Fork Report: Sun Devils lose quarterback, lose game in blowout fashion at USC
The loss was bad enough. The loss of quarterback Manny Wilkins may be season-altering.
Arizona State walked into the Coliseum with a 4-0 record. They walked out with their leader on crutches.
The Sun Devils laid an egg in front of 71,214 as they tasted defeat for the first time in 2016, losing 41-20 to USC, a team whose fan base was beginning to question its head coach.
This was the USC (2-3, 1-2) everyone expected.
Quarterback Sam Darnold accounted for four touchdowns, or one more than the Trojans had scored in three previous games against Power 5 conference opponents this season.
Darnold passed for 352 yards — he completed 23-of-33 attempts — and three scores, all to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished with seven catches for 123 yards.
Running back Justin Davis added 123 rushing yards and a touchdown.
USC scored 34 unanswered points after ASU (4-1, 1-1) had pulled to within one, 7-6, on Zane Gonzalez’s second field goal of the first quarter.
It was late in the first half when Wilkins went down with an apparent left leg injury. He was spotted after the game in a walking boot, leaving his status clearly up in the air going forward.
The Sun Devils were outgained 523 to 303 with only 75 rushing yards.
It’s the second straight loss in the series for ASU, which was beaten 42-14 at Sun Devil Stadium a year ago.
Actually, Gonzalez has been better than good this season. He’s been great. His second field goal was the 86th of his career, breaking the Pac-12 record previously held by Kai Forbath of UCLA. Gonzalez, by the way, has now scored in 44 consecutive games, one shy of Luis Zendejas’ school record.
Praised for his play earlier in the week by offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, Jalen Harvey responded with another solid performance. Among his catches was a career-long 49-yard reception which helped lead to Gonzalez’s second field goal. Harvey had a season-best five catches for 83 yards a week ago against Cal.
Taking over for Wilkins, who went 13-of-24 for 148 yards and an interception, Brady White made his Sun Devils debut late in the second quarter and led ASU on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Raymond Epps caught a 13-yard pass for a score and Nick Ralston had a 10-yard rushing score. White finished 6-of-13 for 80 yards.
Prone to the big play all season, the Sun Devils defense allowed their eighth play of 40 or more yards this season when Davis broke two tackles on his way to a 49-yard first-quarter run. Six plays later, Darnold threw five yards to Smith-Schuster, who beat Kareem Orr for a touchdown that put USC in front 7-3 at the 4:35 mark. It was a 95-yard scoring drive, the third of at least that length given up by ASU in the season’s first five games.
Everything went wrong for the Sun Devils in the second quarter. First, they were outscored 20-0 — Smith-Schuster and Davis each had touchdowns plus a pair of Matt Boermeester field goals — and failed on four chances to convert on third down. They even failed on a 4th-and-4 at the USC 42. Worse than all of that, though, was seeing Wilkins immediately grab his left knee after being sacked. He limped off the field and to the locker room.
Tackling. It’s been an issue all season for the Sun Devils. Not only was Davis able to shake would-be defenders, but Smith-Schuster had little trouble breaking tackles. The most egregious attempt at a tackle had to be De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes who whiffed on Smith-Schuster on the Trojans’ second series of the third quarter. Smith-Schuster turned the play into a 67-yard catch-and run touchdown, which put USC ahead 34-6 at the 11:11 mark.
STAT OF THE GAME
157: Against the conference’s top-ranked rushing defense, USC gained 157 yards on the ground; ASU entered the week allowing only 95 yards a game, which was 16th-best nationally
HE SAID IT
“We’ve done a poor job just offensively in the first half without being able to run the football. We got to be able to run the football,” head coach Todd Graham said at halftime, referring to the Sun Devils’ 21 rushing yards. “Defensively, it’s just been mistakes and errors. I mean we’ve done some good things but we’ve given up a couple of things off of just guys blowing assignments and stuff like that. We’re in the same predicament we always are in.”
Redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Zack Robertson replaced Quinn Bailey at right tackle in the second quarter
Redshirt-junior safety James Johnson made his season debut in the second quarter, replacing J’Marcus Rhodes
Redshirt-freshman defensive lineman George Lea started due to senior Viliami Latu being slowed by a knee injury
Junior linebacker Christian Sam did not make the trip, missing his fourth straight game because of an ankle injury
ASU’s gameday captains included Wilkins, Gonzalez and linebacker Salamo Fiso, who made his debut last week
The other L.A. school, though next week the game is on the Sun Devils’ home turf.
ASU hosts UCLA on Saturday, Oct. 8. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The road team has won each of the past four matchups. That was the Sun Devils a year ago, 38-23, in Pasadena. The season prior, UCLA handed ASU its worst defeat in the Graham era, 62-26.
The Sun Devils have not won back-to-back meetings against the Bruins since 2007-08.
Overall, UCLA leads the series 19-12-1, dating back to 1976.