USC plays two quarterbacks in 31-16 loss to Arizona State

Senior running back Keaontay Ingram carries the ball against Arizona.
Senior running back Keaontay Ingram carries the ball against Arizona. Ingram was held to 54 yards rushing against Arizona State. (Patrick Hannan | Daily Trojan)

Despite four losses in the season, USC had a chance to flip the script Saturday at Arizona State. The Trojans battled but fell 31-16 against the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz., securing their sixth five-loss season since 2010. 

Following Stanford’s defeat against Utah Friday, Saturday’s matchup between Arizona State and USC became particularly impactful, as a loss would officially cause the Trojans elimination from the Pac-12 South. 

It was a close matchup, with USC keeping the game within single digits for most of the contest.

After going scoreless in the first quarter, a running touchdown by freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart and a field goal from sophomore placekicker Parker Lewis in the second quarter brought the Trojans ahead by 3 points. 

Then, Arizona State redshirt senior running back Rashaad White torched the USC defense for a 47 yard touchdown, putting the Sun Devils ahead by a touchdown going into halftime. Arizona State never looked back as White finished with a season-high 202 rushing yards, including 35 yards receiving. 

The Trojan defense allowed two more touchdowns by White in the fourth quarter, putting the game well out of reach.

One of the more controversial personnel decisions was starting both Dart and junior quarterback Kedon Slovis last week against Arizona. After practice Thursday, interim Head Coach Donte Williams said he was confident that they should continue to have a two-quarterback rotation. 

“Every position here is a competition… that is how it should be at USC,” said Williams in an interview with USC Athletics before the game. “It is more Arizona State’s problem than it is ours.”

However, after the Arizona State game, Williams switched his tone. 

“I can’t tell you that it’s the right decision. I can’t tell you it’s the wrong decision,” he said in the postgame press conference.

Dart and Slovis rotated every couple drives on Saturday, besides a few exceptions, but could not find a rhythm. Each quarterback threw an interception and the Trojans were 5-16 on third downs. 

The Trojans are fifth best in the nation at red zone offense and it continued in Tempe, Ariz. USC had trouble finishing drives, often relying on Lewis to get any points on the board. 

Lewis was 3-4 on field goals and 1-1 on extra points, scoring 10 out of 16 USC points. 

Offensive struggles became evident since junior wide receiver Drake London broke his ankle last week against Arizona. London’s 1,084 receiving yards this season is more than the next three top USC wide receivers combined. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tahj Washington stepped up in London’s absence, leading the Trojans with nine receptions and 78 receiving yards. 

Defensively, USC struggled against the run, yielding an average 6.7 yards per carry for a total of 282 yards on the ground.

“The biggest problem is the line of scrimmage,” Williams said, “When you don’t [make tackles] against a team that has multiple guys that can run the ball, you’re going to have issues.”

The Trojan defense is currently ranked 9th in the Pac-12.

Redshirt freshman safety Xavion Alford was one of the few bright spots for the Trojan defense. Alford’s two interceptions kept the USC offense on the field.

“I trusted my instinct, trusted the film, trusted my preparation,” said Alford after the game Saturday. “[I trusted] everything we go over at practice and made a play on the ball.”

The Trojans will travel to UC Berkeley to face the Golden Bears Saturday.