ASU Falls Short Against No. 10 Trojans
By Nate Policar
ASU Sports Information
The Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3, 0-2) came out looking to prove something against their Pac-10 rivals, the University of Southern California Trojans (4-1, 1-1), and both teams were looking to notch their first Pac-10 victory of the season. For three quarters, the Devils stuck with the Trojans---who spent the first five weeks of the season in the nation's top-10---but couldn't hold on down the stretch as USC pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 37-17 victory.
USC jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when quarterback Matt Leinart found wide receiver Keary Colbert on a 57-yard touchdown pass just 3:17 into the game. However, ASU refused to let that discourage them, taking the ball on its own 20-yard line and driving 80 yards to tie the score. Junior quarterback Andrew Walter found sophomore Derek Hagan for his first catch of the game on a 35-yard pickup to move the Devils inside USC territory. Walter followed it up with a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Skyler Fulton, pulling the Sun Devils even at 7-7.
Forcing the Trojans into a three-and-out, the Devils started their next drive from their own 43-yard line. Walter found Hagan again, this time for 17 yards, to bring the Devils across midfield, but the ASU drive stalled on the 30-yard line. Attempting a 47-yard field goal, true freshman kicker Jesse Ainsworth missed wide right. On the Trojans' ensuing drive, Leinart's 32-yard pass to the end zone was intercepted by ASU junior safety Riccardo Stewart and downed for a touchback. Starting from the 20-yard line, Walter found Hagan and redshirt freshman receiver Terry Richardson, both for 15-yard completions, to help move the Sun Devils down to the USC 17-yard line as the first quarter ended. The Sun Devils then opened the second quarter by once again calling on Ainsworth. This time, from 25 yards out, Ainsworth split the uprights, giving the Devils a 10-7 advantage.
The two teams came to an impasse for most of the remainder of the first half as neither offense was able to mount a scoring drive. With just 0:32 left in the second quarter, USC took possession following a punt on the ASU 31-yard line. Running down the clock, USC placekicker Ryan Killeen took the field for a 45-yard field goal that tied the game at 10-10 as the half came to an end.
Arizona State came out of the locker room energized and with renewed determination. The Devils executed perfectly, both on the ground and through the air, as Walter followed an 11-yard rush from redshirt freshman Loren Wade with a 34-yard pass to Richardson. Walter then found Hagan again for a 24-yard reception, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Wade to give the Devils the early second half lead, 17-10.
'I thought the offense played great today,' Walter said. 'For the first time all year, I felt the offense clicking. It felt good to have the team in rhythm against the best team in the Pac-10. The receivers played well today. Terry Richardson stepped up on some big third downs. Derek Hagan also made a lot of plays. He was having a great day.'
USC continued to match the Sun Devils, putting together an 80-yard drive on their very next possession. The Trojans scored on a 25-yard run from true freshman LenDale White and knotted the game up at 17-17. Shutting down the Sun Devils on their next possession, the Trojans took over on their own 25-yard line following a punt. Leinart found his receiver, sophomore Mike Williams, for a 33-yard reception to leave the Trojans threatening. Seconds later, Leinart connected with fullback Brandon Hancock on another 33-yard reception, this one good for the score and a 24-17 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Heading into the final frame, USC again took over possession on the 20-yard line following a touchback on a punt. Leinart found his tight end, Dominique Byrd, on a 55-yard reception, moving the Trojans deep into ASU territory and well within the range of their kicker, Ryan Killeen, who put a 28-yard field goal through the goal posts to extend the USC lead to 27-17. Following the kickoff, Walter threw three consecutive incompletions, forcing the Devils to punt away and giving the Trojans possession at midfield. Pounding away with the run, USC once again moved within Killeen's range, this time setting up a 38-yard field goal, good for a 30-17 USC lead.
'We did some really good things for three quarters, we just didn't finish as well as we would have liked to in the fourth quarter,' Koetter said. 'For three quarters I really liked what we saw from our team. We competed hard, we cut out the turnovers, we did better on third down and in the red zone. We're not where we need to be yet, but we're much closer.'
Desperately trying to regain their offensive rhythm, the Devils caught a break on a fourth-down penalty and decided to try and convert a fourth-and-inches on their own 30-yard line. However, tailback Hakim Hill was stopped for no gain, and USC took possession only a short distance away from the end zone. LenDale White took the ball for the Trojans again, rushing 23 yards and scoring on a six-yard run to seal a USC victory with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
'We want to go out and play hard every game and see how it goes from there,' sophomore linebacker Jamar Williams said. 'We need to put this loss behind us and learn from our mistakes. We would like seven straight wins from here on out.'
SUN DEVIL GAME NOTES: Sophomore wide receiver Derek Hagan set career highs in receptions and receiving yards, hauling in eight catches for 170 yards... The Sun Devils had a different receiver lead the team in each of their five games this season... Riccardo Stewart's team-leading 11 tackles marked the third time this season he has led the team and the seventh time in his career... Stewart's first quarter interception marked the fifth straight game this season in which ASU has picked off a pass.