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November 8, 2009Looking back, the game was probably lost on the first drive.
In unprecedented fashion, Arizona State offense showed signs of life to start a game, rattling off four first downs against USC. Solid runs, timely completions; the Sun Devils were clicking.
Then, right on cue, the ghosts of the haunted north end zone resurrected themselves.
On the 10th play of the series, just 12 yards from pay dirt, freshman running back Cameron Marshall lost his grip of the ball. The Sun Devils, in turn, lost their grip on some valuable points and paid in the end, losing 14-9.
"I feel bad for our seniors," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "They've been here and fought their rear ends off since I've been here. And then, our defense. How much better can you play?"
Save for one broken play, the ASU defense pitched a shutout. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils that sole break down ended in six points for USC.
On his team's initial drive of the second half, USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was flushed out of the pocket and rolled to his right. He dumped the ball off to junior receiver Damian Williams in the flat, who looked like he would be stopped after a few yards. But with one quick cut to the left, Williams found daylight and streaked down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
"Other than that big play at the beginning of the second half, they don't get anything," Erickson said. "They don't get any points. They don't do anything."
That's because the USC defense took care of the rest of the scoring, as senior safety Will Harris picked off ASU senior quarterback Danny Sullivan near the end of the first half and ran it back for six.
Ultimately, the interception may have cut Sullivan's career three weeks short. He became an observer in the second half, standing on the sidelines while freshman Brock Osweiler took the reins, possibly for the rest of the season.
"It was based on performance," Erickson said of his decision to play Osweiler. "We felt we needed a change, obviously."
Erickson said he and his staff needed to look at the game tape before deciding whether Osweiler will start next week at Oregon.
While many felt this move was long overdue, Sullivan really did himself in with a couple of first-half interceptions.
Though the second one ended in USC points, the initial pick was particularly ugly. After getting stood up near the line of scrimmage, Sullivan inexplicably tossed the ball right at sophomore linebacker Chris Galippo.
Sullivan finished 12-of-23 for 113 yards and two picks, while Osweiler went 11-of-27 for 153 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Despite statistically dominating the Trojans in the first half, the Sun Devils entered the locker room at half in a 7-3 hole.
"For the game to be that close with three turnovers against SC, that's saying something about our defense," senior wide receiver Chris McGaha said. "We just can't turn the ball over and we got to capitalize when we got good field position."
Thanks to the one of the craziest plays in recent memory, ASU was awarded the ball at the USC 36.
The play started as a simple pass from Barkley. But the ball took on a life of its own after that, getting bobbled a couple times by USC redshirt freshman Brice Butler before getting jarred loose by an ASU defender. Then, just before it could reach the turf, it was kicked up in the air by senior cornerback Terell Carr before it was intercepted by sophomore safety Clint Floyd who fumbled the ball, which was eventually recovered by Carr.
Still, the Sun Devils couldn't capitalize on the short field, committing a holding penalty before going three-and-out.
"We can't be taking steps back when we need to go forward," McGaha said.
Osweiler connected with McGaha, who finished with 118 yards and a touchdown on nine catches, for a 23-yard score near the end of the third quarter.
Facing the five-point deficit with 1:56 left in the game, ASU took over at its own 22-yard line. The Sun Devils made it as far as the USC 45, but Osweiler's last-second heave was picked off.