ASU football heads to USC with season on the line

ASU heads to USC in desperate need of a win after multiple seven-point losses

The 3-4 ASU football team heads to Los Angeles this weekend to take on the 4-3 USC Trojans in a battle for Pac-12 South superiority on Saturday,

The Sun Devil's season has not gone according to plan thus far, but coaches and players are happy to remind people that they still control their own destiny.

With matchups against the No. 2 Trojans and No. 1 Utah Utes coming in back-to-back weeks, a path to the Pac-12 championship game remains for the Sun Devils despite how treacherous it may be. 

The repercussions of even one defeat are not lost on anyone as ASU officially enters “must-win” territory.

“I told the coaches we have to figure something out,” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby said. “It’s impossible that we keep losing by seven points. It’s something that we’re not doing and it’s something we need to fix.

"I told them if y’all have to get in a fist fight in the war room coming up with plays to get over those seven points, then you guys are just going to have to do that because we’re not out here practicing every week to lose by seven.” 

ASU continued its close game struggles last week against Stanford, making it the second time in a row and the fourth time in their last five games that the team has fallen by exactly seven points. 

Not one of these defeats can be chalked up to the same pitfalls, making finding a solution all the more frustrating. Much of the blame falls on the offense, who has failed to register over 21 points in each of the Sun Devils four losses this season. Redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins has rightly received the brunt of the criticism, but no position group is ever completely faultless.  

“A lot of it comes down to executing,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “I’m not pleased with our execution at times on the other side of the 50-yard line. That’s where I know we can work on certain individual things, but it just seems like we take turns on messing up ... and we’ve got to play a complete game at some point in time this dang season.” 

Long considered the standard in the Pac-12, the Trojans once again trot out one of the most impressive and complete rosters in the conference. 

At the helm likely stands freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who has undergone concussion protocol in the lead up to this game but appears to be on track to play. Despite an up and down season, Daniels has shown moments of brilliance on an underwhelming Trojan offense. He commands a team littered with five-star recruits and expected future NFL talents.

“They do a lot of different coverages, a lot of different blitzes, a lot of different fronts,” junior offensive lineman Cohl Cabral said. “They’re just trying to confuse you and make you think you’re looking at the same thing when in reality you’re getting a whole new look.” 

A unique twist on this year’s USC team is their reputation in the conference. Multiple Sun Devils brought up the Trojan's maliciousness on hits, and it’s hard to forget a missed targeting call between USC and Washington State two weeks ago.

“In my opinion, I feel like they’re a dirty team,” Darby said. “They get a lot of penalties. They hold a lot, they pop a lot of lip. They try to get you out your game and try to get you scared.” 

In what will likely be another close contest, much of this week’s practice has been spent on fixing the little things. In a season defined by a small handful of plays, no stone can go unturned in preparation for the rest of the season. 

“We just have to find a way to play better in close games,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “We have to make the plays that are necessary. You can go back to our last game, go back to the last four that we’ve lost by seven, and we’ve had opportunities and we haven’t cashed in on them. I think our competitive effort is good, we just have to learn how to win, plain and simple."

The Sun Devils travel to the City of Angels this weekend in hopes of reviving their once promising season. Losses in four of their last five games have made ASU’s chances at the Pac-12 Championship all the more unlikely, but no member of the team has yet to lose hope. 

“Everything’s still on the table,” sophomore running back Eno Benjamin said. “We just have to find it and find it quick because we’re running out of time.” 


Reach the reporter at Jrosenfa@asu.edu or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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