LOS ANGELES — History was made at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who entered this season with no expectation of starting a game, broke the USC single-game passing yards record. Slovis notched 515 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 52-35 win over UCLA, surpassing the 493 yards Matt Barkley put up against Arizona in 2012.
“Obviously, it’s an honor to be up on that list,” Slovis said. “I think it just reflects on the receiving corps and the players around me. I don’t think any of those other [USC quarterbacks] had the opportunity to have four other receivers do that.”
The Trojans closed the season with an 8-4 record — with a 5-1 record in the second half of the season. In 2018, USC finished with a 1-5 record in the final six games.
The USC offense was firing on all cylinders, as the air-raid offense was in full effect. Four USC receivers passed the 100-yard mark; freshman Drake Jackson led the receiving corps with 142 yards, and senior Michael Pittman Jr. notched 104 yards and two touchdowns in his final game at the Coliseum.
“I think we’re a special group of receivers,” sophomore wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “I think it’s just a testament to how hard we work, the O-line blocking it up and the quarterback getting us the ball.”
Harrell’s offense saw a much improved red-zone efficiency. It reached the red zone six times and scored on each trip — five of which resulted in touchdowns.
The rushing game saw a resurgence with the return of juniors Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai. Carr found the end zone for the first time since returning from an ankle injury a week ago, while Malepeai notched two touchdowns in his first game back after a knee surgery.
“There’s no ceiling I feel like,” Malepeai said. “I feel like as long as we can continue to execute every time, every play, do our job and not turn the ball over or make any mental mistakes with flags, the sky's the limit.”
On the defensive side of the ball, USC was tasked with containing sophomore dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and redshirt senior star running back Joshua Kelley. The focus for USC was on limiting Kelley.
“Coach was preaching all week to stop the run,” redshirt sophomore Greg Johnson.
The Trojan defense held Kelley to 45 yards and one touchdown — a far cry from his 289-yard performance against USC last season.
“[Kelley] was a star, last year, of that game and to shut him down and keep him under 1,000 yards [for the season] tonight was a big deal,” senior defensive lineman Christian Rector said.
Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga notched a new best for tackles in a single game with 18 — the most since Troy Polamalu in 2001. The USC legend was in attendance as he was recognized for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Hufanga had a chance to speak with Polamalu after the game.
“Opportunity of a lifetime,” Hufanga said. “Dream come true, been looking up to him for a long time now.”
Early in the game, the defense had to pick up the slack of the offense and special teams unit. The Trojan defense held the Bruins within their own territory on the opening drive, until a running into the kicker penalty gave the Bruins’ offense the ball back resulting in the game-opening touchdown.
The Trojan defense followed this up by cutting UCLA’s next few drives short — posting two three-and-outs and a red-zone interception courtesy of redshirt sophomore cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart.
But even the early defensive prowess couldn’t help a special teams unit that was all over the place, as St. Brown muffed a punt return which was recovered by UCLA. At one point, the field goal unit only had 10 players on the field, forcing USC to call a timeout early in the second quarter.
“There are some things that happened today that we need to clean up,” Helton said.
The Trojans’ destiny is now out of their hands. USC is still in contention for a Pac-12 Championship bid barring a No. 7 Utah loss to either Arizona or Colorado. The more likely scenario is that USC will compete in either the Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl come December.