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ASU hung around but eventually fell to No. 5 USC in first conference matchup of the season

The Sun Devils put up a fight, but fell short in their first Pac-12 matchup of the football season in front of a packed house in Mountain America Stadium

ASU redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne (10) looks for recivers down the field at Mountain America Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. ASU lost 42-28.

ASU pushed USC to the brink, but the Sun Devils' efforts faltered in 42-28 to the Trojans Saturday night at Mountain America Stadium. 

In front of a sold-out crowd, the night’s atmosphere was a sight to behold. The crowd was up for the task with the No. 5 team in the country in town, causing multiple pre-snap penalties for the Trojans. Head coach Kenny Dillingham was impressed with the raucous fan support.

“You come to ASU to play in these moments,” head coach Kenny Dillingham said in a press conference Saturday night. “Every kid goes to a college, a lot of their decision is the environment, to be honest. The environment we create is not only going to affect wins, it’s going to affect recruiting. That environment today, I challenge you to bring that because that was an environment you can win at a high level in.” 

The Sun Devil offense continues to be a work in progress, but it showed signs of improvement Saturday. 

With Dillingham calling the offensive plays, the Sun Devils decided to reach into their bag of tricks. Junior running back Cam Skattebo was at the center of the offense's trickery, throwing the ball multiple times. Dillingham even opted for a surprise onside kick early in the second quarter, which was recovered by the Trojans.

“It was super aggressive; we ran the ball a lot more than we have in the past,” Skattebo said. “We knew we could run the ball on these guys, and it was working, so we stuck with it. We called our shots when our shots needed to be called. We had a couple of mistakes that kinda bit us towards the end of the game, but I’m pretty happy for the most part.” 

Skattebo finished Saturday evening with 111 rushing yards, complimented by a touchdown on the ground, while throwing for 79 yards and a touchdown through the air. His receiving touchdown was quite the spectacle, catching quarterback Drew Pyne's checkdown on a fourth down and proceeding to break not one, but two big hits to stay on his feet on his way to the endzone. 

Pyne started Saturday night, with quarterbacks Jaden Rashada and Trenton Bourguet sidelined with injuries. The former Notre Dame quarterback threw for 221 yards, a touchdown, and an interception Saturday night but also fell victim to eight sacks. 

Another continued concern for the Sun Devil offense is its inefficacy in the redzone, relying on field goals to keep them in the game at halftime. The offense would pick it up in the second half, but turnovers would be ASU’s biggest pitfall later in the game.

ASU’s defense attempted to contain 2022 Heisman Trophy winner junior quarterback Caleb Williams, with some success after first half by the rattled Trojans. USC suffered a fumbled handoff in the first quarter, which ASU linebacker Tate Romney recovered, igniting the Sun Devil offense. Junior defensive lineman B.J. Green also had a strip sack while attempting to stop the Trojan offense, which was recovered by USC  

Williams, however, could only be contained for so long. The projected first round pick in next year's NFL Draft tallied 322 yards passing with three touchdowns and rushing for two more Saturday night.  

Even though the team lost, Dillingham would say the team alignment is improving. 

"I think players are feeding off each other more," Dillingham said. "I think the belief in the vision is still rising, the belief in the process is still rising, and those are things that excite me." 

The Sun Devils will hit the road to Berkeley next week to take on California before welcoming Deion Sanders and Colorado to Tempe on Oct. 7. 

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan

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