California turned out to be a very inhospitable place yesterday, welcoming both Arizona State and University of Arizona football teams for a Pac-12 road game, but showing no signs of compassion for either of their visitors from the desert.
The “uh-oh” moment for Arizona State came early in its game with USC. With five minutes left to play in the first quarter at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Trojans marched 95 yards in 3 1/2 minutes for their first score.
It was painfully obvious at that point that this was going to be a contest against the USC of old, not the one that has under-achieved to start this season 1-3.
These Trojans added another 20 points to take a 27-6 lead into halftime, holding the Sun Devil offense to two field goals and 21 total yards rushing in the first half.
By the time Sam Darnold ran a quarterback keep for USC’s fifth TD of the night to make it 41-6, the game was pretty much out of reach. That was midway through the third quarter.
When the game finished after three hours and 20 minutes of frustration, ASU had been unable to dig out of that deep hole and returned to Tempe with a 41-20 loss, their first of the 2016 season.
It was a slightly different story across town at the Rose Bowl, where the UCLA Bruins were hosting the Wildcats, a .500 team struggling to find its footing this season.
But the result was exactly the same. The Cats also lost by 21 points.
Both teams got off to a good start, with ASU taking a 3-0 lead on a Zane Gonzalez field goal and UofA drawing first blood when Samajie Grant pulled in a 12-yard TD pass from Brandon Dawkins.
Gonzalez added a 34-yard field goal late in the first quarter to break the Pac-12 career field goals record. His total of 86 also puts him third in the FBS record books.
But, while the ASU lead evaporated quickly, the Wildcats hung in there through the first half. The Bruins lead 14-7 at halftime by scoring their second TD with just two seconds remaining on the first-quarter clock.
However, the Cats began falling further behind as the game got into the second half, trailing UCLA 24-7 with 9:12 left to go in the third quarter.
Arizona never got closer than two touchdowns the rest of the way.
The scores could have been worse. ASU got a final tally with just under two minutes left in the game when Nick Ralston scrambled into the end zone from 10 yards out. Arizona picked up one last TD when Cam Denson scored with a 13-yard reception.
Another painful similarity in both games: neither ASU nor UofA finished the game with the same quarterback that started under center.
Sun Devils starter Manny Wilkins was hurt after being sacked on a third-down attempt as the first half ended and was replaced by back-up quarterback Brady White. It was worse for Arizona as they had to move down the depth chart even further to their third-string QB Khalil Tate, who replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins who was also injured in the first half. Dawkins, a sophomore, is the back-up to Anu Solomon, who started the first game of the season before being sidelined with a knee injury suffered in practice.
The key injuries mean even more questions for both teams as they move forward into the teeth of the Pac-12 schedule…with little time to work on the solutions before the next game.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)