Oct. 12, 1997
Sun Devils Romp over USC, 35-7There would be no double-overtime suspense. There would be no need for last minute heroics. The Arizona State Sun Devils soundly defeated the USC Trojans, 35-7, in front of 61,802 fans at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils improve to 4-2, 2-1 in the Pac-10 while the Trojans fall to 2-3, 1-2 in the conference. ASU is the only Pac-10 team to lead its all-time series against USC with an 8-6 record.
Cornerback Jason Simmons said, "We knew this game was important. If we lost, we would have been .500. This game was important in terms of us going to the Rose Bowl. We kept ourselves in contention with this win"
The Sun Devils had clear control of the game, never giving up the lead. ASU has now shutout five of its six opponents in the first quarter this year. Washington was the only team to score on the Sun Devils in the first quarter. ASU has also outscored its opponents 53-10 in the third quarter this year.
ASU went early to the passing game, going with four wide receivers often in the first half. USC, looking to stop the run early, was caught by surprise by the Sun Devil's successful aerial attack. The Sun Devils had 104 yards of passing yardage in the first quarter alone, and 292 total passing yards for the game. ASU's running game helped continue a balanced attack with 236 total rushing yards with three ASU running backs getting ten or more carries. ASU's offense accumulated 528 total yards for the game and moved the chains 25 times.
"We just stayed positive as a group," said left guard Kyle Murphy. "We played well, but we have a long way to go. We keep trying to get better. The line is beginning to gel. I think we showed today that we have the potential to keep doing this."
Quarterback Ryan Kealy, not showing any signs of a letdown following a poor showing at Washington, dismantled the Trojan secondary. Kealy completed 21 of 34 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns and one interception.
"I never really lost my self-confidence," said Kealy. "I never got down in practice because I know what kind of a team we have. But I was kind of wary of the situation. You just have to play through the bad as well as the good" His receivers were a key to his performance. Nine receivers had receptions. Junior Lenzie Jackson led all receivers with seven catches for a career-high 132 yards and one touchdown, including a spectacular 40-yard reception over USC cornerback Daylon McCutcheon just inches from the sideline.
"I try to go into each game with the same mentality," Jackson said, "but there's always that little thing in the back of your head. In order to be the best you've got to beat the best, and they consider themselves the best."
ASU's running game was sure and steady against the Trojan defense. Junior Marlon Farlow gained his game-high 98 yards on 11 carries all during the fourth quarter. During the first play of the final drive of the game, Farlow broke through a hole and raced for a career-long 63 yards before being brought down by USC free safety Chad Morton inside the Trojan 16-yard line. Farlow may have had a touchdown as well, but the Sun Devils opted to let the clock run out rather than push their luck.
The defense also flexed their muscles early and often against the Trojan offense, sacking USC quarterback John Fox three times and limiting the Trojans' version of the "West Coast offense" to five yards in the air during the first quarter and one touchdown for the game. The Trojan offense could only muster 214 yards of total offense for the game.
Sun Devil defensive backs terrorized USC receivers, shadowing their every move. ASU safety Mitchell Freedman picked off Fox's second pass of the game, and it was downhill from there for the Trojans. The interception is Freedman's first pick of the season and second in his career. Freedman also had seven tackles and a sack for the game. ASU's pass defense limited Trojan receivers to 11 catches for 100 yards. R. Jay Soward, USC's star receiver, was limited to two catches for 19 yards. Linebacker Pat Tillman led the defense with 13 tackles. Linebacker Paul Reynolds also pitched in 11 tackles. Cornerback Jason Simmons, who covered Soward for most of the game, said, "He's a deep threat. He's a complete receiver. I had to guard him all over the field, but I think I did a pretty good job."
The Sun Devils held a shutout into the late minutes of the first half. Following a quick interception by Mitchell Freedman on USC's first drive, ASU drove down field to set up a successful 34-yard Robert Nycz field goal. After an unsuccessful USC drive, ASU regained possession at their own 30-yard line. It looked as if ASU's offensive troubles would continue from the previous week. Kealy's first pass was bobbled and dropped by Kenny Mitchell. His second pass of the drive was intercepted by safety Rashard Cook, but a penalty for roughing the passer gave the Sun Devils a second chance. The rest of the drive was unproductive, but the interception was a wake-up call for the Sun Devils. They would answer that call by turning on the heat for the rest of the game.
Continuing through the first quarter, the Sun Devils held off the Trojans, forcing them to either punt the ball or forcing turnovers on downs. Late in the first, ASU pushed inside USC's 20-yard line on a 40-yard up-for-grabs pass from Kealy to Lenzie Jackson that Jackson pulled down from over cornerback Daylon McCutcheon along the edge of ASU's sideline. Kealy, three plays later, found Ricky Boyer at the front of the endzone with an eight-yard pass to make the score 10-0.
"The best athlete wins when the ball is in the air for me to catch," said Jackson. "I had to catch the ball. I was telling Kealy this week to throw the ball up instead of out so I could have a chance to catch it."
The Sun Devils would score again early in the second quarter. Going with three and four-receiver sets, the Sun Devils pushed down the field to set up a 24-yard field goal by Robert Nycz. USC would answer back on their next possession, capitalizing on two pass interference penalties against the Sun Devils. Driving 80 yards in four minutes, the Trojans would score their only points of the game on a 21-yard touchdown pass from John Fox to Mike Bastianelli. The Trojans put a scare into the Sun Devils by intercepting the final pass of the half and returning it 38 yards, but the ASU offense-turned-defense brought down linebacker Antuan Simmons before he could do any damage.
ASU would control the scoring in the second half. ASU marched down the field on its first drive of the second half and scored on a two-yard J.R. Redmond touchdown run. The Sun Devils would convert the two-point attempt on a pass from Kealy to Boyer. Halfway through the third quarter, the Sun Devils would score again on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kealy to a wide-open Kendrick Bates. Some confusion in the USC defense left Bates alone on the 7-yard line near the USC sideline frantically waving his arms. When the pass finally came to him, Bates took off towards the endzone, but realizing he was alone, proceeded to strut over the goal line. Bates' early celebration earned a 16-yard penalty for the Sun Devils on the ensuing kickoff, but was inconsequential in USC's following drive. The final score of the game came from a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kealy to Lenzie Jackson early in the fourth quarter.
The game was just a glimpse of what the future may hold for a promising, young Sun Devil team. Cornerback Courtney Jackson noted this fact after the game.
"We had a good game plan going into this game," he said. "We knew that we had the talent, but we needed to get the chemistry. Coach Snyder kept telling us that it would come, and it did. This is real ASU football."