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November 7, 2010

Special teams breakdowns again prove costly

Marching down the field with three minutes left, perhaps this was the game Arizona State where ASU would have a special drive to rid itself of all the misery.

Instead, another special teams collapse left ASU empty-handed.

Add it to the list of heart-breakers.

After USC kicker Joe Houston hit a 29-yard field goal to put his team up 34-33, ASU's offense quickly moved into Trojan territory on a series highlighted by running back Cameron Marshall leaping over a defender for a 26 yard run.

The drive stalled at the USC 24 with 1:39 left, with all of of ASU's hopes on kicker Thomas Weber to possibly end the school's 11 year losing streak to the Trojans dating back to to Nov. 6, 1999.

Wide left.

The 2007 Lou Groza award winner missed the 42-yard field goal that would've given ASU a 36-34 lead with 1:34 left in the game.

How fitting for the game to ultimatly rest in the hands of special teams considering it started with news of punter Trevor Hankins being suspended by coach Dennis Erickson for a team rules violation.

Weber, who hasn't punted since 2008, started in place of Hankins and managed a mediocre punt average of 24.6 yards net including. USC managed to block one punt and perhaps get a finger on another, resulting in 15-yarder.

His day didn't get any easier.

On a 9-play, 71-yard drive, quarterback Steven Threet connected with Jamal Miles for the 9-yard score to put ASU up 33-29 with 9:48 left in the game. Weber's extra point was blocked and returned for a 2-point defensive conversion by Torin Harris to make it 33-31.

"Guy came underneath our guy outside and blocked it," Erikson said. "Stuff like that shouldn't happen, but it did.

"That's a three point turnaround right there. That was the difference in the football game. To let that happen is totally ridiculous."

Weber wasn't the only one with costly special teams mistakes, as ASU seemingly had a breakdown on each of its four units.

Early in the first quarter, USC punter Jacob Harfman's rugby style punt led to a high bounce over Miles' head. Inexplicably, Miles jumped and touched the ball well over his head. The contact led to a live ball, recovered by Omar Bolden at ASU's own 16.

The drive stalled at the 26.

Midway through the second quarter, Kyle Middlebrooks fielded Harfman's kickoff at the 11 yard line immediately adjacent to the sideline, stepping out almost as soon as he'd caught the ball. Arizona State could have started the drive at the 40 if Middlebrooks allowed the ball to go out of bounds on the play, a clear judgement error.

The drive stalled four plays later at the 33 and a blocked punt by T.J. McDonald gave USC 1st and goal at the 9.

It is the third game ASU has lost this year by fewer than three points, making the task of reaching a bowl game unlikely in the extreme. ASU must win its last three games against Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona to reach bowl eligibility.

It's a tough task for a team dealing with yet another bitter loss.

Threet finds rhythm in second half

Threet's tendecy to struggle through portions of games was again on display in the first half Saturday. He completed 7 of his 16 passes for 48 yards and was sacked four times.

Miles ended the half with more passing yards, 54, than Threet on one attempt.

"We had a ton of opportunities up 7-0 in the first half to increase the lead," Threet said. "The defense was holding them and offense couldn't get it going."

In the second half, Threet completed two touchdowns and threw for 180 yards passing, going 17-for-24 in a losing effort.

"All you can is give 110 perent in preparation and on game day," Threet said. "We'll see how it goes. I'm excited to get back out on the field Saturday though. I wish we could play them [Stanford] right now."

Threet did throw two interceptions in the game, including an extremely costly one in the third quarter right to Malcolm Smith, who returned it 74 yards for a score to put USC up 22-7.

Threet is now four interceptions away from breaking the school record for most interceptions in a season.


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