Loss to USC buries ASU football’s title hopes

Coach Todd Graham scolds his players in a timeout during ASU’s 38-17 loss to USC on Saturday. (Photo by Edmund Hubbard)

LOS ANGELES — There’s a gigantic poster just outside the doors of ASU’s locker room in the Tillman Tunnel.

The poster takes up about half the wall and displays the Sun Devils’ season schedule from NAU to UA. At the end of their schedule, there’s three dates — the Pac-12 Championship game, the Rose Bowl and the BCS National Championship.

None of those games will feature ASU.

All part of coach Todd Graham’s “Speaking Victory” mentality, ASU’s very slim hopes of clinching the Pac-12 South, winning the Pac-12 Championship and playing in the Rose Bowl came to an end Saturday. The Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) fell to No. 19 USC, 38-17 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Sun Devils can’t clinch the Pac-12 South now. Suddenly, a team with far-fetched goals has scaled down to a more realistic perspective.

This season looks eerily similar to last year’s second half meltdown. If each team had a song that best described the program, “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow most accurately portrays ASU’s play. Junior defensive tackle Will Sutton went down on the first drive against Oregon. ASU came back with less than two minutes against UCLA just to lose by a point on a game-winning field as time expired.

The defense forced five turnovers and picked off USC senior quarterback Matt Barkley three times Saturday. Yet, ASU somehow still lost with an inept offense that turned the ball over three times against a USC defense that gave up 101 points in its last two games.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow and it’s hard to tell guys to keep fighting and it’s hard to keep giving the “ya-ya” speech,” junior safety Alden Darby said. “But you have to do it. What do you have to lose. You can’t just give up. You have to still play hard and go out there expecting to win.

Last season, this team played for a coach’s job. With the Graham mentality instilled in the players, they’re all playing for pride with two games left.

“We play until the end of the whistle,” redshirt junior Evan Finkenberg said. “That’s something that’s been drilled into us and we’re going to keep battling back. We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team and we want to send them out the right way.”

There’s still a good chance ASU could end up in a bowl game with Washington State and UA left on the schedule. While it isn’t exactly the season the team had in mind when it spoke victory and started the season 5-1, it’s still Graham’s first season at ASU. How the Sun Devils play the last two games of the season will be the biggest indicator if these guys really buy into Graham.

“Our team plays with too much passion to let us go down hill,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford said. “I know every guy in that locker room and we’re just going to keep fighting and coming back until we get those wins. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do it. We’ll just keep fighting and keep pressing. They’re amazing guys and we’ll just keep bouncing back.”

 

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu