On Saturday, No. 14 USC jumped back into the win column after last week’s loss to Washington State, as it defeated Oregon State 38-10 on Saturday at the Coliseum.
“A good win for our football team — any Pac-12 win is,” head coach Clay Helton said. “[We’re] 1-0 on the week, 5-1 on the season, and looking at the game without watching the film yet, I really felt like our defense did an amazing job.”
While it was an all-around strong performance for the Trojans on both sides of the ball, redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold was unable to depart from his recent turnover-prone play. In the first quarter, he fumbled the ball on his own 23-yard line in a play eerily similar to last week’s fumble against Washington State.
Then with three minutes left in the first half, Darnold threw his ninth interception of the year, failing to see a linebacker float to the ball in coverage. He almost gave up the ball again in the second half, fumbling on his own 21-yard line, but redshirt junior left tackle Toa Lobendahn recovered it on the one-yard line, narrowly avoiding a safety. Darnold had thrown nine interceptions all of last season.
“I think honestly, I’m stopping the offense a little bit right now with the way I’m turning the ball over,” Darnold said. “I’ve just got to be better.”
Outside of the turnovers, Darnold looked accurate and poised for the most part behind an offensive line reshaped due to injuries. On the game, he threw for 316 yards, completing 23 of 35 passes. However, one Oregon State player was less than impressed with the sophomore quarterback’s game.
“Nothing special,” Oregon State cornerback Kyle White said. “He’s a normal Pac-12 quarterback. I didn’t see anything special. He made his throws, made his reads. He fumbled twice. He had one picked off, should’ve been three. He’s OK.”
The Trojans started off fast and furious in their return to the Coliseum after two weeks on the road. Their first drive, which featured a balanced attack between run and pass, was punctuated by a 37-yard touchdown strike from Darnold to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyler Vaughns over the middle. Minutes into the game, Darnold completed his longest pass since Week 3 against Texas. Vaughns finished with five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The Trojans’ fast start was not limited to the offensive side of ball. Immediately following the touchdown drive, Oregon State quarterback Darrell Garretson threw an interception to a leaping sophomore cornerback Jack Jones, placing USC deep in enemy territory. Junior running back Ronald Jones II scored on a four-yard option a few plays later, giving his team an early 14-0 advantage. With the touchdown, Jones has scored in 12 consecutive games that he’s played in. While more emphasis was placed on the passing game, Jones still turned in a solid day at the office. He finished with 79 yards, averaging over six yards a carry.
“I’ve been practicing with those guys all week,” Jones said about the reshuffled offensive line. “I felt comfortable trusting the guys and the reads.”
The home team would exit the first half with a 21-3 lead, with USC’s third touchdown coming on a 16-yard touchdown catch by junior receiver Deontay Burnett early in the second quarter. Celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday, Burnett scored his team-leading sixth receiving touchdown of the year.
The Trojans’ offensive momentum continued into the second half. After Oregon State was forced to punt, the team efficiently drove 91 yards in just over three minutes, scoring a touchdown when Darnold found freshman tight end Josh Falo wide open on a wheel route for 30 yards. It was both Falo’s first career touchdown and first career reception.
Freshman placekicker Chase McGrath added a 29-yard field goal with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter on what would be Darnold’s final drive of the game. In backup redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Fink’s first career drive, he burst open for a 51-yard touchdown run on a read option play. After the freshman’s dynamic rush, USC fans were treated to another special moment, as blind redshirt sophomore long snapper Jake Olson once again came onto the field to snap for the extra point. As the crowd roared, Olson delivered a perfect snap.
“Credit to old Matty Fink,” Helton said. “Matt did a wonderful job getting in there and making the most of his opportunity. I’d like to thank coach [Gary] Andersen for the class he showed for allowing us to get Jake in to perform his craft.”
The Trojan defense turned in a dominant performance on Saturday afternoon. In addition to Jones’ early interception, redshirt sophomore Christian Rector came up with an important fumble recovery in the third quarter, just as the Beavers were making a push for the end zone. The defensive lineman has shown a knack for finding the football; he has two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles on the season.
“This guy [Rector] is becoming a superstar in the last four games,” Helton said. “[He] continues to show up in big ways as we enter the month of October here.”
Overall, the defense gave up one touchdown on the afternoon, when Oregon State running back Atavis Pierce ran it in from six yards out in the fourth quarter.
“I think we played pretty well,” senior safety and team captain Chris Hawkins said. “The score says we played well, the stats say we played well. I think we can get a lot better. I’m not satisfied, but I think it was a good win for us.”