After a two-month delay to the start of their season, the USC Trojans opened their season at home against the Arizona State Sun Devils in an unusually early 9:00 a.m. PST kickoff on the west coast. The Trojans struggled for most of the game, but scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes to defeat ASU 28-27. Here is the breakdown of USC’s thrilling opening win.
Graham Harrell began his second season as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator and the first game saw some mixed results. USC struggled to get into a rhythm early and couldn’t find success on passes over 10 yards. As the game progressed, quarterback Kedon Slovis gained more confidence and by the end of the game, he was near-perfect. USC gained 556 yards of total offense despite turning the ball over four times.
Slovis contributed to one of those turnovers with an interception in the second quarter. However, he rebounded to finish the game with 40 completions on 55 attempts for 381 yards passing and two touchdown passes, to go along with his one interception. Slovis got lucky on his first touchdown pass as Amon-Ra St. Brown deflected the ball right to Bru McCoy for the touchdown with under three minutes to go.
The highlight for Slovis was with 1:23 to go, he threw a perfect pass to Drake London in double coverage in the endzone to give USC the 28-27 lead. Slovis continued to perform at a high level like last season and his performance late in the game showed how great of a QB he can be.
London not only made the play of the game for USC but was also Slovis’ favorite target with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. St. Brown was also very productive with seven catches for 100 yards. Tyler Vaughns caught seven passes for 53 yards but fumbled the ball early in the third quarter, which led to an ASU touchdown. McCoy enjoyed a solid debut with USC as he gained 51 yards on five receptions.
USC finally had a healthy backfield to work with, but the results were very mixed. Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp combined for 158 yards rushing on 32 carries and two touchdowns, as well as 47 receiving yards on 11 catches. However, Malepeai fumbled at the goal line in the first quarter and Stepp fumbled early in the fourth quarter. While USC ended up winning, these two fumbles ruined great scoring opportunities, nearly costing them the game.
The safety duo of Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao was considered to be the best aspect of the defense coming into this season and against ASU, this proved to be true. Hufanga forced an ASU fumble late in the second quarter and Pola-Mao recovered it to give the ball back to the offense. Also, Pola-Mao finished with two pass deflections and a tackle for loss. Defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu picked up USC’s one sack of the game.
USC’s defense limited ASU’s production through the air as ASU QB Jayden Daniels only completed 11 passes on 23 attempts for 134 yards and one touchdown. Even then, Rachaad White’s 55-yard touchdown catch saw him pick up most of those yards on yards after the catch. They stopped Daniels’ late go-ahead drive to preserve the win for the Trojans.
The concerning aspect of this game, however, was how easily ASU was able to run on USC’s defense. All game long, ASU dominated on the edges and seemed to have way more speed in the open field, highlighted by the two touchdown runs by ASU running back DeaMonte Trayanum. He simply ran away from the defense despite having the angle on him several times. ASU gained 258 yards total on the ground as the lack of speed on the defense brought concerns as teams now know they can run well on USC. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has his work cut out for him this season but there are positive aspects to build off of such as the strong safety tandem and passing defense.
Parker Lewis made a huge impact in this game, not only making all four of his extra points but also, placing an onside kick in the perfect spot for USC to recover after cutting the deficit 27-21 with under three minutes to go. McCoy deflected the ball and won the scramble, giving USC the ball back and Slovis hit London for the game-winning touchdown. McCoy made a fantastic play but Lewis placed the ball perfectly as McCoy was able to make a play on it on the bounce.
It was a well-executed onside kick created by Sean Snyder, the son of legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. This onside kick gave USC the chance to win, which they did. Considering the shaky special teams play last season, this was a sight to behold for Trojan fans.
USC will head to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.