensive assistant for the Trojans.

Up Next

ASU will travel to the Bay Area to take on the California Golden Bears on Saturday at 12:00 p.m.

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