LOS ANGELES – Saturday’s wild Pac-12 Conference season opener between USC Trojans and the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils produced a dramatic finish as the Trojans came from behind for a 28-27 win after trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter. The game looked to be out of reach for USC when the Sun Devils forced a fumble as the Trojans were approaching the red zone. The Sun Devils recovered the ball at their own 23-yard line.
But USC did what it does best; they fought on.
“I thought it was great mastery of situational football,” USC head coach Clay Helton said during his post-game press conference. “It was a terrific job by Kedon [Slovis] to give his guys a chance to go get the ball.”
The outcome of the game could have easily been different if several plays did not go the Trojans way. On the second to last USC drive that started on their own 25-yard line, quarterback Slovis found senior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns to convert a 4th-and-3 play that was deep in their own territory, keeping the drive alive.
But the crucial play was their second fourth down conversion on that same drive. Slovis took the snap and threw down the left sideline toward the end zone where junior wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown was in double coverage and could not pull the ball in. The pass took a deflection and fell right into the hands of true freshman wideout Bru McCoy, who was aware of the ball and made the catch for the touchdown, making the score 27-21 with 2:52 left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Trojans elected to go for the onside kick to give themselves a chance at getting the ball back quickly with good field position. ASU muffed the onside kick, allowing McCoy to recover the onside kick for the Trojans, giving them the ball at their own 45-yard line.
The final USC drive started off with a strong running game, gaining 33 yards on two carries. Facing a fourth-and-9 from the ASU 21 yard line, Slovis found wideout Drake London in the end zone, threading the needle right over two ASU defenders and placing the ball where only London was able to come down with it. The late touchdown gave USC a 28-27 lead over the Sun Devils with 1:20 left on the clock.
The Sun Devils got to their own 43-yard line, but could not gain another first down and turned the ball over to the Trojans, who lined up in victory formation to end the game.
“We had an opportunity to finish the game in the fourth quarter,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said after the game. “We didn’t finish the game, you have to give them credit. They made the plays they needed to make. WE did not, whether it was on offense, defense or special teams so I got to give those guys credit. I think going forward I told our football team then we got to grow from this moment because when you get an opportunity like this they are very difficult to find and put yourself in this position. You got what three or four minutes let in the game and you couldn’t close it out.”
Slovis completed 72.7% of his passes for 381 yards and two touchdown passes. London led all receivers with eight catches for 125 yards and one touchdown while St. Brown logged seven catches for 100 yards on the day. As a team, USC rushed for 175 yards while averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the conference opener.
USC may have come away with the win, but the rust of not playing a full-speed game with contact became evident in various parts of the game. The Trojans defense allowed Arizona State to run for 258 yards. ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels ran for 111 of those yards on 11 carries.
The Trojans offense struggled with turnovers all day, gifting the Sun Devils one turnover in each quarter. Two turnovers came inside the ASU red zone. One fumble occurred in the first quarter on the goal line as running back Vavae Malepeai attempted to reach the end zone, which was recovered by the Sun Devils in the end zone for a touchback.
The other red zone turnover was an interception thrown by Slovis at the ASU 10 yard line towards the end of the first half. The third quarter turnover was another fumble, this time by Vaughns with 10:05 left in the game. Running back Markese Stepp fumbled the ball in the fourth to give ASU the ball with 6:04 left to play.
“We all made mistakes, it wasn’t just one guy,” Helton said. “There was a lot of rust, but this team can be special. There’s a lot of playmakers on both sides of the ball. If we can eliminate the mistakes, then we can be a very good team.
The Trojans will be traveling to Tucson, Ariz. to face off against the Arizona Wildcats next Saturday and will look to maintain an undefeated record. The Wildcats did not play this week since their matchup against the Utah Utes was canceled because of COVID-19 cases among the Utah players.
Editor’s note: Top image photo credit: John McGillen/USC Athletics
Jeremy is an intern at News4usonline currently working on his BA in communications at CSUDH. He grew up in the southeast LA neighborhood of Huntington Park and enjoys watching soccer, football, basketball and baseball.