Third-string QB Jack Sears made his first start for the Trojans and did so impressively finishing the game with 235 yards on 20-of-28 passing and two touchdowns in a losing effort to the Arizona State Sundevils, 38-35.
It was another good game for Michael Pittman Jr. as he finished the game with six receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of a key drop, Tyler Vaughns also had a great day catching four balls for 76 yards and a touchdown as well as throwing for a 36-yard touchdown.
Even tough the Trojans had one of their best scoring games this season, their inability to stop the run and their string of missed tackles kept Arizona State in control during key stretches of the game.
The first half began with plenty of promise for the injury-riddled Trojans. After stalling Manny Wilkins and Co. on their opening drive, Vaughns returned the punt for an 82-yard touchdown—the first of his career.
However, nothing good would come for the Trojans until the end of the first half.
With starting free safety Marvell Tell III ruled out prior to kickoff, and already poor USC secondary was going to have to step against the top wide receiver in college football—the 6’4” athletic freak N’Keal Harry.
On ASU’s second drive, the running game lulled the Trojans and left open for a 44-yard touchdown strike from Wilkins to Harry, tying things up early.
Sears fumbled the ball away on USC’s second drive, mishandling the ball as he attempted to pitch it to Ware. This led to an easy 3-yard touchdown run for Eno Benjamin.
Benjamin continued to terrorize the Trojans as their usual poor tackling failed to wrap up an elusive Benjamin ran for a 49-yard touchdown to cap off his 125-yard, two touchdown first-half performance.
Down 24-7 with 1:46 left in the half, the offense finally began to make things happen. In combination with a higher-tempo offense and defensive penalties, USC drove 90-yards in a little over one minute to give Sears his first career passing touchdown connecting with Michael Pittman Jr. on a nine-yard pass and a 24-14 deficit heading into halftime.
The Trojans got into a rhythm to start the second half. The no-huddle offense consisted of play-actions and RPOs that led to big plays from yards after the catch. After driving 80 yards to open the second half, a jet sweep by Velus Jones from seven-yards out resulted in score for USC.
The ensuing drive for ASU resulted in a fumble by Wilkins and a Trojan recovery—leading to yet another trick play for USC as Tyler Vaughns threw a 36-yard TD pass to Michael Pittman Jr. on an assumed WR screen. Pittman Jr. made a highlight grab as he took the ball away the defender at the jumpball’s highpoint.
The Trojans had all the momentum going up 28-24 with 21 unanswered points and an offense with lots of juice. That didn’t last too long however, as N’Keal Harry returned a punt for a 92-yard score in an unreal fashion—tip-toeing on the sideline and running across the field. This amazing play gave ASU a 31-28 lead and flipped the momentum of the game.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter, the Trojans appeared to be kicking the field goal on fourth-and-one on what would have been maybe a 30-yard attempt. Instead, Clay Helton opted to go for it and failed the conversion.
With less than two minutes left in the game and one time out left, the Trojan defense needed a stop to keep the game alive. Rather, Wilkins kept the handoff on the third down option play and scored a 45-yard touchdown to end the game.
The Trojans would ultimately score on a quick 48-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns but alas, it was too little, too late.
The Trojans will once again play a Pac-12 After Dark game as they take on the Oregon State Beavers next Saturday night, but they’re going to have to correct many issues on both sides of the ball to be competitive in that contest.