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November 8, 2009As the boo birds continued to heckle senior quarterback Danny Sullivan -- and perhaps even more so coach Dennis Erickson for his decision to stay with Sullivan -- in Saturday's game against USC, Erickson finally decided at halftime to give some of the disgruntled fans what they have been asking for nearly all season.
Taking the field at halftime in hopes of sparking an offense seemingly on the verge of a break out was 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler.
Facing a 7-3 deficit, the true freshman from Montana, standing in front of tens of thousands in Sun Devil Stadium and hundreds of thousands more watching on television, was handed the ball and asked to do what many veteran college quarterbacks have attempted over the last decade, yet failed.
Seeing the field in a limited capacity this season as the backup, Osweiler was given his first full half against a defense that statistically ranks in middle of the league, however, unlike many teams in the nation, the Trojans possess the speed, tenacity and athleticism to overmatch any offense.
With seven straight BCS bowl appearances, the Trojans were on the verge of their first three loss season since 2001.
Coming in, Osweiler seemed calm and poised as he fired the ball on target to his receivers. Finishing the third quarter, Osweiler led one of the best drives the Sun Devils have had all season as he connected with senior receiver Chris McGaha for a 23-yard touchdown pass, concluding the ten play, 80 yard drive.
At the end of the third quarter Osweiler had completed 6-of-9 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, bringing the Sun Devils back in a game in which the Trojans were predicted to win by double digits.
"My role on this team is to go in when I am told to," Osweiler said. "I need to be ready to play at all times and do what this team needs and that's what I did tonight. I was told at halftime that I would start the second half and I just tried telling my offensive guys to be ready and score points."
As both teams continued to trade possessions in the fourth quarter, Osweiler was faced with a five point deficit as he had one remaining drive to shock the Trojans.
Starting at their 22 yard line, the Sun Devils were able to move the ball with just minimal gains as the talented USC defensive line disrupted Osweiler enough to prevent any chance of making the big play.
With one eye on his receivers and the other on the pass rush, the USC defense was able to halt any notion of a comeback.
Faced with one final play with seven seconds left in the game, Osweiler heaved the ball as far as he could from the USC 45 and as the clock hit zero, but it was caught by a USC defender, ending the game as the scoreboard read 14-9 in favor of the Trojans.
"Unfortunately we didn't [score enough points] in the second half," Osweiler said. "There were opportunities for myself to make plays and I didn't get the job done. At the same time I think a lot of things happened tonight that we can build on and I think this team will be okay in the future."
As Osweiler showed the fans, coaches and all spectators in Saturday night's matchup that at age 18 he can move the ball against one of the nation's powerhouses, he ensured that the ASU coaching staff will be faced with a good old fashion quarterback battle for the remainder of the season.
Continuing its dominance defensively, the Sun Devils held the high powered Trojan offense to just 14 points in Saturday's game.
One of the scores came on an interception for a touchdown as USC cornerback Will Harris jumped on a Danny Sullivan mistake with 1:17 remaining in the first half.
The most impressive stat was the lack of total yards the Trojans were able to rack up as they were only able to gain 258 total yards, well shy of their 426.2 average.
The ASU defense completely dominated the first half as USC gained a grand total of 76 total yards.
ASU was able to reveal the lack of experience true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley possessed as he played the worst game of his career. Barkley managed to complete a little over 30 percent of his passes, finishing 7-22 with 122 yards with and one interception.
Seventy-five of his 122 passing yards came on a screen play in which Damian Williams weaved through the ASU defense, bursting into the secondary and eventually scored on USC's longest pass play since 2003.
"How much better [can a defense] play," Erickson said. "Other than the big play they made at the beginning of the second half they don't get anything. [The offense] doesn't get any points and they don't do anything. The only other points in the game were an interception for a touchdown. [The defense] played their rear ends off."
Upon the game's conclusion, the Sun Devils dominated in nearly every statistic in the box score. The Trojans were only able to get 12 first downs compared to the Sun Devils, who nearly doubled that with 23.
Although the final score does not reflect it, the Sun Devils seemed to outplay the Trojans in every category except one.
USC forced four turnovers, which ultimately cost ASU the game. Although the interception returned for a touchdown was a severe blow for the Sun Devils, it was freshman Cameron Marshall's fumble on the first series of the game that set the tone for the night for the ASU offense.
As ASU marched down the field on its first drive executing every play to near perfection, Marshall was given a red zone handoff and proceeded to fumble on the USC 13 yard line, a trend that has haunted ASU multiple times this season.
As USC recovered, ASU came up empty on yet another impressive drive that ended in a turnover.
"When you turn the football over against anybody you have problems," Erickson said. "But when you turn the ball over to a really good football team it's [that much harder]."
After taking over last week as the most penalized team in the nation, ASU took baby steps in reducing that particular statistic.
ASU was penalized nine times Saturday, resulting in 75 yards.
Following last week's disaster against Cal where the team gave away 123 yards, the Sun Devils improved significantly, but not enough for it to be considered a good showing in that regard.
Saturday's 75 penalty yards was the team's fourth lowest this season.
Seen in practice last week was a penalty flag thrown all over the field as the team ran plays, mocking the team's consistent ability to draw flags.
The goal of the practice penalty flag was to remind the players that they can't be penalized, according to Erickson.
"I don't want to see that thing any longer," Erickson said last week.