The USC Trojans beat the Arizona Wildcats 41-34, but they made it way harder for themselves than they should have.
USC wins their second home game of the season — and the first to a Pac-12 opponent — and Arizona continues the season winless and extends their losing streak to 20 games.
For the first time in three weeks, we saw the return of USC freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart to the field, both in practice during the week and in the game Saturday.
He finished the game with 109 yards on 12-for-18 passing, plus two touchdowns. Junior quarterback Kedon Slovis started and ended the game and he finished with 192 yards on 14-for-20 passing with two touchdowns and a pick that was run back for a touchdown.
But with all good news for the Trojans comes some bad news in the form of junior star wide receiver Drake London’s hard fall on a touchdown pass and the medical staff having to cart him off and put a cast on his right ankle.
He finished the game with nine catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. He went into the game ranked second in the country in receptions and receiving yards.
It has since been announced that he fractured his ankle and is lost for the season. London has been bothered by the ankle all season long in a few games and in practices.
With their main target out of the game, USC began using all three of their running backs at different times in the game. Senior Keaontay Ingram led the team with 26 carries for a career-high 204 yards and a touchdown, redshirt sophomore Darwin Barlow had eight rushes for 28 yards, and fifth-year senior Vavae Malepeai had six carries for 17 yards.
Last week was the first time this season any running back saw more than 15 carries in a game when Ingram finished with 24 carries for 138 yards, but back-to-back 20-plus carry games is even rarer.
“Running back is just a feel — just getting into rhythm, not only me but with my offensive line as well, and when my number is called, I just have to go execute,” he said. “One thing that we believe in — Coach Donte [Williams] preaches it all the time — [is to] be physical and bring that physicality, and I believe we did that on the line of scrimmage today.”
Slovis also had a little bit to say about the running back that has been playing behind him a lot lately — Ingram.
“He’s been great,” Slovis said. “Explosive player, and you saw — obviously one got called back — but he can turn a 15-yard explosive play into a touchdown, so that’s something that’s huge for us, and if we can run the ball like that and have almost 200 yards rushing on the night, that’s a game-changer for us.”
Williams was asked if they’d be running the ball more with London possibly out for some time, and he gave the usual answer: “I think we’re going to do what we need to do.”
The Trojans went up by as much as 20 points before the Wildcats started to claw their way back into it starting with the interception touchdown at the beginning of the third quarter and went on a 17-3 run to get within a touchdown with six minutes left in the game — but the Trojans kept their composure and went down the field to get some points on the board to seal it.
“Tonight, it was the penalties,” Williams said about the team’s second-half problems this season. “I mean, you see explosive plays and you see us break long runs, but you see all of a sudden they get called back. At the same time, our offense wasn’t about passing the ball and that — it was about sustaining the lead, and if you all take some of those penalties off, it’ll be completely different. … That’s about us making sure we correct it.”
The defense gave up 339 yards in the air, including a 73-yard pass for a touchdown, as well as 127 yards on the ground. Nonetheless, USC’s defense held the Wildcats at different times. They finished with five sacks as a team and had eight tackles for a loss.
“Up front, Tuli Tuipulotu had two sacks, Drake Jackson had a sack, Jacob Lichtenstein had a sack, so whenever you have four big plays on a quarterback like that, as someone in the secondary, I’m always happy about that,” USC cornerback Chris Steele said. “At the end of the day, there were still too many explosive plays, so we’ve got to clean everything up as a unit. Overall though, I was very happy with the entire defense’s play, including my front four. They did what they were supposed to do out there.”
Williams said the plan to play both quarterbacks during the game came as soon as Dart was fully cleared to play, but Slovis and Dart both said they were informed on Friday. They both didn’t know Dart would go into the game in the fourth quarter with the score within a touchdown until the offense was ready to take the field.
Regardless, both quarterbacks were ready to play, and the plan to use both quarterbacks and multiple running backs is likely going to continue through the rest of the season as needed against Pac-12 opponents.
USC, now 4-4 overall on the season, will prepare to face a tough opponent next week when they travel to Arizona to face Herm Edwards and the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.