LOS ANGELES – ASU entered the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with miniscule odds of winning the Pac-12 South. However, following a 38-17 loss to No. 19 USC, the Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) will finish their season simply playing for pride.
“These seniors I hurt for because obviously we are not going to be able to accomplish the goal we set out, but we can go to a bowl game and obviously we have the Territorial Cup coming up in two weeks, so we have a lot left to play for,” coach Todd Graham said.
Junior safety Alden Darby echoes his coach and feels this team, which has lost four straight games, still has a lot of fight left.
“We play for the seniors,” Darby said. “We play for the guys next to us. We play for the team. We play for a bowl game. That’s what we play for.”
Needing a win to remain in the Pac-12 South hunt, the Sun Devils got off to a strong start against the Trojans (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12).
On USC’s first play from scrimmage, ASU redshirt sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford forced USC sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee to fumble. The Sun Devils took over and redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly promptly connected with junior tight end Chris Coyle for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Behind a strong defensive effort, which forced five USC turnovers, the Sun Devils did not relinquish the lead until USC senior running back Curtis McNeal scored his first of three touchdowns with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Following the game, Bradford said he didn’t care about his stats or his impressing performance and was visibly upset with the loss. The California native finished the contest with 10 tackles (two for losses), one sack, a forced fumble and an interception.
While the Sun Devils only trailed 21-17 following McNeal’s touchdown, it was a big blow for a team that only managed 80 yards of offense in the second half.
“We just played really poorly offensively,” Graham said. “We turned the ball over four times and did basically nothing offensively. We had a poor plan and did a poor job of executing, and that was the difference today.”
In the first half, ASU accumulated 170 yards of offense and played with an accelerated tempo. However, USC’s halftime adjustments, coupled with the Sun Devils’ inability to convert third downs, resulted in a stagnant second half.
“They started doing more exotic blitzes in the second half,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg said. “Some of our protections, sometimes we slide different ways and that was just a bad combination with what they were bringing.”
With two games left in the regular season, ASU still needs one more win to become bowl eligible and will have a chance to reach the six-win mark Saturday against Washington State, which will also be the Sun Devil seniors’ last game at Sun Devil Stadium.
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