Trojans, Sun Devils share early-season disappointment

Updated: October 2, 2003, 3:36 PM ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Southern California needed a wakeup call, it came last week.

The Trojans fell behind California early, fought back to tie and then lost for the first time in 12 games on a field goal after scoring just seven points in three overtime possessions. The next day, they dropped from third to 10th in the rankings.

Lesson learned.

"We've got to refocus," defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. "Guys need to get better. We're at the bottom of the Pac-10 and have to fight our way back up."

USC (3-1, 0-1) starts over Saturday against Arizona State, a team in even more distress.

The Sun Devils have disappointed their fans in four straight outings, beating two weak opponents and then losing 21-2 to Iowa and 45-17 to Oregon State in their first two road games.

Cody, Mike Patterson and ends Kenechi Udeze and Omar Nazel make up a defensive front that Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter considers the best in the country. The only comparable group was Iowa's, and the Hawkeyes held Arizona State to 184 yards.

"Iowa's guys use moves and countermoves and separate well, whereas USC's are probably a little quicker, a little bit more athletic and a little faster," Koetter said. "They may not have to countermove, because their first move works pretty much every time. They are very, very skilled up front."

Arizona State expected to have the antidote to a strong pass rush in seasoned quarterback Andrew Walter, who had the third-best season in Pac-10 history last year (3,877 yards) and set school records for yardage, attempts (483) and completions (274).

But no one anticipated how much Shaun McDonald's early departure to the NFL would affect the chemistry. One-third of the way into the season, Walter is still trying to establish rapport with his remaining receivers, including Lee Burghgraef, who replaced go-to tight end Mike Pinkard.

Still, Walter didn't earn a starting job until the fifth game last year and made up lost ground with a conference-record four 400-yard games. He acknowledges that no one has shown McDonald's knack of getting open on long patterns, but believes the offense will come around.

"A lot of it is trust with the receivers and quarterback," Walter said. "We have to be on the same page. I don't know what the exact problem is, but I think we're close to figuring it out."

USC coach Pete Carroll couldn't agree more.

"As always, Dirk has a great offensive concept and scheme," Carroll said. "And with that quarterback -- he throws the ball with more grace and ease than anybody I've seen in a long time. He can throw it a mile, and he has a great touch."

The Trojans are retooling their top offensive position after losing 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer.

Previously untested Matt Leinart has thrown for 924 yards and eight touchdowns this year, performing mistake-free in big wins over Auburn and Hawaii.

But he also has shown a tendency to throw interceptions in bunches. BYU wasn't able to profit from its three pickoffs on Sept. 6, and USC won 35-18. But Leinhart threw three more against Cal, contributing to the Trojans' problems getting in the flow after a bye week.

"Matt has gotten off to a pretty solid start as a first-time starter," Carroll said. "He's been in some difficult games already, some tough situations, and it's really a surprise somewhat that he could pick up and get off to a pretty good start. Statistically, he's off to a fairly reasonable start comparing what Carson did last year.

"He hasn't been the same in some ways, but in other ways he has."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index