The Trojans and Sun Devils came out looking like two heavyweight championship contenders trading blow for blow... and also turnover for turnover. After Kessler's first interception of the year and ASU Demario Richard's fumble, things calmed down quickly and USC responded. In the first half USC's offense exposed the Sun Devil's on the perimeter, making them pay heavily through the air with touchdowns to Jackson, Mitchell, and Smith-Schuster.
Todd Graham brought his blitz heavy defense on third down thinking it will knock off Kessler, but instead hurt his defense multiple times. Kessler threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, while Adoree and JuJu gave Jordan Simone and secondary a lesson on man up matchups. Tre Madden made key receptions and blocks to anchor the running backs, which were quite silent due to ASU's run stopping defense. Despite USC not being able to open up the running attack, they went up 35-0 in the first half.
The Trojans defense had quietly made adjustments and it payed off, as they brought pressure and got off the field on third down. The Trojans had three turnovers on defense (two fumble recoveries and an interception), and another on kickoff (fumble recovery). Chris Hawkins had one of three fumbles, which he took back to the house for 94 yards late in the second quarter. The Trojans gave up some plays between the tackles but have showed life, not allowing Ballage, Richard, and Foster to make a huge difference. The Trojans had four third down stops in the first half, which was a huge turn around from last week.
All Gas No Brakes in Tempe
Wilcox continued to bring pressure in the second half and it really paid off. Early in the third quarter USC pressured Bercovici on two key third down conversions and came up big with sacks. Scott Felix and Cameron Smith are the ones to credit as Su'a Cravens is starting to receive additional help in the front seven. Delvon Simmons also emerged tonight, pressuring Bercovici, forced some overthrows, and an interception. As Wilcox turned on the heat in Tempe, the Sun Devils had no answers while the Trojan defense grew up. USC finished the game with three sacks and some key substitutions that gave the Trojans fresh legs.
USC subbed strategically this weekend, allowing their guys to get a feel for the game and force players to step up. With little mistakes and big breaks for the defense, tonight's game showed that with the right calls and guys in position to make plays there's a chance to win big games down the stretch. USC will have to get back in the meeting room and identify their mishaps once again in coverage and on inside runs.
Despite USC only scoring one touchdown in the second half, the nation was able to see how lethal this offense can be... WITHOUT a big running game. Kessler became a technician out there, getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers and letting them do the rest. USC finished with only 76 rushing yards (54 in the fourth quarter), but Madden, Davis, and Jones contributed. Both Madden and Davis participated in the passing game, combining for three receptions for 50 yards. The Trojans made waves in this game by isolating the secondary and finding key mismatches all over the field.
USC will be expected to produce even more on the ground against a Husky defense that gave up 139 yards to an air raid Cal offense. ASU focused heavily on stopping the run but gave Kessler the opportunity to share the wealth throughout the air. Adoree Jackson had three receptions for 131 yards and a score, while JuJu Smith-Schuster had five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Steven Mitchell also tagged on 66 receiving yards and a score for the Trojans, giving Kessler 375 yards on the night. If the Trojans can continue to produce, limit the penalties, and sloppy turnovers, the Pac-12 is in for a gruesome awakening.