Arizona State reeling after lopsided loss to USC
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State coach Todd Graham said at Pac-12 media days that this is the best team he's had. He reiterated it numerous times heading into the season and again after the Sun Devils lost to Texas A&M in the season opener.
Graham said it again Saturday night, even after Arizona State was blown out at home by Southern California.
If this truly is the best team Graham has had, the Sun Devils better get rolling quick if they're going to live up to their coach's expectations.
''Obviously our guys know that our backs are against the wall,'' Graham said Monday. ''And everything, every issue we have is self-inflicted and we've just got to get those things corrected and take it upon ourselves to go to work and get it done.''
Arizona State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) took a hit out of the gate with the loss to then-unranked Texas A&M, but bounced back with victories over Cal Poly and New Mexico and their tough-to-prepare-for triple options.
That gave the Sun Devils new hope heading into their Pac-12 opener, a highly anticipated game against the Trojans. A crowd of nearly 62,000 showed up to cheer on Arizona State in what they hoped would be the first step on the road to the Pac-12 Championship game.
Instead, they watched the Sun Devils implode.
Plagued by a whirlwind of mistakes, Arizona State never gave itself a chance, falling behind 35-0 by halftime. The Sun Devils had four turnovers, including a fumble on the 1-yard line that was returned 94 yards for a touchdown. Their defense gave up too many big plays, starting with JuJu Smith-Schuster's 52-yard reception on the game's first play.
Arizona State also had a hard time getting off the field on defense, allowing USC to convert 10 of 16 third downs.
And it doesn't get any easier for the Sun Devils. Next up is a road game against UCLA, which jumped two spots to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 after blowing out Arizona 56-30 in Tucson a few hours before Arizona State's loss to USC.
''I know it's disappointing,'' Graham said. ''I was very disappointed that we self-destructed that way and, you know, we're going to work and we've had positive meetings and we need to go respond.''
A big issue for the Sun Devils so far this season is something they didn't have a problem with in their first three years under Graham: Turnovers.
A year ago, Arizona State was one of the best in the nation at taking care of the ball, fumbling 15 times and losing four. So far this season, the Sun Devils have been one of the worst, fumbling 13 times and losing seven.
The fumbles against USC were crucial. Demario Richard lost one at USC's 24-yard line in the first half, a few plays after breaking off a 61-yard run. Quarterback Mike Bercovici had the fumble at the 1 on a botched handoff with Richard, which Trojans safety Chris Hawkins scooped up for the 94-yard score.
De'Chavon Hayes also lost a fumble on a kickoff and lost the ball on ASU's 10, setting up another touchdown that put the Trojans up 35-0 at halftime.
Arizona State's turnover margin this season is minus-3 after being a combined plus-29 the past two seasons.
''There's not much to talk about,'' Graham said. ''I went and looked at the film and we are self-destructing turning the football over.''
There is some good historical news on the Sun Devils' side: They seem to respond well after suffering a difficult loss.
In 2013, Arizona State suffered a tough loss to Stanford and scored 62 points in a rout over USC the next week. The Sun Devils followed a blowout loss to UCLA last season by beating USC on a Hail Mary the following week.
''The biggest thing is no questioning, no doubt in what we are doing,'' Graham said. ''We don't doubt each other. These kids believe in each other and respond like the teams before you have.''
With the season in danger of getting away from them, the Sun Devils need to do it soon.