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USC Bounces Again, Loses to Arizona State : College football: Bad against Memphis State, good against Penn State, Trojans are mediocre in a 32-25 loss to Sun Devils.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

USC’s football team, up one week, down the next, was down again Saturday at the Coliseum.

Arizona State overwhelmed the Trojans for three quarters, withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally and scored a 32-25 victory at the Coliseum in the Pacific 10 Conference opener for both teams.

USC, uninspired in a loss to Memphis State, inspiring in a victory over Penn State, was mostly mediocre against Arizona State.

Before 59,623--drawn, in part, by a postgame concert by the Beach Boys, whose advice, “Don’t Worry, Baby,” will be difficult for USC fans to follow--the Sun Devils scored in five of their first seven possessions to take a 32-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

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Outguessing the blitzing Trojans, whose nationally televised victory over Penn State last week was mostly the work of an aggressive, red-dogging effort by the defense, Arizona State used traps and flanker screens to negate the pressure and moved almost effortlessly down the field time and again.

The Sun Devils, who own a 6-4 advantage in the series and have won three in a row over USC at the Coliseum, put together three 80-yard scoring drives in the first half, taking a 25-10 lead before halftime.

By the end of the third quarter, Arizona State had produced more than twice as many total yards as the Trojans, running for 278 and amassing 427 overall to 194 overall for USC. The Sun Devils appeared to be in control.

But then USC rallied.

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Quarterback Reggie Perry, watching from the sideline when Curtis Conway directed a second-quarter touch down drive, suddenly found a hot hand and led two scoring drives in the last 15 minutes.

And the Trojan defense finally figured out the Arizona State offense, not giving up a first down in the fourth quarter.

In the end, though, it was too little, too late.

“Our whole football team fought back and played decent football in the second half,” USC Coach Larry Smith said. “We were just in too deep a hole and we couldn’t dig ourselves out of it.”

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Two key plays kept USC from overtaking the Sun Devils:

--In the third quarter, Trojan safety Mike Salmon was called for a personal foul when he jumped on the back of a teammate and propelled himself into the air in a futile effort to block a field-goal attempt.

Instead of settling for a field goal that would have increased their lead to 28-10, the Sun Devils accepted the penalty, which gave them a first down at USC’s seven-yard line. Three plays later, they scored on a one-yard dive by quarterback Bret Powers, increasing their advantage to 32-10.

--With about 10 minutes left, USC having cut its deficit to 32-18 only 90 seconds earlier and regaining possession on a fumble recovery, Trojan fullback Raoul Spears lost a fumble at Arizona State’s four-yard line.

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“The safety made a good hit on me and put his helmet right on the ball,” Spears said of Arizona State’s Phillippi Sparks, who is actually a cornerback.

Smith didn’t want to criticize Spears, but Smith made it clear that he didn’t approve of the “hurdling” call against Salmon.

“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen that penalty called,” Smith said. “It was a very, very technical penalty. It’s in the books. You can’t put your feet on another guy’s shoulder pads. I’m not going to go into it (anymore) because every time I do, I get (reprimanded) by the Pac-10.”

And, he could have added, the call didn’t beat USC.

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Neither did Spears’ fumble.

The Trojans mostly were dominated by Arizona State, which was expected to finish back in the pack in the conference race but is 2-0 overall, including last week’s 30-3 victory over Oklahoma State at Stillwater, Okla.

Led by tailback George Montgomery, who ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns in 22 carries, the Sun Devils rushed for 307 yards, the most given up by USC since 1987, when Notre Dame got 351.

Arizona State averaged almost six yards per carry.

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And when the Sun Devils weren’t running through USC, Powers was passing over the Trojans for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Arizona State seemed continually to catch the Trojans unaware.

In the second quarter, Montgomery took a handoff on a trap play and ran up the middle, untouched, 43 yards to a touchdown.

Later, he scored from eight yards on the same play.

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“With USC’s pressure, it was part of our game plan to pop something in there and maybe get some big gains on the traps,” ASU Coach Larry Marmie said.

“We used the trap primarily when they were (showing) blitz.”

Said Montgomery: “We knew they would be blitzing a lot, so we were working all week on the trap plays to bust something open.”

Meanwhile, USC’s offense sputtered for much of the game.

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“Offensively, we couldn’t get things going, which put our defense on the field more,” Smith said. “And the way we were playing (defensively), that was the last thing we wanted to happen.”

Conway attempted to jump-start the Trojans in the second quarter, replacing Perry and leading the Trojans to a touchdown. The drive, featuring 43 yards in four carries by Conway, was capped by a 12-yard touchdown run by Conway, cutting USC’s deficit to 18-10 with 3:30 left in the half.

Conway started at quarterback in the second half but was replaced by Perry after his only pass was intercepted.

A few minutes later, Arizona State converted the turnover into a touchdown that increased the Sun Devils’ lead to 32-10. USC was in a hole it ultimately could not escape.

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Trojan Notes

Neither linebacker Willie McGinest nor fullback Scott Lockwood suited up for USC, McGinest because of a sprained ankle and influenza and Lockwood because of an infected knee. . . . USC will play four of its next five games on the road, playing only once at the Coliseum before Nov. 9.

Arizona State had not opened conference play with a victory since 1985, when it defeated USC, 24-0, at Tempe, Ariz. . . . Arizona State is the only team in the Pac-10 that enjoys a series advantage over USC, which has not beaten the Sun Devils at the Coliseum since 1980. . . . The loss ended a seven-game winning streak over Arizona State for USC Coach Larry Smith, who won his last five games against the Sun Devils when he coached at Arizona.

SPRINGING THE TRAP: Arizona State takes advantage of USC’s blitz, which had worked effectively last week in a victory over Penn State. C8

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