ARIZONA STATE HUMILIATES USC : ASU 35, USC 7.
The visitors' locker room at Sun Devil Stadium was transformed into ground zero for this disaster.
Inside, USC coaches and players were clustered, searching for answers.
Whatever they offered as an explanation, however, will not fend off speculation that Saturday might have kicked off the first leg of the John Robinson farewell tour.
``I thought it was ugly,'' said USC athletic director Mike Garrett, trying his best to appear unflappable as he walked off the field.
Garrett's mindset will surely be shared by many others, following the Trojans' embarrassing 35-7 loss to Arizona State before 61,802.
For a little perspective, it equaled the third-worst loss in Robinson's USC career. And it was USC's worst setback since Arizona blew out the Trojans 38-7 in 1993, Robinson's first season back as coach. The Trojans also lost to Notre Dame by 28 points (38-10) in 1995.
The difference, though, is that those Arizona and Notre Dame teams were both ranked in the Top 20.
Arizona State (4-2, 2-1) entered the game unranked and had lost nearly every impact player from last year's Pacific-10 Conference championship team.
Robinson did not even attempt to rationalize the Trojans' desert meltdown.
``Our performance was a disgrace,'' he said. ``I'm ashamed of what we did. Every person that has worn this uniform I know is embarrassed.
``We were just simply lousy. We didn't have any fight at all. The fault for this is mine. The responsibility for this is mine. I take the blame.
``It was a terrible performance by everyone involved. Me, our players and our coaching staff.''
USC (2-3, 1-2) offered about 30 minutes of resistance before completely falling apart after halftime. The offense was so bad, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson yanked quarterback John Fox for the first time this season, giving redshirt freshman Mike Van Raaphorst the first snap of his college career.
The Trojans' defense was equally at fault. Arizona State scored on its first two drives of the second half to turn a competitive 13-7 game into a 28-7 rout with 6:24 left in the third quarter.
``We pretty much disappointed ourselves and the university,'' cornerback Brian Kelly said. ``We felt good going into halftime. For some reason, when we came out the second half, we didn't fight like we needed to.''
The epitome of the farce came on Arizona State's fourth touchdown. Quarterback Ryan Kealy found tight end Kendrick Bates open for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Open is actually an understatement. There wasn't a Trojans defender within 15 yards of Bates, who took so much time to walk into the end zone, he was assessed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
``We left him uncovered. We didn't recognize the coverage,'' defensive coordinator Keith Burns said.
``It was just a blown coverage,'' Kelly added.
There were plenty of other mistakes. Burns singled out the opening play of the second half, when Kealy found slotback Ricky Boyer for a 33-yard completion.
``The second half, the first play, we missed a zone coverage, probably a 10- or 12-yard play went for (33) yards,'' Burns said. ``That kind of set the tone.''
Somehow, the Trojans made Arizona State's offense appear formidable. The Sun Devils entered the game with the ninth-best offense in the Pac-10. Arizona State, which averaged 344 yards in offense per game, had 332 in the second half alone.
``They kept their offense pretty basic, they didn't try to trick us in any way,'' Kelly said.
In the midst of the defense's collapse, the game's turning point - if there was one - occurred right after Arizona State went ahead 21-7. Delon Washington broke free on a 34-yard run that gave the Trojans the ball at the Arizona State 25. But center Jonathan Himebauch was called for holding. Instead of first-and-10 at the 25, the Trojans faced second-and-19 at their own 29.
``The umpire looked at me and said I was holding,'' Himebauch said. ``I don't think I did. The thing that disappoints me is something set our team back, but we didn't react to it.''
USC will now try to figure how to react to its self-destruction.
Although the Trojans decided against holding a team meeting following their loss to Washington State last month, the sense of desperation accompanying this loss almost assures that something will happen this week.
``We've really got to dig deep and find out what we'll do with this season,'' Kelly said. ``We really need to talk.''
Everyone else certainly will be. This loss is certain to once again unleash a furious amount of rumors about Robinson's fate, and the future is hardly bright. Two of USC's next three games are road trips to Notre Dame and Washington.
``This is gut-check time right here,'' Kelly said.
USC vs. ARIZONA ST.: A CLOSER LOOK; USC's Brymer doesn't blame coach Robinson
TEMPE, Ariz. - Before Saturday's 35-7 loss to Arizona State had even sunk in, USC offensive lineman Chris Brymer was trying to deflect criticism away from his embattled coach, John Robinson.
``It would be a tragedy (if he were fired),'' Brymer said. ``It's not the coaching that's hurting us. It's the players. I don't think it's the coaching staff at all. We played (lousy) today.''
Robinson blistered the Trojans in the locker room following the game for their uninspired performance. Asked if it was the maddest he had ever seen the USC head coach, Brymer said, ``Yeah, probably.''
No retraction: USC wide receiver R. Jay Soward refused to back down from his boastful quotes earlier in the week.
``I'm going to be so happy after the game because it's going to be like I've gained something back,'' Soward had said. ``We're the team of the future. They're the team of the past.''
Soward said he did not regret his remarks.
``I don't regret saying anything,'' Soward said. ``I don't care. They played a great game. What's said during the week doesn't matter.''
Soward ended up with just two receptions for 19 yards. He suffered a bruised hip and leg during a kickoff return that limited his playing time but is expected to be OK.
Tough start: True freshman Malaefou MacKenzie gained 35 yards in 10 carries in his first career start. He was forced to leave the game after spraining his shoulder in the first half.
MacKenzie returned in the second half but had only one yard in three carries.
``We executed really well early,'' MacKenzie said. ``We just had some missed opportunities.''
Injury report: USC freshman tight end Lonnie Ford suffered a fractured clavicle and will probably be lost for the remainder of the season.
Alumni in the crowd:
Former USC safety Jason Sehorn and tight end Johnny McWilliams attended the game. Sehorn, who plays for the New York Giants, is in town because New York plays McWilliams' Arizona Cardinals today.
Largest margin: The 28-point victory was the largest Arizona State has had against the Trojans. The Sun Devils now lead the series 8-6, the only Pacific-10 school to lead its series with USC.
Arizona State quarterback Ryan Kealy. The redshirt freshman completed 21 of 34 passes for 281 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
USC. Pick a spot. Ineffective offense. Porous defense. Questionable decision making. No one gets spared for this disaster. The Trojans were outscored 22-0 in the second half.
STAT OF THE GAME
USC allowed 528 yards in offense while managing just 214.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
``It was a terrible performance by everyone involved. Me, our players and our coaching staff. We're choking in games and choking in our own mistakes.
- USC coach John Robinson
2 Photos, Box
PHOTO (1) Wide receiver Lenzie Jackson pulls away from USC defender Antuan Simmons during ASU's 35-7 rout.
(2) USC tailback Malaefou MacKenzie is tripped up after a short gain in the first half. He finished with 35 yards on 10 carries.
BOX: USC vs. ARIZONA ST.: A CLOSER LOOK (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 12, 1997|
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