USC’s defense steps up in Trojans’ win over ASU

USC sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee (9) marches into the end zone during the Sun Devils’ 38-17 loss to the Trojans last Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Sullivan/ MCT Campus)

LOS ANGELES – USC redshirt sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey said before the game he did not care if the game was ugly or pretty — the No. 19 Trojans (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) needed to win.

USC looked ugly to start the game, then came back to seal a pretty victory over ASU 38-17.

Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said these types of conference games can be dangerous. Coming off the prime time loss to Oregon and the cross town rival UCLA game next week, ASU (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) presented a challenge sandwiched in between them.

“I think it was a really good team win,” Kiffin said. “I have to give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches and to our players for really coming out today, not playing a perfect game obviously, but we played a conference game sandwiched in there and we win by 21 points.”

The Trojans definitely were not perfect at the start of the game.

Sophomore receiver Marqise Lee fumbled the ball on USC’s first offensive play of the game, which led to an ASU touchdown. The Trojan offense followed that up with two more punts.

On the next drive, USC showed a glimpse of what was to come in the second half. Lee beat ASU cornerback Deveron Carr for an 80-yard touchdown grab to tie the score.

Even after the electric play by Lee, Barkley followed it up with two straight interceptions — one was returned for a touchdown by safety Alden Darby. Luckily for the Trojans, the Sun Devils also had two turnovers.

The Trojans went into the tunnel with the score tied and were greeted by boos from their own fans.

Things did not get much better to start the second half. Barkley and the Trojan offense had only been on the field for four seconds before they turned the ball over again.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Carl Bradford tipped Barkley’s pass to himself, and the ASU offense had a chance to take the lead early in the second half.

But the defense stepped up and held the Sun Devils to a field goal after the sudden change, and the Trojans contained ASU for the rest of the game. That field goal would be the last time the Sun Devils scored.

USC senior safety T.J. McDonald was proud of the defense’s performance after its recent struggles.

“Other teams have gotten the best of us,” McDonald said. “It was a big team to get our swag back. We needed to get that nasty taste out of our mouths.”

Barkley said the offense took a cue from the defense.

“We knew that the defense was playing well and we were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Barkley said. “We knew we had the game in hand and made some adjustments to what Arizona State was doing when they first came out. … With the help of the defense giving us the ball back at certain times, we got the ball in the end zone and that’s what we needed.”

The USC offense was lifted in the second half by redshirt senior running back Curtis McNeal.

The ASU defense held him to 51 yards in the first half. Then he came out in the second half to help put the game out of reach by rushing for 113 more yards and three rushing touchdowns.

Marqise Lee was also Marqise Lee. The Heisman Trophy candidate finished the game with 10 catches, 161 yards receiving and a touchdown.

With wins over UCLA and Norte Dame to finish the season, the Trojans are set for a chance at a Pac-12 championship.

“I think we control our destiny,” Barkley said. “We have to win to move into the next, or the playoff, whatever you want to call it. We need to win these next couple games. We focus on this next round in the playoff which is UCLA.”

 

Reach the reporter at ehubbard@asu.edu