Los Angeles, California - A 5-0 start for the Sun Devil football team was not to be as USC used a run of 34 unanswered points to knock ASU from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 41-20 victory on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Despite a positive start that saw the Sun Devils (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) take an early 3-0 lead and also force USC to turn the ball over on downs on its first possession, ASU was unable to recover from a second quarter that saw the Trojans (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) score on all four of their possessions and outgain the Sun Devils 168-48. Equally devastating to the Sun Devils' victory hopes was the loss of quarterback Manny Wilkins, who was forced to leave the game after being sacked for the third time late in the first half.
Zane Gonzalez broke the Pac-12 career field goal records with his second field goal in the first quarter, bringing his career total to 86 - good for third in FBS history and just two behind Florida State's Dustin Hopkins' FBS record of 88 career field goals.
Nick Ralston and Raymond Epps both found the end zone for the Sun Devils in the final frame of the game with the latter coming on the first touchdown pass of backup quarterback Brady White's career.
White finished 6-of-13 for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first significant reps of his career while Ralston led the Sun Devils on the ground with a career-high 46 rushing yards and his touchdown.
Zane Gonzalez opened the scoring with a 40-yard field goal as the Sun Devils took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards in 12 plays. A pair of third-down conversions keyed the drive as Wilkins found Demario Richard for 20 yards on third-and-three from the ASU 40 and later connected with Tim White for seven yards on third-and-six from the USC 36. Two plays after the latter third-down conversion, Jalen Harvey got behind the defense for what would have been a sure touchdown reception, but Wilkins' pass had too much air underneath it. On third-and-10 Wilkins attempted to extend the drive with his feet, but his scramble came up three yards short of the sticks.
The early momentum created by the Sun Devil offense carried over to the other side of the ball as the ASU defense forced the Trojans to give up the ball on downs on their opening drive. On fourth and two from the USC 42, Salamo Fiso busted through the Trojans' line and brought Justin Davis down for a four-yard loss.
ASU was unable to capitalize on Fiso's great defensive play as its first two plays gained three yards and on third down Wilkins was intercepted by Jonathan Lockett.
The early dominance established by the Sun Devils dissolved in a span of only two minutes and 30 seconds as the USC offense found its rhythm to the tune of an eight-play, 95-yard drive. A five-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to JuJu Smith-Schuster put the Trojans in front, 7-3. USC came up with a pair of big plays that led to the touchdown as Darnold connected with Smith-Schuster for 15 yards on third-and-10 from the USC five-yard line. Three plays later Davis took off on a 49-yard dash that gave the Trojans a first-and-goal at the ASU nine.
On the first play of the ensuing drive Wilkins dialed up a long-distance play to Harvey that went for 49 yards to the USC 26. Three consecutive running plays set up ASU with a first down at the USC 14, but the Sun Devils would get no closer to the end zone. Richard lost a yard on first down and Wilkins was sacked for a 10-yard loss on second down. Ellis Jefferson's third-down reception got only nine of the 21 yards ASU needed to extend the drive and Gonzalez came on for his second field goal of the game to cut USC's lead to 7-6.
Following an exchange of punts, USC would lengthen its lead to 14-6 after Darnold found Smith-Schuster alone in the back of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown strike. All the positive yards on the drive came through the air as Darnold completed passes 12, 17, 15, 21 and three yards.
N'Keal Harry's 18-yard reception moved the Sun Devils into USC territory as the Sun Devils attempted to answer the Trojans touchdown. ASU would eventually reach the Trojan 42 where it was faced with a fourth-and-three. Todd Graham elected to go for the first down, but the Sun Devils were forced to give up the ball when White dropped Wilkins' pass that would have been good for a first down.
The Trojans moved the ball only 27 yards on the ensuing drive, but because of the excellent field position they started with they were close enough to attempt a field goal and Matt Boermeester's career-long make from 49 yards put USC up 17-6 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
After a Sun Devil punt, the Trojans would make it three scores in three drives. It would take them only one play this time as Davis ran 37 yards for the touchdown to put the Sun Devils in a 24-6 hole.
Before the half was over, things would go from bad to worse for the Sun Devils as Wilkins was knocked out of the game after being sacked while attempting to convert a third-and-10 from the USC 35.
The Trojans would add another score before the intermission after Darnold moved the Trojans 42 yards in 47 seconds to set up Boermeester's second field goal of the game, this one from 46 yards, to put the Trojans up 27-6 at the half.
USC's unanswered flurry of points would reach 34 in the third quarter after Smith-Schuster hauled in his third touchdown reception of the game (67 yards) and Darnold ran three yards for the Trojans' second rushing touchdown of the game.
White, who came into the game in relief of Wilkins, found tight end Epps for a 13-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to end USC's scoring run. The Sun Devils would tab another score late in the game on Ralston's 10-yard touchdown rush – the second of his career.
The Sun Devils will look to bounce back on Saturday, Oct. 8 (7:30 p.m. PT) when they host UCLA at Sun Devil Stadium. To purchase tickets, contact the Sun Devil ticket office at 480-965-5812.