Sun Devils' skid grows in 38-17 loss to No. 21 USC
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES (AP) Although the coaching staff and the circumstances have changed, Arizona State certainly appears to be in much the same November spiral that ruined last season.
At least the Sun Devils still have a little time to pull out of this swoon after they get home from Southern California.
Marqise Lee caught 10 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, Curtis McNeal rushed for 163 yards and two more scores, and No. 21 USC sent the Sun Devils to their fourth straight loss, 38-17 on Saturday.
Taylor Kelly passed for 174 yards and Alden Darby returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown for the Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12), who managed season lows in yards and points. Arizona State scored all of its points off USC's five turnovers and got shut out in the final 27 minutes, capping a dismal second half by yielding McNeal's final TD run with 38 seconds to play.
"It's a tough pill to swallow, and it's hard to tell guys to keep fighting," Darby said. "But you have to do it. What do you have to lose? You can't just give up. We've lost four in a row, and lost some games we should have won."
Although Todd Graham has replaced Dennis Erickson on the sideline, this slump has a familiar feel after Arizona State dropped five straight to close last year. Chris Coyle caught an early TD pass, but the Sun Devils gave up 24 unanswered points to the Trojans (7-3, 5-3) at the Coliseum, where they haven't won since 1999.
"We came in at halftime tied, and I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to win," Graham said.
The Sun Devils led 17-14 early in the third quarter after Matt Barkley's first pass after halftime was intercepted in spectacular fashion by backup linebacker Carl Bradford, who deflected the ball and dived to snag it. But Arizona State never scored again - and the Sun Devils managed just 76 yards after halftime.
"The defense gave us an opportunity, but the offense has got to pick it up," Sun Devils left tackle Evan Finkenberg said. "I think it's just personal pride. We've got a lot of seniors on this team, and we want to send them out the right way. We've all really bought into this season."
With bowl eligibility still in doubt, Arizona State finishes the year against Washington State and Arizona.
Barkley threw for 222 yards and three TDs while becoming the leading passer in conference history for the Trojans, who overcame a slow start.
"We knew we needed that," said Barkley, who passed Carson Palmer for his latest record despite also throwing three interceptions. "The defense was playing well, and after we made some adjustments, we shut them down. That's really what we needed."
USC yielded a school-record 730 yards to No. 2 Oregon in a 62-51 loss last Saturday and endured a midweek distraction when a student manager was fired for underinflating footballs on the Ducks' sideline. The Trojans needed to clear the air and get a boost of confidence before finishing the regular season against No. 17 UCLA and No. 4 Notre Dame.
USC coach Lane Kiffin emphasized the bright side of the Trojans' woes this week: With two more Pac-12 wins, they could earn the South division crown and a spot in the title game. After rallying past Arizona State, only the crosstown Bruins are in their way.
After getting a few boos on the way to the locker room at halftime, the Trojans blew past Arizona State, outgaining the Sun Devils 447-250. What's more, the FBS' most-penalized team was flagged just four times for 30 yards.
Lee caught an 80-yard TD pass and rushed for 66 yards during the seventh 10-catch day of his spectacular sophomore season - and he even lined up at safety briefly in another do-it-all performance. He wasn't sure if he'd play at all when he woke up with a swollen face, a product of periodic allergic reactions he can't explain.
"My allergies are messed up, but I'm fine now," said Lee, who got ice on his face before the game and a bag of IV fluids at halftime. "I just have flare-ups. I've got to figure it out. ... I didn't let it affect me out there, though."
Lee and the Trojans thrived on offense with little help from two key players. All-American receiver Robert Woods had two catches for minus-3 yards, while leading rusher Silas Redd watched the game in uniform from the sideline.
McNeal and Xavier Grimble also caught TD passes from Barkley, who needed just two plays to pick up the yards necessary to pass Palmer's USC and Pac-12 record of 11,818 yards passing. The four-year starter already holds the USC records for touchdown passes, completions and total offense along with several single-game superlatives.
Barkley's second interception was the most costly. After an apparent touchdown pass to Woods was wiped out by pass interference, Darby lunged to pick off the risky screen pass by Barkley, somehow gathered himself without falling and ran 70 yards for a score.
Updated November 10, 2012