Trojans top Sun Devils 38-17
USC coach Lane Kiffin described it as continued ‚Äúbad karma‚ÄĚ in a week replete with controversy after a student manager was fired for deflating game balls during the first half of last Saturday‚Äôs defensive debacle against Oregon.
Only 45 minutes before kickoff, sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee entered Kiffin‚Äôs office with a swollen face after suffering an allergic reaction to something he ate. Kiffin figured there was no chance the star wideout would recover in time for the game.
But Lee received sufficient treatment and emerged out of the Coliseum tunnel with his teammates in time for another transcendent performance ‚ÄĒ catching 10 passes for 161 yards and adding 66 yards on the ground ‚ÄĒ buoying No. 19 USC to a 38-17 win over Arizona State.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs every bit deserving,‚ÄĚ senior quarterback Matt Barkley said of Lee‚Äôs recent Heisman buzz. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs the best player in his position. He‚Äôs done some tremendous things this year as a receiver and kick returner and across the board.‚ÄĚ
Down 7-0 in the first quarter, Barkley completed an 80-yard touchdown strike to Lee, in which the sophomore sensation knifed through double-coverage and outran his pursuers, gliding into the end zone after junior wide receiver Robert Woods supplied one final block.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm thinking, ‚ÄėThis isn‚Äôt happening,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Kiffin said when recounting Lee‚Äôs pregame visit. ‚ÄúAs well as he played, that long touchdown pass isn‚Äôt even contested if he‚Äôs feeling himself. He‚Äôs arguably the best player in college football.‚ÄĚ
The comfortable final victory margin and Lee‚Äôs continued fireworks belied what began as a competitive game in which the Trojans returned to the locker room at halftime amid a smattering of boos tied with ASU at 14 points apiece.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt really hear it,‚ÄĚ Barkley said when asked about the boos entering halftime. ‚ÄúI kind of block out the noise, so I don‚Äôt hear those.‚ÄĚ
USC committed three turnovers in the first half, including two interceptions to punctuate drives where the Trojans were poised to score touchdowns.
On the ensuing kickoff after Lee‚Äôs 80-yard score, senior linebacker Tony Burnett forced a fumble, which redshirt freshman linebacker Anthony Sarao recovered at the Sun Devils‚Äô 29-yard line. Barkley threw an interception on the next play, however, as ASU linebacker Chris Young made a sprawling catch on the sideline that was upheld after Kiffin‚Äôs challenge.
ASU‚Äôs next possession ended prematurely on senior safety T.J. McDonald‚Äôs second interception of the season, but Barkley and the USC offense proceeded to squander the short field opportunity. After a Woods offensive pass interference penalty negated a touchdown and a delay of game penalty set up a third-and-24 situation, Barkley threw a 76-yard pick-six to ASU safety Alden Darby on a swing pass.
Undeterred, USC struck back to conclude the first half on a 13-play, 79-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble.
‚ÄúWe know the standards here,‚ÄĚ Kiffin said. ‚ÄúComing up the tunnel with an Arizona State player I know well, we‚Äôre getting booed off the field with it as a tied game at half, and the player gave me a look; well, that‚Äôs just L.A.‚ÄĚ
The second half also began inauspiciously for USC, as Barkley threw his third interception on a pass tipped by onrushing defensive end Carl Bradford, who corralled the deflection as he fell to the ground. The play marked only the second time in his career that Barkley has thrown three interceptions in a game, with the last coming against Stanford in his freshman season.
ASU later capitalized on USC‚Äôs fourth turnover with a 28-yard field goal. The Sun Devils‚Äô third score would mark the last time they notched points on the scoreboard, however, as the Trojans proceeded to score 24 unanswered points to bury ASU.
Senior running back Curtis McNeal emerged as the catalyst behind USC‚Äôs second-half surge. With Silas Redd unavailable, the Trojans‚Äô other returning 1,000-yard rusher ran for 112 of his game-high 163 yards in the second half.
‚ÄúIt felt good,‚ÄĚ McNeal said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm worried about getting a ‚ÄėW‚Äô even if I don‚Äôt get the ball.‚ÄĚ
In addition to a five-yard rushing touchdown, McNeal nimbly broke a couple of ankle tackles in the third quarter on a short screen pass that he ultimately converted into a 22-yard touchdown reception. Surprisingly, the two scores mark the only times he has visited the end zone in 2012.
‚ÄúA lot of credit to the offensive line and Curtis. He had a great game except for the fumble at the end,‚ÄĚ Kiffin said. ‚ÄúIf you look at the hidden stats, the negative plays ‚Ä¶ Curtis only lost one yard today.‚ÄĚ
The embattled defensive unit arguably put forth its best performance of the season, especially considering the fact that seven of the points surrendered came from Barkley‚Äôs pick-six in the second quarter. USC‚Äôs defensive front-seven, which was gashed by the Ducks‚Äô rushing attack, rebounded nicely, registering seven sacks for 56 yards split between six defenders.
‚ÄúOur guys were really more aggressive,‚ÄĚ Kiffin said. ‚ÄúNot in defensive calls, but really the front-seven.‚ÄĚ
The vaunted Sun Devils‚Äô offense picked up a mere 71 yards on 35 carries. Moreover, USC stole three interceptions from ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who ranked third in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency entering the contest.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been rough, just because of the type of defense we are and the type of players we have,‚ÄĚ senior safety T.J. McDonald said. ‚ÄúOthers teams have gotten the best of us. ‚Ä¶ We needed to get that nasty taste out of our mouths.‚ÄĚ
USC survived the ‚Äúsandwich game‚ÄĚ test against ASU between its nationally hyped heavyweight bout against Oregon and its rivalry showdown with UCLA this Saturday.
‚ÄúThese games can be hard when you‚Äôre sandwiched in a game like this [between Oregon and UCLA], with the snaps and the emotions and a crosstown rivalry next week,” Kiffin said. “I give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches and players.”