The USC Trojans kicked off their home opener Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the UNLV Rebels. The Trojans defense which had a penchant for giving up big plays last year began the game by forcing UNLV running back Lexington Thomas to fumble, thanks to the handiwork of linebacker Porter Gustin, who was a constant force staying in the Rebels’ backfield all afternoon.
Making big plays was a recurring theme for theTrojans during their 43-21 win. Let’s start with the playmaking of quarterback JT Daniels, who completed 22 of 35 passes on the day for 282 yards a touchdown. Not a bad debut for the heralded freshman. However, it was not until the second half of the game that Daniels and the Trojans started to find their groove.
Up until halftime, USC offense looked sluggish and struggled, relying on four field goals (46, 38, 29, and 47 yards) yards) by placekicker Chase McGrath before their offense began to click. The Rebels’ offense, led by quarterback Armani Rogers, had their own share of offensive woes in the first half.
But alas, the Rebels scored the first touchdown at the Coliseum this season when Thomas busted through the line leaving Trojan defenders in the dust for a 71-yard touchdown, quieting the Coliseum crowd for a moment.
McGrath’s 29-yard field goal got USC fans revved up again, but the Rebels somehow managed to shush Trojans fans again. This time UNLV quarterback Rogers hooked up with wide receiver Kendall Keys for a 31-yard touchdown pass to help Rebels look like upset bidders midway through the second quarter.
After Stephen Carr electrified the Trojan faithful with a 77-yard return, the Trojans offense sputtered and once again McGrath was brought in to add points on the scoreboard with his legs, making good on a 47-yard field goal to cut UNLV’s lead to 14-12. Everything seemed to go uphill for the Trojans after that. UNLV placekicker Evan Pantels missed on a field goal attempt.
Vavae Malepeai short touchdown run on the ensuing series gave the Trojans a 19-14 lead, one that they would not give back to the Rebels. After intermission, both teams continued with their offensive-challenged afternoon, putting up zero points in the third quarter. The Trojans changed that narrative in the fourth quarter, blitzing UNLV with 24 points to put away the game.
The fourth quarter began as USC struck first blood with Daniels hooking up with his leading receiver Amon Ra St. Brown on a 43 yards touchdown pass that brought the Trojan fans to their feet. A little over two minutes later, USC finally was able to put some distance between the Rebels and themselves when running back Aca’ Cedric Ware bounced into the endzone to complete a 15-yard touchdown run to give the Trojans a 33-14 lead.
The big play on the drive leading up to Ware’s touchdown run was Daniels’ 43-yard completion to wide receiver Trevon Sidney. Rogers and the Rebels tried to respond with a scoring drive of their own on the ensuing series. With a couple of passes to Thomas and a 34-yard run of his own, Rogers and the Rebels moved the ball to first and goal at the Trojans’ 9-yard line. UNLV capped off its final scoring drive when Rogers connected with tight end Giovanni Fauolo for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
The Trojans didn’t blink. They responded and put together a drive of their own with a combination of run and passes. Ware and Michael Pittman Jr. helped the Trojans move the ball down the field yard. McGrath finished off the drive with a 36-yard field goal, equaling Ryan Killeen’s school record for made field goals in a game with five. Malepeai’s second touchdown run (20 yards) wrapped up a pretty good day for the Trojans.