Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jay Tufele knew the second he heard the play call that he was going to make a full effort to block the potential game-tying field goal.
“I just get around the guard and go over him and bob swat him,” Tufele said. “I was like ‘hell yeah’ and it was game over.”
A blocked field goal and a high-scoring offense helped USC edge Washington State 39-36 in a shootout at the Coliseum on Friday.
The Cougars attempted a game-tying 38-yard field goal with under two minutes to play, but Tufele blocked it, handing the Trojans the win and getting them back to .500 on the season.
The Trojans edged out the final score thanks to a touchdown by redshirt sophomore running back Vavae Malepeai and a two point conversion to grant them the 3-point lead in the middle of the fourth quarter that would prove to be the final score.
The start of the fourth quarter began the shootout with Mater-Dei duo of freshmen quarterback JT Daniels and receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown connected for a 30-yard touchdown to steal the lead early in the fourth. The Cougars responded with a touchdown of their own after converting a 4th-and-one attempt.
The win comes at a crucial point in the Trojans’ season as it returns the team to a .500 record both overall and in conference play. Moreover, the victory comes after two tough losses at the hands of Texas and Stanford.
“To be able to get a win at home over a team that’s gonna be a good team this year up [in the Pac-12] North, it was critical for us,” head coach Clay Helton said. “For our confidence and our psyche. To be able to fight back and finish a game in the fourth quarter, it can only build confidence and help your football team.”
The Trojans pounced on Washington State early in the first quarter with an energetic rushing drive. In just five plays on the ground, running backs sophomore Stephen Carr and redshirt sophomore Vavae Malepeai drove the Trojans 75 yards to a touchdown only two minutes into the game.
Defensive rushes from the outside and pressure over the middle, including two batted passes, aided in the Trojans’ efforts to force fourth down situations. However, the Cougars, notorious for attempting fourth down conversions, were able to find their first touchdown after converting on two consecutive fourth downs.
On the offensive front, USC relied on its running backs in the first quarter. The Trojans tallied 68 rushing yards on the ground in the first 15 minutes compared to the Cougars’ six, but WSU’s passing game towered over that of the USC’s by a margin of 43 to six.
USC was quick to fire back this time, opting for an aerial route to the end zone after recognizing that the Cougars defense began stop the rush. Daniels connected with redshirt sophomore receiver Velus Jones Jr. on a 44-yard reception. The long gain set up a touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns to give the Trojans a 4-point edge.
Daniels said his chemistry is improving with receivers junior Michael Pittman Jr., Jones Jr. and Vaughns. Pittman tallied 72 yards, Vaughns recorded 64 yards along with a team high seven receptions and Jones contributed 48 yards.
“We just have more practice time. We’re getting used to each other more,” Daniels said. “I’m learning where they want me to put the ball, and they’re making the plays every time it’s there.”
The second quarter saw USC’s more unpolished side. Preventable penalties and errors aided in Washington State’s favorable field position, resulting in a touchdown which extended the Cougars’ lead to 24-14 with 1:39 left in the half.
The Trojans attempted to break into the end zone to end the first half but were unable to gain 7 points after three attempts from the eight-yard line — and an incomplete pass to Michael Pittman, whose foot appeared to be on the line in the back of the end zone — and settled with a field goal to close the first 30 minutes trailing 24-17.
In the game, Daniels touted 241 yards with three touchdowns compared sophomore quarterback Gardner Minshew II threw for 344 yards with three touchdowns.
USC converted three third downs in the second half, an improvement on their 0-of-4 conversions in the first half.
The Trojans delivered in front of a home crowd of 52,421 after falling behind to the Cougars late in the first half. The victory marked the Trojans 18th consecutive win at the Coliseum.
“We walk out there with a sense of pride because we are at the Coliseum,” senior linebacker Cameron Smith said. “We know walking by everytime in the tunnel we see guys on our right that are painted on the wall that have played there before us and for me it hits me right in the heart. It feels good to be home. Feels good to get this win and move on from here.”
USC will take on Arizona next week in Tucson as Pac-12 play continues.