The unranked USC Trojans defeated the Washington State Cougars in a late night shootout at the Coliseum. Heading into the game, the Trojans were 1-2 with two back-to-back losses to No. 7 ranked Stanford and unranked Texas. Head coach Clay Helton had his 17-0 undefeated Coliseum streak on the line. It took a comeback and some late game heroics, but USC was able to pull away with the victory 39-36.
"To be able to get a win at home against a team that's going to be a good team this year up north, it was critical for us," Coach Clay Helton said in his postgame presser. "I think it was critical for our confidence and our psyche too."
After totaling negative yardage in their loss last weekend to Texas, USC got things started on the ground early. It took 80-yards and a few minutes for the Trojans to score the first touchdown on the game's opening drive. A 3-yard run by Vavae Malepeai was only the start of what would be a back-and-forth game.
The Cougars would answer back with a field goal of their own to keep the game close. On Washington State's ensuing drive, the team converted on 4th down twice. Their bravado would pay off with a touchdown.
A back-shoulder fade by JT Daniels into the arms of Tyler Vaughns put the Trojans on top, 14-10.
Unfortunately, from then on USC would spend the rest of the game trailing before finally landing on top. Washington State scored a pair touchdowns in under 10 minutes before the end of the half.
A would-be USC touchdown was not reversed by replay review due to inconclusive evidence. USC would settle for a field goal to end the half, 17-24.
On the game's opening drive of the second half, Washington State would score another touchdown.
Down 17-30, USC needed a big play to keep the game within reach and their Coliseum record intact. A 50-yard score by Michael Pittman Jr. was the shot the Trojans needed to stay alive, 24-30.
The return of linebacker Porter Gustin following a first-half suspension for last weekend's targeting penalty was critical in the Trojan's second-half resurgence. Following a Cougar punt, JT Daniels was able to connect to Mater Dei teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown for a touchdown that would give the Trojans back the lead, 31-30.
Washington State would not let up with the addition of another touchdown to bring back their lead 31-36. Still, USC was able to hold on to get back on top and stay. Malepeai chipped in his second touchdown of the game and Tyler Vaughns hauled in a 2-PT conversion to put the Trojans on top 39-36.
In the game's waning seconds, Washington State attempted a field-goal to tie the game and hopefully put it into overtime. Trojan Jay Tufele would end as the game's hero with his block that allowed the Trojans to take over on downs and end the game, 39-36.
"I've always thought that adversity kind of defines who you are," Helton said. "Being in that second half, down two scores, a bunch of great kids defined who they are as men. I can't tell you how proud I am of them."
- JT Daniels: While Daniels shined in his debut, things have been a bit rocky for the true freshman quarterback. At Stanford, he injured his throwing hand and fell victim to several turnovers. At Texas, he was held without a touchdown. Tonight, Daniels threw for 241-yards and three touchdowns. He showcased exactly why he was named starting quarterback. On Daniels’ performance, Helton said, “He gave those kids opportunities to make plays or get pass interferences.”
- Gardner Minshew: The Washington State quarterback set the tone for the shootout that would become Friday’s home game. Minshew threw for 344-yards and also had three touchdown passes. Whether they were big gains or small gains, Minshew was connecting with his receivers all night.
- USC Receivers: USC’s receiving corps did everything that was asked of them on Friday. They created separation to make big plays, were recipients of several pass interference calls and were on point with Daniels. Whether they were running out of bounds, running downfield, or making Jordan ‘Jumpman-esque’ catches, they made their presence known. On the chemistry building between himself and Daniels, Michael Pittman said, “It’s still not great, but I feel like we’ve been working really hard. I feel like it’s only going get to better.”
- Talanoa Hufanga: The safety was all over the field on Friday night. He created many disruptions, including a pass breakup on 3rd down in the fourth quarter that would force Washington State to punt. That deflection proved crucial as it allowed the Trojans to eat up the clock in the waning minutes. “Our coaches helped get us all ready this week and I’m excited because when that happens we’re able to execute,” Hufanga said.
- Jay Tufele: Tufele provided the late game heroics with his field goal block. The play prevented a tie game and potential overtime continuation. The play itself was something the Trojans anticipated before the game. “I told him [Special Teams Coordinator, John Baxter] that when I get my chance to get it, I’m going to own it,” Tufele said. “I got my opportunity to do it. It was great.”
While USC was able to walk away with their first PAC-12 victory, the Trojans were not without fault. Issues stemming from week one still persist for the Men of Troy.
The Trojans are still unable to limit the amount of explosive plays created by opposing offenses. On four consecutive drives, USC allowed Washington State to score a touchdown. Each drive totaled more than 50-yards and on three drives, the Cougars began at their own 25.
The running game for USC will also need to improve. Starting tailback Aca'Cedric Ware only tallied one carry for negative yardage. Despite the two touchdowns, USC rushed for just 113-yards.
Next weekend, the Trojans will head back on the road to take on unranked Arizona in Tucson. The game take place on Saturday, September 29 and kick-off is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PST.
The Wildcats are 1-2 overall and will open PAC-12 play against the Oregon State Beavers on Saturday.
Quote of the Night:
"It's great to be home, back in the Coliseum," Coach Clay Helton said on the team's win.