By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
The evaluation: Considering the circumstances, in what could only be described as a complete and focused rebound by the No. 17 USC Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) – combined with a complete meltdown and self-destruction by Arizona State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) in the first half – the Men of Troy resuscitated all their original preseason goals with a stunning and satisfying 42-14 triumph of the Sun Devils. To put it mildly, a season may have been on the line coming into ASU.
The evaluation – Part 2: Offensively, the Trojan were true opportunist, taking advantage of almost every ASU blunder – and there were many – on offense and/or defense. The Trojans showed a nationwide ESPN audience that its skill players, especially at the wide receiver position, are second to none. And Cody Kessler certainly didn’t hurt his Heisman campaign with five touchdowns and 375 yards, although he did throw his first interception dating back to last season.
The evaluation – More offense Part 2: Again, given the circumstances, Cody Kessler’s performance was the best of the season, considering the weather, the hostile gathering inside Sun Devils Stadium, and the assortment of ASU blitzes. And what can you say about receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steven Mitchell, and Adoree’ Jackson other than the Trojans can line up three future high NFL draft picks.
The evaluation – More offense Part 2: The offensive line had some ill-timed flags and the running game wasn’t dominant (76 yds.), and the O-line allowed two sacks, but for the most part they controlled the many ASU blitz packages. It was, however, a major error in strategy on the part of ASU head coach Todd Graham, as the Sun Devils defense was repeatedly burned by Kessler because of his blitz recognition.
The evaluation – Part 3: Defensively, the Trojans still showed a lot of vulnerability – especially against the run (182 yds.) – but in this game they also created a lot of opportunity, which was helped by some good fortune and an ASU center injury that forced the Sun Devils to use a backup, which created errant shotgun snaps in the first half. Give the Trojans defense credit, however, for playing with an increased intensity on defense, probably the best we’ve seen all season. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but in the intense heat of the desert, it was the Trojans defense creating turnovers that helped melt a major portion of the ASU offense. And let’s not forget they were credited with three sacks.
The evaluation – Part 4: Despite all the deserved positives of the first half at ASU, the Trojans again went into a semi-malaise in the second half. Although the game was never in doubt in the second half, ASU did win the second half 14-7. This second half power outage remains a constant in the Steve Sarkisian era – both this and last season. Given the intense and quality competition to come, the Trojans will need to figure out how to not go into a cocoon in the final two quarters of a game.
The bottom line: The Trojans are back in the thick of the Pac-12 South Division race with undefeated No. 10 Utah (Oct. 24) and No. 7 UCLA (Nov. 28) left to play in the Coliseum. The Cardinal and Gold again control their own destiny and that should inject a major rebound in team and fan enthusiasm. Oh, and BTW, Trojans play at undefeated Notre Dame (Oct. 17) the week before they host Utah in what shapes up as a Coliseum titanic.
The Trojans perspective: After the game and commenting on the ASU turnovers, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian said, “We kept preaching it and kept coaching it (turnovers). Like I told the team, somebody has to break the dam and once the dam breaks it going to break, and it’s going to be an onslaught on the ball. It’s exactly what happened, especially in the first half.”
Sark on defense and Wilcox: Speaking about defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and the defense in general, Sarkisian said, “At the end of the day, it’s just one game. I am happy for our staff and happy for our players that they were able to go out and perform against a quality opponent on the road. There’s plenty of stuff to build upon as we continue to grow as a program.
“When you have moments like this and have to rally together, be together as a team, as a family, and for it to show up the way it did on the road tonight it was really, really cool, and I am happy for Justin and everybody involved. But the reality of it is that it’s just one game and we have to get back on the horse and get ready to go again in about a week and a half.”
The ASU perspective: After the game, ASU head coach Todd Graham said, “I congratulate USC, they were obviously the better team tonight. I was proud of our team the way they responded in the second half. Obviously (we) self-destructed right there before the end of the first half.
“Our plan was to slow the tempo down. We wanted to play about 65 plays on defense and 80 plays on offense. We ended up playing 79 on offense and 63 of defense. Bottom line is we turned the ball over four times and that absolutely killed us. They did a great job of executing. They moved Adoree’ (Jackson) around, and they’re very, very fast. I felt really good early because they couldn’t run the ball.”
The game changer: There were so many in the first half of ASU turnover and USC conversions, you really could have your pick. However, the nail in the ASU coffin was as ASU driving in for a score late in the first half, Trojans safety Chris Hawkins swept up a fumble caused by defensive tackle Delvon Simmons as ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici’s was in the process of a hand-off. Hawkins then ran it back 94 yards for the score.
Delvon speaks: On creating the fumble that Trojans safety Chris Hawkins returned for 94-yard touchdown, defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said, “It crazy because right before that, I busted a play and the tight end came down on my hip and it created a huge run. After that, I was just thinking I had to make up for that. It was the perfect call to set me up for Chris (Hawkins) and Chris took it in for six. I was hoping I could pick it up, but it didn’t work out like that.”
Tackling the issue: Leading tacklers for the Trojans against ASU were junior linebacker Su’a Craven and true freshman safety Marvell Tell with six apiece.
Su’a speaks: On the dominance of the Trojans defense and it’s ability to make critical turnovers, USC’s All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens (above photo – No. 21) said, “It was doing our job and being disciplined and making big plays. Tonight we were at the right place at the right time and made a lot of turnovers.”
Statistical reality check: Despite the Trojans lopsided victory but in terms of total offensive yards, the Men of Troy just edged ASU 455-454.
JuJu speaks: On he and the Trojans bouncing back after the Stanford loss, Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had two touchdown receptions on Saturday night, said, “Last week was a tough game and I am an emotional player and I knew we had to come back. Whatever it takes to get the ‘W.’
From the press box…
FYI: On ESPN GameDay college preview show on Saturday morning, analysts Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit predicted the Trojans losing to ASU. Lee Corso, however, predicted the Trojans. Special guest predictor, Arizona alum and American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert, called it for the Cardinal and Gold.
Supporting Justin: DuringESPN’s telecast, USC/ASU game analyst Brian Griese said that Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has been unjustifiably blamed for the Trojans defensive issues. Griese believes the criticisms of Wilcox are brought on by people who really don’t understand defense and the situation.
The streak(s): Lost in the moment of the Trojans dominant victory over ASU is the fact that head coach Steve Sarkisian has finally beaten an ASU team. His head coaching at Washington and USC against the Sun Devils is now a combined 1-4.
Weather report: Saturday night’s kickoff temperature in Tempe was a hot and somewhat humid 97 degrees and the evening sky was mostly clear. It remained hot during the game, as it was still 92 degrees during the third quarter.
Keeping count: Sun Devil Stadium attendance from last night’s game against was announced as 61,904. Capacity for Sun Devils Stadium is 71,706.
The barometer: On Saturday night, the Trojans scored 42 points against ASU. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game averaging 48.3 points per game.
The barometer – Part 2: On Saturday night, the Trojans defense gave up 14 points to ASU. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game allowing 18.7 points per game.
The flag is up: The Trojans were penalized an unacceptable 10 times for 91 yards, which is a growing departure from the early lack of flags.
The post-game show…
The Boss: Two-time Trojans All-America tackle and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Tony Boselli is on the 2016 nomination list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Tide: The Trojans will open the 2016 season against Alabama in Dallas, so you might want be interested to know that Alabama’s recent loss against Mississippi was its first loss in either August or September since Sept. 29, 2007, against Florida State.
Uniform change: ASU unveiled its new all maroon uniforms against the Trojans on Saturday night. Maybe it just seems that teams that do uniform changes tend to lose against USC.
Uniform alterations: The Arizona Wildcats, who will be the Trojans Homecoming opponent on No. 7, wore red chrome helmets for its game last night against UCLA, and you all know how that game turned out.
In memory: Most of you wouldn’t know him, but those that have covered the Trojans vs Notre Dame at Notre Dame do. Longtime Notre Dame football press box announcer John “Jack” Lloyd passed away on Sept. 17. He was 79. Lloyd distinct voice was best known as the former PA voice of Notre Dame men’s basketball.
The last word: The Trojans will have a bye next weekend and return to action on Oct. 8 when they host the Washington Huskies for a Thursday night game at the Coliseum (6 p.m. PT). Ah, yes, I was just starting to miss those Thursday night games and the L.A. rush hour traffic. Thank goodness for this new tradition of USC football.