USC junior safety Jawanza Starling missed a tackle and Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall finished off a 70-yard run that gave the Sun Devils a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.
That set the tone for the rest of the game as Arizona State (3-1, 1-0) ran away from No. 23 USC (3-1, 1-1) late in the second half to cap off a 43-22 victory at home.
“I thought they came out on fire, as we expected,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It was a big home game for them with the energy of the crowd. I thought they played really well. They didn’t make many mistakes. They didn’t give us many chances.”
Mistakes — namely penalties and turnovers — seemed to be the downfall for USC on this night despite numerous opportunities to score. The Trojans finished with 10 penalties and four turnovers, with two turnovers (a fumble and interception) coming inside the red zone.
It was Arizona State who capitalized on USC’s turnover midway through the second quarter. With USC inside Arizona State’s 15-yard line, junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict intercepted junior quarterback Matt Barkley. It was Burfict’s first interception of his career.
The Sun Devils’ offense took over at USC’s 48-yard line. Eight plays later, Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler connected with wide receiver Jamal Miles for a three-yard pass to give the Sun Devils a 21-3 lead.
“Obviously, this was the first time we were really challenged,” senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. “We were in a hostile environment and this was the first time we were really down and had to deal with adversity.”
After settling for a field goal on its first drive of the game, USC was forced to kick two more field goals after stalling in Arizona State territory. A big reason why the Trojans failed to score after good field position was their inability to convert on third-downs: They were 0-of-6 on third-down conversions in the first half and 1-of-9 for the game, while the Sun Devils were 4-of-7 in the first half and 6-of-12 overall.
Trailing 21-9 at halftime, the Trojans’ offense came out firing in the second half. Barkley completed 5-of-5 passes for 67 yards on USC’s opening drive, connecting with freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee on a 24-yard strike.
On the ensuing possession — after the USC defense stopped Arizona State on a third-and-long — it was the USC running game that came to life. Senior running back Marc Tyler had six rushes for 65 yards on the scoring drive, finding the end zone untouched on a 10-yard run that gave USC a 22-21 lead.
“I was extremely proud of our team in the third quarter,” Kiffin said. “We’re a young team. But I was proud of the way we responded. We took the lead in a tough environment versus a really good team.”
The lead, however, was short-lived.
Osweiler marched the Sun Devils down the field, as Arizona State regained the lead at 28-22 on an eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive as Marshall scored his second touchdown of the game on a three-yard run.
Though Arizona State momentarily regained momentum, USC sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods returned the kickoff to the Sun Devils’ 49-yard line, putting USC in another position to take advantage. Two plays later, however, Tyler fumbled late in the third quarter.
The USC defense managed to keep it a one-score game after holding the Sun Devils on third-and-one. Barkley’s efficiency to open the second half carried over, as he led USC inside Arizona State’s 15-yard line. But Arizona State’s Greg Smith sacked, Barkley, he fumbled and the Trojans drive was halted.
The Arizona State offense, again, would take advantage of another inopportune turnover. Marshall capped off his three-touchdown night with a four-yard run that gave the Sun Devils a 36-22 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the game and another Barkley interception was returned for a touchdown late to seal Arizona State’s first victory over USC since 1999.
“Great teams don’t turn the ball over on the road and great teams are able to take the ball away,” Galippo said. “When you’re backed against the ball like this, you have to finish.”
After tying a USC single-game record with five touchdown passes against Syracuse last weekend, Barkley was just 21-of-33 for 227 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Marshall, who was questionable for the game because of a sprained ankle suffered in the loss against Illinois last week, had 141 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Osweiler was 25-of-32 for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the inability to execute consistently throughout the game on both sides of the ball, Barkley saw this game as a good learning experience for the team.
“I don’t think it was a matter of energy or focus,” Barkley said. “Our guys were ready to play. But [we have to] learn from this tape and then forget about it. There is nothing we can do — just learn and grow.”
USC returns home next Saturday to face Arizona at 12:30 p.m.