USC rushes to Washington state in comeback victory

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After losing 14-0 early in the game, USC retaliated with several defensive-forced turnovers. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan Horse)

A skyrocketing third quarter on the shoulders of an unlikely hero in backup freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart propelled the Trojans to a 45-14 comeback victory on Saturday over Washington State.

“The guys played hard. They came out after half-time and they played even harder, ”interim head coach Donte Williams said in the post-game press conference on Saturday. “Our whole motto is to make sure we go 1-0.”

Williams was unable to take an early break as junior quarterback Kedon Slovis was forced out of the game with an injury after being sacked in game three of the game. Williams said Slovis should be able to train this week.

Dart stepped in, immersed in his first college football game, facing a 7-0 deficit with all of the Trojan fans looking to get a glimpse of the post-Clay Helton era.

In his first practice, Dart pulled off a solid 18-meter run and did a few completions. However, Dart had a pass intercepted by graduate student Daniel Isom and the Cougars took the opportunity to put the Trojans in a 14-0 first hole.

USC appeared to be heading for a second straight loss until a 38-yard Dart bomb to second wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. in fourth place electrifies Williams’ squad before the halftime break.

The Trojans came out of the locker room for the third quarter in continuity and with one goal in mind: to give the ball to Drake London.

The star junior receiver exploded in the third quarter, finishing with 13 catches, 170 yards and two touchdowns. Dart constantly looked to London as the momentum of the game shifted, before London took a blow to the head on their second touchdown reception that kept them out of the rest of the game.

Dart threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns, the most yards by a USC quarterback in his debut. The Trojans gave up the running game for much of the game, with Dart attempting a total of 46 passes.

“I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a bunch of guys and a bunch of coaches who show a ton of resilience and have a lot of confidence in each other,” Dart said.

The offense wasn’t the only team that looked like a whole different team – the invigorated defense of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando threw a shutout in the second half after two Washington State touchdowns in the first.

Part of USC’s defensive success can be attributed to Laura’s second-year quarterback Jayden’s left knee injury mid-game, turning it into a save battle.

Orlando implemented other ploys that put junior linebacker Drake Jackson on the defensive line, where he inflicted terror on the Cougars’ offensive line. His only sack of the day came late in the third quarter to give the Trojans a 28-14 lead, stripping quarterback Victor Gabalis in the end zone. Second-year defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu pounced on the ball to give USC a two touchdown lead, seemingly ending the game.

“Really, we just want to fly and run and hit,” Jackson said. “We really don’t want to give up any points, so the 14 points we gave up [made us] a little angry about it and [we] came out in the second half and really showed it.

USC’s comeback victory on the road could prove to be the morale-boosting victory the Trojans needed to prove they are capable of dominating the Pac-12.

USC will look to capitalize on the win when it returns to the Coliseum on Saturday to face Oregon State at 7:30 p.m.

Anthony Gharib contributed to this story.


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