USC’s attempt at road villainy falls flat in ugly win over ASU – Orange County Register
TEMPE, Ariz. — They roared in as villains, assembling in the end zone of Mountain America Stadium under the Tempe afternoon sun and waving their arms in glee to the roaring boos of ASU’s student section.
They left as something out of a “Three Stooges” skit, USC gone from villain to cartoon as the Saturday desert night brought gaffes galore, botched handoffs and defenders whiffing on tackles and center Justin Dedich snapping a ball directly into an unsuspecting Caleb Williams’ nether regions.
A win is a win, they say. And indeed, the Trojans ended up mustering enough Hollywood magic to snuff out hope in a rollicking Mountain America Stadium, Williams flinging darts and a bevy of USC defenders raining blows on Sun Devils quarterback Drew Pyne. But oh, was it ugly, and was it strange; in a game where USC was widely favored by seven touchdowns, the miscues underneath a 42-28 win didn’t exactly scream the road-game “killer instinct” coach Lincoln Riley expressed hope for on Tuesday.
“We were just a little ticked off, especially offensively, in terms of moving – play clock got down on us a lot, and we did not handle that well – we’ll have to do a better job of preparing the guys for that,” Riley said postgame. “Had a couple of untimely penalties defensively … yeah, gotta be better than that.”
In the week leading up to the bout with USC, ASU coach Kenny Dillingham considered using a wide receiver, he told media, to impersonate Williams on his scout-team offense.
And it wasn’t the worst idea, sure. A plague of ailments had befallen ASU’s quarterback corps, and pass-catcher Jake Smith was pretty fast, Dillingham reasoned: he could dart around in the pocket like Williams. So why not use him as a scout-QB in the Sun Devils’ defensive preparation for Saturday against the reigning Heisman winner?
Eh, one problem.
“I’m like, ‘But Caleb can sling that thing too – Jake, can you throw it?’” Dillingham joked to media in a weekly presser. “It was just funny. Like, (Caleb’s) great at everything. Smart, elusive, calm.”
And Williams’ greatness, for one and a half years, has come in masking any USC beneath-the-surface issue with his ability to pull rabbits out of hats. He did his darndest on Saturday, finishing with 322 passing yards and five total touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, up 27-21, he went into just-trust-me scramble mode, circling 360 degrees in the pocket before rolling to his right and lofting a 29-yard beauty on the run to Brenden Rice in the end zone for the score that would seemingly put Arizona State away.
But on the very next ASU drive, not one but two Trojans – Eric Gentry and Max Williams – whiffed completely on a 52-yard touchdown jaunt from running back Cam Skattebo.
“The tackling was the biggest disappointment,” Riley said postgame.
But, oh, what about the penalties? My goodness, the penalties. Six in the first quarter alone – a false start and a delay-of-game back-to-back on the opening drive.
“(Crappy) coaching,” Riley said, simply, in truth saying something different than “crappy.”
USC’s offense still boomed, buoyed by Williams and Rice a tour-de-force 154-yard rushing performance on just 14 carries from MarShawn Lloyd, who’s hurtled downhill with startling efficiency through four games this season. But ASU coach Kenny Dillingham’s offense matched the Trojans at nearly every turn through three quarters, firing off fake-punt-Wildcats and pitchback-RB-to-QB tosses, dinking and dunking a USC defense to death that linebacker Tackett Curtis said had prepared for such trickery.
Players seemed relatively upbeat postgame, citing ability to overcome adversity. It was adversity, though, almost completely self-created at times amid a hostile environment; adversity that seemed beneath them against a reeling Sun Devils team that USC was favored to beat by seven touchdowns.
“How are you going to go and top being up 49-3 at half the previous week?” Riley said postgame, referring to USC’s previous win over Stanford. “That’s not reality. Challenges continue to change.”
They changed plenty on Saturday. And this USC team has plenty more to prove it can handle such challenges.
Rice racked up 133 yards and two touchdowns … freshman Tackett Curtis, Solomon Byrd and Romello Height all tallied two sacks … kicker Denis Lynch went 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 53-yarder.
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