USC takes down WSU in 38-13 blowout

Junior wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown’s (right) first four receptions of the game were all first-quarter touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Drake London (15) led USC with 92 receiving yards on the night. (James Wolfe / Daily Trojan)

The CFP No. 20 Trojans took care of business in their return to the Coliseum Sunday with a 38-13 victory over Washington State. USC is now 4-0 with one game left before a potential Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.

The Trojans logged 28 unanswered points in the first quarter, an early offensive breakout from which the Cougars would never recover. Junior wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown became sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis’ go-to target, tying the NCAA record for most touchdowns by a single player in a quarter with four. 

“The last game I remember having four touchdowns in a game was actually my first game in high school as a junior,” St. Brown said after the game. “So for it to come today was actually crazy for me. You know, in college, to score four touchdowns is very uncommon, so I’m just glad my teammates and my coaches trusted in me.”

The offense ended the first 15 minutes of play with a total of 134 yards and a commanding lead. Slovis spread the ball around fairly evenly, with wide receivers sophomore Drake London and redshirt senior Tyler Vaughns finishing with five receptions each and St. Brown hauling in seven of his own. 

“It was awesome that [St. Brown] got to score every time, but at the same time, we were getting the ball out to everyone and everyone was just executing and playing excited,” Slovis said. “I think that was the biggest difference from when we’re playing well and when we’re not — really just playing excited and executing and doing your job.”

The Trojans’ defense also did its part to build the early cushion. USC forced multiple turnovers in the first quarter, including an interception and parkour-style return by junior safety Talanoa Hufanga that put the Trojans to the WSU 4-yard line.

“I thought they led the way right from the start,” Helton said of the defense after the game. “We talked about really trying to make Washington State one-dimensional and try to shut down a back [redshirt senior Deon McIntosh] that had had 119 yards per game. And all of a sudden you looked up and [they] have 73 total rushing yards. That allowed us to really have some third down situations where we could get out after the quarterback [freshman Jayden de Laura] and produce four sacks and three turnovers.” 

Slovis looked like he was on his way to a historic night in the first half. At one point he maintained an 18-pass completion streak, connecting on every attempt in the first half except his first. 

But right out of halftime, the Cougars adjusted and shut down the Trojans’ offensive efficiency. Slovis exited the game after three hard sacks followed by a visit to the medical tent to examine what Slovis said was an awkward fall on his funny bone. He eventually returned in the fourth quarter and finished with 287 yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions on 25-of-32 passing. 

USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando adjusted from shutting down Utah’s run game two weeks ago to wearing down WSU’s passing game this week. The Cougars went 5-for-13 on third down conversions and turned the ball over three times.

“I thought [Orlando] did an amazing job. We walked in and we were really nervous. When you looked at them skill-wise, you looked at the two slot receivers and you looked at the running back and how much yardage and production that they were putting up,” Helton said. “I thought for a young quarterback, especially in the first half, [the defensive scheme] was hard to get a hold of and really figure out. So extremely creative by [Orlando] and credit to the kids because they really dove into it this week, perfected it and then brought it to the park on game day.”

Hufanga led USC’s defense with nine total tackles, an interception and a sack. Hufanga’s performance was complemented by junior cornerback Olaijah Griffin, who recorded his first career interception, and redshirt junior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa, who finished with three sacks. The Trojans wore down de Laura, and after three sacks and two interceptions the Cougars brought in a replacement.

In a fanless Coliseum, the Trojan sideline was the energy source for big plays on both sides of the ball. 

“It’s so awesome to be able to see these guys who love each other so much and play for each other so much just have fun together over the last two weeks,” Helton said.

USC will have to maintain this momentum in next week’s crosstown rivalry matchup against UCLA to make it an undefeated regular season.

USC is scheduled to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl Saturday. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m.