After USC dropped 45 straight points on Washington State last weekend, fans proceeded with cautious optimism. But when the hero of that game, freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart, was sidelined indefinitely with a meniscus tear, more questions arose. Would USC be able to replicate its dominant performance? Could USC’s offense rack up points under junior quarterback Kedon Slovis? Could its defense post another second-half shutout?
On Saturday against Oregon State, the answer to all of those questions was a resounding “no.” The Beavers dominated USC on both sides of the ball en route to a 45-27 defeat at the Coliseum.
It was Oregon State’s first win over USC in Los Angeles since 1960. The Trojans hadn’t given up 45 points or more to any opponent since the 2019 Holiday Bowl against then-No. 15 Iowa.
“They outcoached us, they outplayed us and it will all get fixed. I promise you that,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “Our whole message is make sure we go 1-0 and today we did not, we went 0-1. So we have to make sure that we learn from this and come back tomorrow and keep building. It’s a long season.”
Oregon State entered the game as the Pac-12 leader in total offense, and 532 yards on the night certainly won’t hurt that standing. The Beavers gashed USC’s interior defense — a major area of concern for the Trojans this season — with 319 rushing yards, including 158 from redshirt junior running back B.J. Baylor.
USC’s offense — or perhaps Oregon State’s 122 penalty yards — kept the game close in the first half. The Trojans scored in the first quarter for the first time since Week 1 and started to develop a run game with senior Keaontay Ingram monopolizing the carries. Despite a struggling defense, the Trojans only trailed by four at halftime.
But USC has a history of third-quarter offensive struggles apart from last weekend’s barrage, and Saturday was no different. The Trojans, who failed to score a third-quarter touchdown in seven of their previous nine games, were shut out in the third quarter while Oregon State dropped 14 points to essentially put the game out of reach.
Slovis’ role as starting quarterback was called into question after Dart’s breakout performance, and though he put up a season-high 355 yards, he threw three interceptions, fumbled and had the lowest completion percentage among his three full games this season.
“I thought he spun the ball pretty well,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said of Slovis. “The late two picks, it’s a bad situation. The first pick wasn’t on him either. I thought the ball was coming out of his hand well, he made good decisions. And then late, obviously, like I said, you get two picks, they don’t look great. But before that, I thought he was throwing the ball accurately. Just got to find a way to finish the drive, and I think that it was almost like when adversity hit, the energy got sucked out.”
The receiving corps didn’t do Slovis many favors either, as the case of the drops that plagued the Trojans against Stanford resurfaced.
“Especially early I thought we dropped too many passes,” Harrell said. “You’ve got to make the most of your possessions. I do think we had some missed opportunities and at the end of the day just got outplayed.”
Similar to the Stanford game, USC posted 10 points midway through the fourth quarter to make the score look better, but an interception by redshirt junior linebacker Jack Colletto — who also came in at quarterback and rushed for two touchdowns — sealed it for the Beavers.
With two conference losses, USC no longer controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South. The Trojans will hit the road Saturday for their first divisional game of the year against Colorado — a must-win to keep their conference title hopes alive.
“We’ve got a long season and some good, talented players on this team, but we’ve just got to find a way to put it all together,” junior cornerback Chris Steele said. “We got punched in the mouth and we’ve got to bounce back.”
Slovis stressed that the issues the team has faced over the past few years will take time to address.
“This whole thing isn’t going to turn around overnight,” he said. “Coach Donte has done a great job of holding guys accountable, changing the culture and building the culture. You’re not going to see a change in one week. We have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to stay together and stay up.”