JT Daniels shines in debut as No. 15 USC defeats UNLV 43-21 in season opener

JT Daniels delivers in debut as Trojans put away Rebels in home opener.

The No. 15 ranked USC Trojans opened the season with a 43-21 win against UNLV Rebels on Saturday.

JT Daniels, a true freshman, who reclassified in order to join the Trojans this season delivered in his season debut going 22/35. Daniels, who threw for 282 yards also completed his first touchdown pass to former Mater Dei teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Daniels, the 2017 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, threw for more yards in his debut then USC's other true freshman starter, Matt Barkley did in his. Still, Daniels was not without fault. The young quarterback suffered from a very uneven performance early on.

In his first series following a fumble recovery, Daniels went 0-2. He struggled to develop a connection with established receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns.

When Daniels finally settled in, the Trojans were quickly able to pull away from the Rebels.

The USC secondary performed well given the amount of turnover from last season and last-minute changes heading into the afternoon's contest.

The team forced a turnover via fumble on the game's first play and was responsible for forcing several three-and-out drives. Their work allowed Daniels to get the ball back often and build up his confidence as the game progressed. Still, the team fell victim to several explosive plays.

Two of those explosive plays were trick plays. A reverse allowed UNLV running back Lexington Thomas to complete a 71-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, a fake punt resulted in a 36-yard run that later ended in a touchdown.

Overall, Coach Clay Helton was impressed with the way the team was able to come together. "The thing I am really happy about is that game could have gone a different way if we didn't play clean football," Helton said in his post-game press conference. The Trojans only tallied 38 yards off four penalties.

"When you're not in chemistry, don't add fuel to the fire," continued Helton. "The kids just stayed patient, they didn't make mistakes, they didn't make the critical errors. They played nice, sound football, and just let it come to them."

When it finally came, the Trojans were able to put away the Rebels to open 1-0 on the season.

5 Stars:

  1. JT Daniels: The college football world leaned in to watch Sam Darnold’s heir apparent compete, and he delivered. First series jitters aside, Daniels was largely accurate in his throws.

Daniels was able to establish an early connection with Mater Dei teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown and later established rapport with USC's other receivers including Michael Pittman Jr. and Trevon Sidney. Daniels also tested his arm strength on a couple of deep throws including a big pass to  Trevon Sidney following a sack.

  1. Amon-Ra St. Brown: While St. Brown was not listed as a starting receiver on the depth chart, he worked his way into several packages. The freshman quickly made his presence known on those plays. St. Brown finished the day with 7 receptions, good for 98 yards and one touchdown. He was just 26 yards shy of matching JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Week 1 freshman receiving record.

St. Brown was able to get himself open for Daniels early, helping ease Daniels into the game after a slow first series. The Mater Dei product was also on the receiving end of Daniels first touchdown pass, something he was proud of. "It was special for me to get my first touchdown in the coliseum," St. Brown said in the post-game.

  1. Chase McGrath: The former walk-on delivered consistently for the Trojans. While the offense took time to get together, McGrath converted field goal after field goal.

In total, McGrath chipped in five field goals. He tied the USC single-game record set by Ryan Killeen in 2004 with his performance. McGrath kept the Trojans in the game before the Trojans were able to pull away from the Rebels.

  1. Tailbacks: Replacing Ronald Jones is no easy task. The NFL draftee posted back-to-back 1000-yard rushing seasons before departing USC in the spring. Heading into Saturday’s game Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, and Vavae Malepeai were all listed as co-starters.

Each player made the most of their opportunities on the field. Ware had an even day on the field, going for 100-yards on 10 touches with one touchdown. Meanwhile, Carr was good for 54-yards on 9 carries including an explosive 40-yard play before the end of the first half. Finally, Malepeai scored two touchdowns across 47-yards on 8 carries. The first touchdown brought the Trojans ahead of the Rebels, while his final score put UNLV away for good. The Trojans will look to continue mixing in the trio in order to keep opposing defenses on their toes.

  1. Porter Gustin: On August 8, Porter Gustin underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He was expected to miss 2-to-5 weeks.

Today, Gustin put away any doubt about his health. In his season debut, Gustin had 1.5  sacks and a fumble recovery on the first play of the game.

On his performance and simply being back on the field, Gustin had this to say: "It was great and I'm just blessed to be able to play with my brothers out there again in the coliseum."

The Takeaway:

USC will need to tighten their defense quickly if they expect to compete against No. 13 ranked Stanford next week. Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love will look to take advantage of the Trojan's inability to stop explosive plays.

On defense, USC will look to keep Love in check and force Stanford to turn the ball over. Meanwhile on offense, the Trojans will look to mix in their trio of tailbacks while also furthering the connection Daniels has with St. Brown.

Look Ahead:

USC will travel to Palo Alto next week to take on No. 13 ranked Stanford. Stanford made quick work of the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday night in their opener. Quarterback K.J. Costello was able to connect with receivers for over 300-yards and four touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns were brought in by JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Bryce Love, who had a quiet night with only 29 yards rushing will look to get back on track against the Trojans.

Quote of the Night:

"It's hard to put in words what it's like to run out there and hear everybody cheering for you and rooting you on. For my first time in the coliseum, it was really magical," JT Daniels on his debut.