With the loss of Michael Pittman Jr. to the 2020 NFL Draft, the USC football team had a large gap on their offensive roster. Last season, Pittman led the Trojans with 1275 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. In Saturday’s match against Pac-12 South opponent Arizona State, sophomore Drake London took over Pittman’s former role as the most dominant player. Besides hauling in the game-winning touchdown on a crucial fourth-and-long, London had eight receptions for 125 yards. With his game-winning touchdown catch, London has now caught a touchdown pass in six consecutive games. Along with London’s big game, junior Amon-Ra St. Brown also had seven receptions for 100 yards. Overall, Slovis has dangerous receivers to connect with and any one of them could pull in a reception when the Trojans need it most.
The Trojans' first trip to the red zone did not go smoothly. Redshirt senior running back Vavae Malepeai fumbled the ball when he tried to outstretch his arm past the goal line. The ball was stripped by ASU’s graduate defensive back DeAndre Pierce and resulted in a turnover rather than a touchdown that would have given USC a 7-3 lead. At the beginning of the second half, Slovis was putting passes together with St. Brown and redshirt senior Tyler Vaughns until Vaughns fumbled the ball on a 20-yard completion.
With a third Trojan fumble later in the game, the USC offense had too many costly turnovers that allowed the Sun Devil offense to capitalize on its mistakes. Going into next week’s game against Arizona, the Trojans need to do a better job of securing the ball in the run and pass game while making sure they dot their i’s and cross their t’s on routes.
Although the USC offense struggled to secure the ball, the USC defense forced three fumbles under new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. With 15 years of experience including the past three seasons at Texas, Orlando made an immediate impact for the Trojans through his tactic of an aggressive defense and man-to-man coverage late in the game.
“[Orlando] played man coverage out there, he trusted his defense to put pressure on the quarterback, forced him to get rid of it and the DBs did a hell of a job,” Helton said in the postgame press conference.
The Trojan defense still has room to improve, though. It allowed 258 yards of offense and let Arizona State sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels slip through and move well off the ball.
The Trojans showed poise and patience through all four quarters of football. They remained calm and collected when a flag brought them back five yards making their last attempt to score a 4th-and-long. When the odds were literally against them, they defied those expectations and showed what it really meant to “Fight On.”
“With no fans, you have to feed off each other’s energy,” Slovis said postgame.
Fans could see the confidence of the Trojans through each connected pass, each defensive tackle and each touchdown. The team chemistry was there, and it allowed USC to come up big in the end to stun the Sun Devils in a much-needed win to keep its playoff hopes alive.
With the win over Arizona State, USC held onto it’s No. 20 ranking on the AP Top 25 Poll along with fellow Pac-12 contender Oregon who climbed to No. 11. With both teams 1-0, these top Pac-12 teams still have six more games to state their case and prove they are worthy for the College Football Playoff. Both have to win out their seasons and then go head-to-head in the championship game to even be considered by the panel. It will not be easy, but the Trojans showed on Saturday that it’s definitely possible to beat the odds.
This week the Trojans travel to Tucson, Arizona to play the Wildcats on Nov. 14 at 12:30 p.m. PT. USC has a seven-game winning streak against Arizona, with only two losses since 2001.