Football’s Upset Bid Comes Up Short at No. 20 USC
LOS ANGELES – No. 20 USC scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes to spoil Arizona State's upset bid as the Trojans escaped with a 28-27 win over the Sun Devils in the season opener for both teams.
The Trojans' comeback win overshadowed what had been a solid performance by the Sun Devils in all three phases for much of the game. Offensively, sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels (111 yards) and first-year running backs Chip Trayanum (84 yards, two TDs) and Rachaad White (76 yards) combined to rush for 271 yards. White, who also had 79 yards receiving, combined for 149 yards and one score, a 55-yard touchdown reception from Daniels in the first half.
Defensively, the Sun Devils (0-1, 0-1 Pac-12) came up with four turnovers (three fumbles and one interception) while also forcing the Trojans (1-0, 1-0) to give up the ball on downs three times.
On special teams, Cristian Zendejas made both of his field goal attempts (38, 41 yards) while punter Michael Turk averaged 51.6 yards on five punts.
All of the aforementioned performances had the Sun Devils in position to leave the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with their second win in as many visits after linebacker Merlin Robertson recovered a fumble forced by teammate Evan Fields with 6:04 remaining and the Sun Devils up 27-14.
After being held scoreless since the second quarter, the Trojans were finally able cut into the deficit thanks to a fortuitous deflection that resulted in a 26-yard touchdown pass from QB Kedon Slovis to WR Bru McCoy that came on 4th & 13 with 2:52 remaining.
The bounces would continue to go USC's way as the Trojans were able to recover the ensuing onside kick, giving them possession at their own 45 with 2:49 left.
For the second-straight drive the game came down to a fourth-down play. Faced with 4th & 9, Slovis found WR Drake London in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown which combined with a successful extra point gave USC a 28-27 edge with 1:20 remaining.
Daniels, who did not have big-play threat WR Frank Darby for most of the game, attempted to get the Sun Devils into field goal range. An 18-yard strike from Daniels to WR Geordon Porter got ASU to its own 43. They would get no further however, eventually turning the ball over on downs.
"We had an opportunity to finish the game in the fourth quarter [and] we talked about it all week that this game would go down to the fourth quarter," ASU head coach Herm Edwards said. "The last two seasons we played USC – whether it was here or at home – it got into the fourth quarter and [today] we had the lead and we didn't finish the game. You have to give them credit. They made the plays they needed to make.
"I told our football team that we have to grow from this moment because when you get an opportunity like this they are very difficult to find. You put yourself in this position and you have three or four minutes left in the game and we couldn't close it out and so that's what we have to work on going forward."
The Sun Devils took the opening kickoff and marched 55 yards in eight plays for the game's first points, a 38-yard field goal by Zendejas to give ASU a 3-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. A career-long, 38-yard dash by Daniels was the big play on the drive.
The Sun Devil defense stymied USC's first possession after only four plays, but would give the ball right back to the Trojans after a muffed punt set up USC with a new set of downs at the ASU 20. Three plays later the Trojans had it 1st & goal at the ASU 3. The Sun Devils evened the turnover count when Trojan running back Vavae Malepeai lost the ball just short of the goal line and DB DeAndre Pierce recovered the ball in the end zone.
The Sun Devils went three-and-out on their ensuing drive but were able to flip the field position thanks to a 57-yard punt by Turk. Nonetheless, USC methodically drove 70 yards to take the lead after a two-yard touchdown run by Stephen Carr put the Trojans up 7-3. USC's scoring drive was aided by a pair of third-down conversions, including a 24-yard run by Slovis on 3rd & 17. A 20-yard connection from Slovis to London on 3rd & 3 set up Carr's short scoring run.
After forcing a turnover on downs, the Sun Devils reclaimed the lead thanks to big plays by newcomers White and Trayanum. White's 19-yard reception on 3rd and 9 kept ASU's offense on the field after its first two plays netted a single yard. Trayanum then polished off the drive with runs of nine and 25 yards, the latter resulting in a touchdown that gave ASU a 10-7 advantage.
The Trojans returned the favor with an 80-yard touchdown drive to once again go up by four, 14-10, after USC RB Markese Stepp scored on a one-yard run that capped a 13-play drive that included a pair of third-down conversions and one on fourth down.
It would take the Sun Devils less than a minute to respond thanks to the same duo responsible for their previous score. After Trayanum ran for 10 yards on ASU's first two plays, Daniels threw a swing pass to White, who ran down the sidelines, made a cut back toward the middle of the field and outraced the Trojan defense for a 55-yard touchdown reception to give ASU a 17-14 lead.
Robertson kept USC from a potential tying or go-ahead score in the final minutes of the half when he made a diving interception off the arm of Slovis at the ASU 10-yard line.
Daniels threw for 113 yards and one score and led the Sun Devils in rushing with 55 yards in the first half. Trayanum added 49 yards on the ground while White accounted for 87 combined yards (70 receiving and 17 rushing).
The Sun Devil defense helped set up the game's next score after Chase Lucas forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Tyler Johnson. Daniels displayed his versatility on ASU's next drive as the sophomore signal-caller reeled off runs of 13, 10 and 31 yards. The last of those runs came on a 3rd & 14 play that enabled ASU to keep its drive alive. One play later, Trayanum put an exclamation point on the drive, following the blocks of linemen Dohnovan West and Kellen Diesch for a 17-yard scoring run, his second touchdown of the afternoon to give ASU a two-score lead, 24-14.
The Trojans were on the verge of making it a one-score game after driving inside the 10 but they were once again turned back by the Sun Devil defense after failing to get a first down on 3rd & 1 (Stepp was stopped by Jermayne Lole for no gain) and 4th & 1 (Robertson stopped Carr for a one-yard loss) from the ASU 6.
The Sun Devils would convert the turnover on downs into points after Zendejas hit his second field goal of the game, this one from 41 yards, to make it a 27-14 game with 11:23 remaining. White rushed for 38 yards on the drive that chewed up more than five minutes on the clock.
ASU's season opener was delayed more than two months due to Covid-19, making Saturday's contest its latest start to the season in modern history. It was the first time the Sun Devils opened against a conference opponent since 1998 (vs. Washington) and the first time opening on the road against a conference opponent since 1995 (at Washington).
The Sun Devils return to action next Saturday (time TBA) when they host Cal in their 2020 home opener.