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Catastrophe At The Coliseum: Sun Devils Shock Lazy USC Defense

Jeremy Bergman |
October 4, 2014 | 9:44 p.m. PDT

Sports Director

USC had this one put away.

The few remaining fans were leaving to beat the traffic. The media were relaxed down on the field. Heck, the Trojans themselves seemed assured of a third conference victory with less than three minutes to go. 

Then the night came crashing down, as fast and deflating as the Sun Devils' hail mary attempt. 

Just a week ago, Cody Kessler and USC stole points away from Oregon State at the end of the first half with a last-second heave of its own. The miraculous Darreus Rogers catch ignited the crowd and stole all momentum from the Beavers.

This week, it was the dreaded inverse.

Arizona State stole a victory from USC on a last-gasp, improbable 46-yard hail mary touchdown from second-string quarterback Mike Bercovici to Jaelen Strong that silenced the complacent and assumptive crowd left in South Central. Scoring two touchdowns on Justin Wilcox's inept defense, the Sun Devils finished hotter than the game time temperature and captured a 38-34 victory.

SEE ALSO: Adoree' Jackson: Playing Every Snap Like A Championship Game

On the soon-to-be infamous last play, there were at least five Trojans deep in the end zone, but none of them were able to cover the underthrown ball which landed into the strong, outstretched arms of Strong. 

The most aggregious defensive fault belongs to senior captain Hayes Pullard who had an opportunity to snatch the pass, or at least bat it, and save the game. Instead of attempting a pass break up, he stood his ground, waiting flatfooted as the victory slipped away and as Strong jumped in front of him.

After the game, he had nothing but muted praise for the Sun Devils. "It was great execution on the offense," he confessed. "21 just went up there and got the job done."

Freshman cornerback Adoree' Jackson was on the far sideline, away from the play. He described, "It was like a lob. It was too much time with the ball in the air. I thought someone was gonna knock it down.

"I guess it was a lack of being aware of where the receiver was."

A lack of being aware.

Steve Sarkisian claimed after the game that he saw "good effort from his guys", but to any fan, media member, person with two working eyes, etc., it was clear that all night the USC defense was as talented as the speedy ASU side, but lacked any modicum of focus or extra effort. 

Even Jackson admitted that at the end of the game, USC's defense "lost focus."

After the Trojans seemingly salted the contest away with a brilliant 53-yard Buck Allen scamper with a little over three minutes to go, the defense lost more than focus. It lost its integrity.

On the very next play, starting cornerback Kevon Seymour tried to play hero and jump a deep route to Cameron Smith. With no safety help - the other defensive backs were fixed on Strong - Seymour missed the pick and Smith cruised 73 yards to the endzone. It was the bonehead plays of bonehead plays.

Seymour's fellow cornerback Jackson even admitted that his mate got "a little greedy" with the effort, relinquishing the Trojans' comfortable lead and putting the Trojan offense in a terrible position to recover.

SEE ALSO: Behind Enemy Lines: Will USC Avenge Last Year's Loss To ASU?

There were many individual failures on the defensive side of the ball, mostly in the previously-heralded secondary, but the blame for this loss can and should be generalized towards one man: the "leader" of the Trojan backline, Justin Wilcox. 

Twice this year, USC has been torn apart by their opponents' offensive strengths. Boston College rushed for an unfathomable 452 yards against the Trojans, but couldn't muster up any passing game, a predictable result. Tonight, Arizona State's passing attack, which tore up eight-ranked UCLA last week, went undefended, or at least poorly defended, to the tune of 510 yards, 239 of which came in the fourth quarter despite a porous rushing attack.

Wilcox's defenses also have failed to adjust mid-game. While, in both losses, the defense has been stalwart in the first quarter, the unit falls apart in the second quarter, surrendering 15 points tonight and 20 points against Boston College. You can microanalyze and criticize minor details all you want, but evident trends like these aren't the fault of the players.

No, it's the coaches who are to blame.

The defensive breakdown was such a shame because it overshadowed dominant games from Nelson Agholor and Javorious "Buck" Allen. 

Agholor was a man possessed tonight, returning Arizona State's first punt back for a 53-yard touchdown to open the scoring. He finished with nine catches for 85 yards and was Kessler's go-to man all night.

Allen had himself a game as well, totaling 229 all-purpose yards and rushing for two long touchdowns. The Florida native finally found the burst and open-field escapability that had evaded him so far this season. 

Heck, even the run defense, mainly the front line, had a day. Arizona State was held to a miniscule 31 yards rushing on 22 attempts - that's 1.4 yards per carry!

And yet, all of this positivity, all of these reasons for celebration and congratulation, all of it is moot. 

USC lost improbably Saturday night, in front of a quiet crowd, burnt and sore from the Los Angeles heat, that only dissipated as the clock wound down.

The game was a snoozer for nearly two hours, full of quarterback punts and long commercial breaks.

So it's fitting that at the very end, the Trojans fell asleep on the job.

Two Facts To Heal Your Open Emotional Wounds

  • S Su'a Cravens had 3.5 tackles for loss in the first quarter alone and now has 8.5 on the season. 
  • QB Cody Kessler still hasn't been picked off. He has attempted 182 passes without one interception.

Reach Sports Director Jeremy Bergman via e-mail and on Twitter. Or at the 9-0 where he'll be drinking his sorrows away.



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