Stick a pitchfork in them
It was long regarded as the most pivotal game on USC’s schedule.
A victory over Arizona State would set up the Trojans nicely heading into the tougher part of their schedule.
A defeat could leave embattled Coach Lane Kiffin’s team teetering on the brink of possible collapse.
Make no mistake: The Trojans, and Kiffin, are now teetering.
Arizona State’s 62-41 victory over USC on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium dropped USC’s record to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12 Conference for the first time in 12 years.
The defeat will no doubt reignite the heat on Kiffin, who earned a temporary reprieve after victories over Boston College and Utah State.
And the howls from fans will not abate for nearly two weeks because the Trojans must wait until Oct. 10 for their next game against Arizona.
USC trailed, 48-21, at the end of the third quarter before rallying for two touchdowns, but the damage was done.
And it could get worse.
Star receiver Marqise Lee, who became USC’s all-time leader in receiving yardage, was carted to the locker room with just under 10 minutes left after suffering a knee injury.
USC’s nationally ranked defense had feasted on Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State. But coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s unit could not contain Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils’ no-huddle, hurry-up attack as the Arizona State matched the 62 points Oregon hung on the Trojans last season.
Kelly, a junior, passed for 351 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a team-high 79 yards as the Sun Devils rolled up 611 yards against a defense that was ranked fourth nationally.
Running back Marion Grice rushed for two touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes as Arizona State bounced back from last week’s loss at Stanford by scoring its most points ever against the Trojans.
The Sun Devils overcame a 21-20 deficit early in the third quarter to score 28 unanswered points and improve to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play.
They got plenty of help from USC, which committed four turnovers.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler completed his first nine passes and performed well in the first half, but he had two passes intercepted, including one that safety Alden Darby returned for a touchdown during the Sun Devils’ second-half scoring binge.
Running back Tre Madden rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, but fumbled and had a pass intercepted after taking a direct snap in the wildcat formation.
The Trojans committed two turnovers in the second quarter that allowed Arizona State to take a 20-14 halftime lead.
But USC, which had struggled to score on offense in the third quarter dating to last season, came out firing.
Kessler completed a 51-yard pass to Lee, and Madden ran off left tackle for a 24-yard touchdown to put the Trojans ahead.
But Kelly came right back, connecting with running back D.J. Foster down the middle for a 74-yard touchdown pass play to put the Sun Devils back in front, 27-21.
Arizona State increased the margin on the ensuing series when Darby stepped in front of a pass intended for Lee and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown and a 34-21 lead.
Kelly’s short touchdown pass to Grice with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter made the score 41-21.
Darby then intercepted another Kessler pass, and the Sun Devils turned it into another Grice touchdown and a 48-21 lead.
Earlier, the Sun Devils drove 75 yards on the first possession of the game with two long pass plays from Kelly to tight end Chris Coyle.
Coyle, a fifth-year senior from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High, caught passes of 21 and 35 yards and Kelly completed a third-down pass to receiver Jaelen Strong to set up a one-yard sneak by backup quarterback Michael Eubank for a 7-0 lead.
Will Sutton, the reigning Pac-12 defensive player of the year, sacked Kessler on USC’s first play and the Trojans went three and out.
But when they got the ball back, the Trojans went to work.
Madden broke off a 27-yard run, Kessler connected with Nelson Agholor for a 19-yard gain and Madden and Justin Davis each rushed the ball twice before Davis broke free for his 26-yard touchdown that tied the score.
The Trojans got the ball back with 1:21 left in the first quarter, and launched a 77-yard scoring drive.
Kessler started it with a 20-yard pass to Lee, and Madden ran off right tackle for a 25-yard gain to give the Trojans a first down at Arizona State’s 30-yard line.
Kessler found tight end Xavier Grimble for 16 yards, fullback Jahleel Pinner for a short gain, and then delivered a screen pass to Madden, who scored from six yards out for a 14-7 lead.
Kelly ignited the Sun Devils’ offense midway through the second quarter when he dashed 40 yards on a read-option keeper to the right side. He then delivered a 24-yard pass to De’Marieya Nelson before connecting with running back Grice for an 11-yard touchdown that tied the score with 7:46 left in the half.
USC then committed turnovers on consecutive possessions to set up Arizona State field goals.
Kessler had completed his first nine passes before throwing incomplete on a pass intended for Lee. Two plays later, Lee was open over the middle and Kessler delivered the ball right to him. But the ball bounced off Lee’s chest and into the air. Arizona State cornerback Osahon Irabor nabbed it and returned it 10 yards to the USC 34.
USC stopped the Sun Devils at the 11, forcing Arizona State to settle for a Zane Gonzalez’s 28-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead.
The Trojans got the ball back again but lost it when Madden fumbled after a 12-yard gain with 2:50 left in the half.
USC’s defense stalled the Sun Devils at the four, and Gonzalez kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-14 lead.