The No. 6 ranked ASU football team got served with a 44-24 loss by the No. 11 ranked USC Trojans in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving night. The first home loss suffered during the Dennis Erickson era proved to be a giant dish of humble pie. The Trojans dominated most of the game, and took control when they scored 27 consecutive points in the second and third quarters. The Sun Devils had many breakdowns from multiple positions which proved to be costly against a perennial powerhouse. Here's how each group graded out.
Considering he was facing a USC defense loaded with NFL potential, junior Rudy Carpenter put up fairly solid numbers. Not only did he complete 21 of his 30 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown, but Carpenter likely would have thrown for a lot more if he was given more time in the pocket. With that said, Carpenter was dropped six times and at one point was spitting out blood after one vicious hit. Carpenter showed lots of toughness, but also perhaps showed too much emotion by talking trash to the USC defense that was having success. No need to give an already successful front four even more reason to want to take you out. Carpenter was clearly rattled in this game, and even missed open receivers like tight end Brent Miller who was wide open in the end zone on a crucial third down.
Despite being under constant pressure, Carpenter proved that he could make throws without forcing an interception. He also threw the ball away nicely several times and did a good job out of the 3-step drops that were put in for this game to help get the ball out before pressure arrived. If anything out of his performance can be looked at as a positive, no interceptions thrown by Carpenter is a huge plus. Because he made a few mistakes like missing an opportunity early in the game to put points on the board and he let his emotions get out of check, Carpenter will earn a B-.
Clearly ASU missed senior running back Ryan Torain in this game. His grown-man running style was sorely missed in this physical battle. The Sun Devils rushed for a net total of 16 yards and struggled to break any big gains. Their longest run on the night was for eleven yards. Sophomore Dimitri Nance led ASU with 23 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. It was a tough night for Nance and teammate junior Keegan Herring. The duo struggled to find any openings against a USC defense that consistently brought an eighth defender in the box. Much of it was simply the fact that the Trojans had defenders in the ASU backfield all night. While the backs weren't able to pick up chunks of yards on the ground, they were able to help out in the passing game. Both Nance and Herring caught three passes each for 26 and 28 yards respectively. It was nice to see ASU unveil some short screen plays to exploit aggressive pass-rushes. The running backs had a tough time with pass-protection and their ineffectiveness on the ground will earn them a C+.
Sure-handed sophomore receiver Chris McGaha continues to lead ASU in receiving. His five catches for 85 yards led the team, but once again McGaha did not score a touchdown. Junior Mike Jones caught the only touchdown pass on the night from four yards out in the back of the end zone on a well delivered pass. Senior Rudy Burgess deserves recognition for making a few tough catches, in which he was left vulnerable for a big hit. Burgess finished with four grabs for 50 yards. He also had a great block on McGaha's biggest gain of the night. The receivers as a whole had a relatively nice game, but weren't able to make any significant impact on the game. Therefore the group earns a B.
It was a relatively quiet night for the Sun Devil tight ends. Only senior Brent Miller had one reception for six yards from the tight end position. The tight ends struggled establishing a running game against a physical front-seven, and also weren't able to help out in pass-protection. USC's defensive end Lawrence Jackson totaled four sacks alone. The tight ends should have been there to limit Jackson's pressure. Because they had trouble blocking and were a non-factor in the passing attack, the tight ends will earn a C.
It was going to be hard enough for an average-at-best ASU offensive line to block arguably the best front-seven in college football, but when USC started to throw in all kinds of blitz and stunt packages, the task became seemingly impossible. Trojan end Lawrence Jackson had four sacks in the game, the most by a player at the school in nearly two decades. The Sun Devils have now allowed over 50 sacks on the season, and have been pressured relentlessly by nearly every opponent. In most games, the offensive line saved themselves with big rushing numbers. Clearly the group has a lot to work before the UA rivalry game. They struggled substantially with pass protection, and with run-blocking, the offensive line will earn a D-.
Burgess' 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the biggest Sun Devil special teams play of the season, but it was not worth much more than a footnote at the end of the game. While Burgess had a nice performance, other parts of the special teams failed to produce. Both redshirt freshman Thomas Weber and senior Jonathan Johnson were called on to punt, and both averaged under 35 yards per punt. Erickson said after the game, Johnson was called on to see if he could do better than Weber, who has struggled recently. But he said neither did well. Also the kickoff team allowed a 49 yard return which set the Trojans up with good field position to start the game. Weber connected on one field goal from 25 yards out. Other than Burgess' impressive run back, the special teams had a quiet game. They will earn a B, saved only from a lower grade by Burgess' play.
The only ASU sack was registered by a converted tight end. Senior Dane Guthrie finished the game with two tackles-for-loss. The Sun Devils were unable to get a pass-rush on John David Booty, who had perhaps the best regular season game of his career. ASU had a bit more success stopping the run, particularly up the middle, but on the edges, it didn't do as well. Starting defensive ends junior Luis Vasquez and sophomore Dexter Davis finished the game with five tackles combined. The defensive line will earn a C.
Senior outside linebacker Robert James struggled to win one-on-one battles against players like USC running backs Chauncey Washington and Joe McKnight. On one play, Washington simply ran over James like he was a defensive back, and not the hard-hitting linebacker that he is known to be. James missed open-field tackles on McKnight twice. James finished the game with 11 tackles and a forced fumble, but it wasn't enough to stop the talented Trojans. Sophomore Gerald Munns returned to action, and did a nice job finishing the game with seven tackles, but he too had a clear open-field whiff, as did Morris Wooten. The group seemed to be a bit too hyped for the game, perhaps, as they over-ran assignments and lanes on a regular basis. Though they weren't called on to blitz much, the linebackers added no extra pressure on USC quarterback John David Booty, and weren't able to intercept a pass. Because they had a quiet night, the linebackers will earn a C.
Junior Troy Nolan had a pretty nice game with ten tackles, but it seemed like none of his teammates in the secondary wanted any part in making tackles. Several members of the ASU secondary whiffed when they tried to bring down a USC receiver, and it was costly. USC totaled over 260 yards after the catch. ASU was torched by four Booty touchdown passes. Justin Tryon and Omar Bolden were each clearly beaten on deep post-type routes that resulted in touchdowns. ASU has struggled with bubble screen passes and other lateral passing plays all season and it was clearly evident in this game. Part of that is due to a lack of speed at linebacker, and it may be a result of some scheme issues, but the safeties and corners were average at best in defending these types of plays. If you give up over 40 points to USC you're almost always going to lose, and usually it won't be close. The secondary probably will not like what they see when they watch the game tape of this one. And for the poor performance they will earn a D+.
Dennis Erickson and his staff will probably want to emphasize form tackling this week. After watching their guys tackle without using their arms, it's going to have to be a point of emphasis heading into the UA game next week. Using the 3-stop drops and screen passes was a nice touch by the offensive staff, but we would have liked it if they had at least tried a couple misdirection plays, or even so-called trick plays. If teams will continue to bring the house, ASU must find creative ways of getting the ball to their play-makers in open space. Shorter drops? Quick-hitting slants? Quarterback roll-outs? There has to be even more of an adjustment for the ineffectiveness of the pass protectors. The normal half time adjustments weren't successful in this game and didn't swing the momentum in the Sun Devils' favor. Overall, the coaching staff will earn a B-.
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