Dart appears, London suffers ankle injury in victory over Arizona

USC fended off the Wildcats on more than 500 yards of offense.

A photo of Keaontay Ingram celebrating

USC’s 41-34 victory over Arizona Saturday at the Coliseum can be summarized by two words: triumph and tragedy. The Trojans held on to earn their first Pac-12 home win of the season and saw an exciting glimpse of the future with several drives from freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart.

But there was also a somber air in the Coliseum, as junior Drake London — a likely Biletnikoff finalist and 2022 first-round pick who was second in the nation in receiving yards and receptions — was carted off the field in the second quarter due to an ankle injury.

“Drake comes in every single day and works his butt off. He treats every day like game day, so to see a player like that go down, the entire team felt it,” senior running back Keaontay Ingram said. “Losing a player like that in this type of environment is rough. At the end of the day, though, we’ve got to have a 1-0 mentality and it’s just next man up.”

Head coach Donte Williams did not say the severity of the injury, but London was seen wearing a cast and using crutches on the sideline.

Other than London’s absence, the most noticeable difference in Saturday’s game was the Trojans’ two-quarterback strategy. After junior Kedon Slovis had perhaps his best first quarter of the season, hurling two bombs to give the Trojans an early 14-7 lead, Williams brought in Dart in the second quarter as chants of “Let’s go Dart” rang out in the student section.

Dart led two touchdown drives before he was replaced by Slovis late in the second quarter; then in the fourth when USC was up only 10 points, Dart came in again. According to Williams, Dart’s playing time, even in the close fourth quarter, was part of a pre-established plan. Slovis and Dart both said they were not told ahead of time who would play in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore wideout Gary Bryant Jr. said he was surprised by how much Dart played but that he brings “another weapon” with his velocity that has led teammates to call him “Patrick Mahomes.”

Slovis expressed support for Dart but said he wanted to know the reason for the split playing time.

“It’s tough,” Slovis said of the strategy. “Obviously you want to be in and you think you give your team the best chance to win, but that’s Coach’s decision, to make the best decision for the team.

“I want to know why, honestly. Not to take away from Jaxson. He’s a great player, but I just want to know if it was something I was doing to make this happen.”

Although much of the focus was on who would come in next at quarterback, Ingram had the game of his Trojan career, posting a season-high 204 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries — numbers that don’t include long runs that were called back for holding.

USC’s defense has struggled to prevent big plays all season, and it was no different against Arizona. The Wildcats opened up the game with a 73-yard pass from sophomore receiver Jamarye Joiner to senior receiver Tayvian Cunningham to tie the game at seven. Nine Trojan penalties for 100 yards — including seven in the second half — allowed the Wildcats to creep back within one score in the fourth quarter.

The Trojans were able to put pressure on freshman quarterback Will Plummer and Joiner, resulting in five sacks, an impressive count for a defensive line down many of its starters, including redshirt senior Nick Figueroa.

“At the end of the day, there were still too many explosive plays, so we’ve got to clean everything up as a unit,” junior cornerback Chris Steele said. “Overall, though, I was very happy with the entire defense’s play, including my front four. They did everything they were supposed to do out there.”

The victory brings USC to 4-4, one win closer to the six required for bowl eligibility. However, Arizona hasn’t won a game since October 2019, and the Trojans have much tougher opponents left to face.

Next, USC will have an opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when it takes on Arizona State Saturday. It is unclear whether both quarterbacks will see action in Tempe.

“We’ll continue to do what we need to do to win the football game,” Williams said. “[Using both quarterbacks] was what we felt like we needed to do to beat Arizona, so we’ll look at the game plan and see what we need to do to beat Arizona State.”