Another game, another last-gap win for Trojans

So now that the USC Trojans have kicked the Arizona twins to the curb with back-to-back comeback wins in the last moments of two highly anticipated college football games, what could next for the Men of Troy? Well, the Trojans, after escaping with a 34-30 win against Arizona, will have to dig in against the physicality of the Utah Utes on the road.

That is not something that is going to be easy. But then again, playing both Arizona State and Arizona would prove to be no cakewalk for the Trojans either. Both games came down to the game’s waning moments. On both occasions, USC head coach Clay Helton and his Trojans were able to pull off an improbable win.

USC running back Stephen Carr (7) runs through a crease in the Arizona Wildcats defense on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics
USC running back Stephen Carr (7) runs through a crease in the Arizona Wildcats defense on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics

That’s not a good recipe for winning ballgames, but Helton and the Trojans will take it for now.

“Looking at our football team, offensively, we showed up late again,” Helton said. “We missed some opportunities in the red zone that I thought could have separated ourselves in the game in the second half, being inside the 15 twice. Coming away with no points wasn’t good…had the opportunity to separate and let a good team in. Credit to their kids. Offensively, I thought they did a nice job of spreading the ball around and making some big plays down the field. And then at the end, our kids did what they did last week when it mattered the most. I didn’t see any panic. They showed great poise.”

Last week in their 28-27 come-from-behind win against Arizona State, USC needed a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kedon Slovis to Drake London to stun the Sun Devils at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Saturday, in a bang-bang fourth quarter in which USC and Arizona scored a combined 24 points, the Trojans got the last word in.

And almost similar to their situation a week ago against Arizona State, the Trojans were battling the clock as well as their on-field opponent. When Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell connected with wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III on a six-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 remaining in the game, it looked like an uh-oh moment for USC.

USC wide receiver John Jackson III (80) looks for yards after the catch against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics
USC wide receiver John Jackson III (80) looks for yards after the catch against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics

Slovis and the Trojans didn’t blink, driving down the field 75 yards in a minute and 10 seconds. Running back Vavae Malepeai capped off the impressive drive with an eight-yard touchdown run that put the Trojans up for good. Malepeai credits the whole offensive unit for his surge into the endzone.

“It was great blocking, no doubt,” Malepeai said. “At the end of the day, Coach made a great call and the O-line did a really great job of communicating…Give credit to the O-line; not just the O-line, but the wideouts on the edges blocking. It was a team effort. There’s no individual success. It’s about the team’s success.  I just really grabbed the ball and walked it in the endzone. But it was the guys around me that helped me and pushed me forward into the endzone.”

In regards to what the mood inside the locker room is like over roller-coaster victories against Arizona State and Arizona, Malepeai said the team just takes it in stride.

“It’s a blessing, sure,” Malepeai said. “At the end of the day, Coach Helton says it all the time that we celebrate all wins. And today was a win.”

By all accounts, neither team looked more superior than the other. USC totaled 498 yards on offense. Arizona countered with 444 yards in total offense. Both quarterbacks were on par with one another. Slovis went for 325 yards and a touchdown after completing 30 of 43 passes on the afternoon. Gunnell kept his team competitive throughout the contest with timely throws, passing for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) passes for 325 yards and a touchdown to lead the Trojans to a 34-30 win against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) passes for 325 yards and a touchdown to lead the Trojans to a 34-30 win against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Photo by USC Athletics

Somewhere, playing defense for both teams got lost in the shuffle during this game. What this game boiled down to was who would have the ball last. Unfortunately for the Wildcats that meant the Trojans offense would have the final say in the outcome of this game as it did last week against Arizona State.

That’s not good news for any team having the unwanted task of having to try and stop or prevent the plethora of playmaking wideouts Slovis has at his disposal. Besides London, who had four catches for 68 yards against Arizona, Slovis had his options of Amon-Ra St. Brown (seven catches, 113 yards) and Tyler Vaughns (seven catches, 70 yards) to select from as he steadied the Trojans down the field.

On the Trojans’ winning drive, USC threw the ball five times. On four of those tosses, Slovis went to his go-to guy in St. Brown. St. Brown caught four of those passes for 58 yards. Malepeai finished off USC’s scoring drive with a blast up the gut of the Arizona defense.

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