Football fizzles out the Sun Devils

Football boasts a 5-0 overall record and have won their opening three Pac-12 bouts amid their sizzling start. (Rohan Minocha | Daily Trojan)

USC’s undefeated season lives to see another week after defeating Arizona State 42-25 Saturday night. 

While he did throw his first interception of the season, sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams rebounded from last week’s struggles against Oregon State. Williams threw for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns — adding 44 yards and a touchdown on the ground. 

“I thought he played well. I thought he saw the field well, made very few mental mistakes” said Head Coach Lincoln Riley.

In the first quarter, Williams escaped a collapsed pocket and scrambled to the right as he threw a dart across his body to sophomore wide receiver Mario Williams. It was the second time this season that the former Oklahoma teammates had connected for a touchdown.

“[Caleb] did a great job in some of the scramble situations, [he] again got us out of some trouble a couple of times” Riley said. “And I thought he really threw the ball well tonight.” 

Williams, who accounted for just 180 yards and was sacked twice last week, said that he focused on improving his mechanics in the backfield this week. 

“It always, normally, comes back to the basics,” Williams said. “So I went back to go back and I didn’t like the way some of my footwork throughout the last game was so I was trying to be more consistent with that.”

While USC’s offense put up plenty of points, it certainly looked off at times. Particularly, Williams was once again forced to use his feet to create plays because of a collapsed pocket. 

From tossing 300-pound linemen off of his back to avoid a sack or recovering a botched snap and scrambling for a first down, Williams’ athleticism was on full display — despite an offensive line that played “okay,’’ according to Riley.

“We missed a couple of blitzes, they had a couple of free runners on us,” Riley said. “[Arizona State is] a good front, we knew that coming in… It was a good challenge. They won a few, we won a few and then when they won, [Williams] did a good job of getting us out of it.” 

The defense was tested in the first half, allowing a Sun Devils team that has struggled this season to score on three of their four first half drives.

Redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones proved to be a challenge for the Trojans. The Florida transfer finished the first half with 117 passing yards and both a passing and a rushing touchdown. 

Graduate student running back Xazavion Valladay found holes in the defense, running for 57 yards and a score in the first half. He added a 29-yard receiving touchdown, burning by senior linebacker Shane Lee on a cruise to the end zone. 

However, the defense began the second half with a newfound focus.  

On the first play of the second half, sophomore inside linebacker Eric Gentry, who transferred this fall from Arizona State, met Valladay at the line of scrimmage for a 1-yard loss. A few plays later, Gentry and Lee sacked Jones on second down. On the following play, Gentry once more came up with a tackle on third down to force Arizona State to punt. 

“That was a big drive in the game. [You think], how are we going to come out in the second half?” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “It was good to see some energy and some life and some guys make some plays, and obviously Eric’s one of them.” 

Gentry finished the game with a team-high 6 total tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. He attributed some of the defensive miscues in the first half to the odd nature of playing his former team. 

“It felt weird playing against my own team, so we didn’t really have an edge,” Gentry said. “But in the second half, I felt way better. I felt way more confident — it’s another football game.” 

Redshirt senior running back Travis Dye also had a slow first half –— rushing for just 15 yards, but came alive in the second — rushing 13 times for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The third quarter wasn’t all glitz and glamor for the Trojans, as Williams threw his first interception of the season. After finding junior wide receiver Jordan Addison for two long completions already on the drive, Williams lobbed the ball towards the end zone, where two Arizona State defenders were blanketing Addison. Redshirt fifth year Timarcus Davis came down with the interception, and the Coliseum was silenced. 

While an impressive streak was snapped, according to redshirt senior tight end Malcolm Epps, Williams wasn’t fazed. 

“Even when he threw the pick he was like ‘Alright, on to the next play,’” Epps said. 

The defense struggled with penalties in the second half but made up for their errors with 5 sacks in the second half and a game-icing interception from sophomore defensive back Calen Bullock, who could have taken it to the house if not for Jones’ determined pursuit.