These Sun Devils feel different

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
3:58
AM ET


TEMPE, Ariz. -- Omar Bolden couldn't stop grabbing and hugging Vontaze Burfict as they walked into the locker room. Bolden, Arizona State's injured, charismatic captain, was bouncing around, jumping for joy. Burfict? The Sun Devils wound-tight superstar alternated between a grin and a grimace as he limped off the field, lugging along Bolden under a scoreboard that said the Sun Devils had beaten USC 43-22, the first time they'd been on top of the Trojans in 11 previous meetings.

This Sun Devils team feels different.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler walked into his postgame news conference with 1,500 pounds of escort -- his entire starting offensive line.

Why? "I thought the media was pretty harsh on these guys last week," Osweiler said.

Last week, the Sun Devils lost at Illinois, despite outplaying the Illini. Osweiler had three turnovers. The offensive line gave up six sacks. There were eight penalties for 91 yards. The loss knocked the Sun Devils out of the national rankings and cost them defensive end Junior Onyeali, who suffered a knee injury. It was the sort of loss that could linger in a locker room, not to mention inspire talk of "same old Sun Devils" from a skeptical fanbase.

[+] EnlargeArizona State's Cameron Marshall
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesArizona State's Cameron Marshall rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard run to open the scoring.
This Sun Devils team was different. It yielded just one sack. It committed no turnovers -- versus four from USC. It had just six penalties, one of which was on coach Dennis Erickson for celebrating.

And now, at 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-12, these Sun Devils have beaten two ranked teams. They might return to the national rankings. And this win was particularly sweet.

"Eleven years is a long time not to beat somebody," Erickson said.

The game turned in the third quarter, just as USC seemed to be taking control. The Trojans, who trailed 21-9 at the break, took a 22-21 lead with touchdown drives of 80 and 76 yards. They were running and throwing over the Sun Devils, who seemed to be wearing down.

"The thing we kept saying was, '11 years.' That was a huge thing that kept us motivated all week," defensive tackle Bo Moos said.

Said Osweiler, "We don't really have a panic button."

ASU would score the final 22 points.

The Sun Devils immediately answered the Trojans with a 76-yard TD drive. Arizona State then let USC throw up on itself. The Trojans fumbled on the ASU 28-yard line. On their next possession, USC quarterback Matt Barkley fumbled after a sack from Greg Smith, Onyeali's replacement, on the ASU 18. After another Sun Devils touchdown drive, Barkley then threw a 41-yard pick-six to Shelly Lyons.

In the second quarter, Barkley threw one interception to Burfict on the Sun Devils' 12. Burfict returned the interception 36 yards. He was tackled by Barkley, who had said Burfict was a dirty player this week.

Burfict ran to Barkley. And helped him up.

That was different.

"They didn't make many mistakes, didn't give us many chances," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

Injuries? Running back Cameron Marshall sat out practices with a sprained ankle, but he rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries with three TDs. Mistakes? Osweiler bounced back from his performance at Illinois with two touchdowns and no interceptions, completing 25 of 32 passes for 223 yards and also ran for 18 yards.

There's a lot of season left, but beating USC, which slipped Utah two weeks ago, puts the Sun Devils in good position in the South Division. An Oct. 8 trip to Utah appears critical.

But looking ahead would be so 2008-2010 Sun Devils. That can't happen. The first priority, however, is enjoying this one.

Said Erickson, "It doesn't get much better than that."

Ted Miller | email

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