Arizona State welcomes Southern California to Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday for a Pac-12 South showdown, a potentially pivotal contest for each team’s final month of the regular season.
The Sun Devils (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12), once in control of their championship destiny, have dropped consecutive conference games by two touchdowns.
Arizona State went into its bye week off a 35-21 loss on Oct. 16 at Utah, then returned last week to take a 34-21 home defeat against Washington State that was not as close as the final score indicates. The Sun Devils trailed by 27 points with five minutes to go in the game.
By the time quarterback Jayden Daniels found receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton for Arizona State’s first points last week, Washington State had already scored 28 points. That Sun Devils touchdown, meanwhile, ended a scoring drought of more than 60 combined minutes between the second half of the Utes game and first half of the Cougars contest.
“We’ve got to play a whole game,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “Can’t play in halves. If we can get back to our momentum and get going again, it starts for us early. … We’re playing a half of football. You’re not going to win like that.”
USC (4-4, 3-3) comes into Sun Devil Stadium with a similar problem. The Trojans dug a 24-3 hole Oct. 23 at Notre Dame, then pulled within one possession in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell short.
They rebounded with a win last week against Arizona but gave up much of a three-touchdown halftime lead and needed to secure an onside kick to preserve a 41-34 win.
USC lost standout wide receiver Drake London to a season-ending ankle injury midway through last Saturday’s win. London ranks second in the nation with 88 receptions and third in receiving yards at 1,084.
The absence of its most explosive receiving weapon is one bit of uncertainty for USC’s passing game heading into Tempe. Another is that the Trojans rotated quarterbacks Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart against Arizona, and they could do so again at Arizona State.
“I don’t know if we’ll rotate going forward,” interim USC coach Donte Williams said. “It’s a chance that we could keep rotating going forward. We’re actually the ones that are lucky. We have two really, really good quarterbacks that probably could start anywhere, any team right now.”
Slovis has thrown for 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. Dart sustained a torn meniscus after leading a blowout win at Washington State in September but returned against Arizona to go 12 of 18 for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
The quarterback question will loom in a final month during which the Trojans must go 2-2 to avoid their second sub-.500 finish in just four seasons. The 2018 team’s 5-7 finish was the program’s worst since 2000.
USC is likely out of contention for the Pac-12 South, two games behind division-leading Utah, which has a head-to-head victory. The Utes also beat Arizona State, which leaves the Sun Devils needing a big slip by Utah to have any shot at reaching the conference championship game.
–Field Level Media