Though the USC Trojans did not have the season players and fans hoped for, there were still some shining stars that made the season fun to watch and give the Trojan Family hope for the future.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
One freshman from Mater Dei certainly lived up to his pre-season hype, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The young playmaker led USC in receptions with 60 catches in 2018 and is among historic company as the fourth true freshman to hold the honor behind Trojan greats Robert Woods, Dwayne Jarrett, and Mike Williams.
It did not take long for the Trojan Family to see first hand what the former five-star wide receiver could throw down on the field. In USC’s season opener against the UNLV Rebels, St. Brown recorded 98 yards and a touchdown, with only seven receptions. His first trip to the end zone in cardinal and gold did not disappoint the Coliseum’s eager fans.
JT Daniels throws his first career TD to his guy Amon-Ra St. Brown @jtdaniels06 @amonra_stbrown @USC_Athletics (via @Pac12Network) pic.twitter.com/UWUJKrNDbT— Overtime (@overtime) September 1, 2018
The Mater Dei connection between quarterback JT Daniels and St. Brown was one of the Trojans’ most reliable weapons. In a season of offensive woes, watching St. Brown with the ball wowed fans that were yearning for big plays. Hauling in the long ball was where St. Brown shone, and he finished the season with 750 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.
Michael Pittman Jr.
Third year Trojan Michael Pittman Jr., started out slow but quickly evolved into USC’s leading receiver. A 6-foot-4 danger, he terrorized opponents’ backfields and stole jump balls like he was taking candy from a baby.
Like St. Brown, USC fans delighted every time Pittman Jr. touched the football. His sure hands and explosiveness after the catch, created a welcome outlet for the true freshman Daniels to throw to and gain positive yardage.
The best game of his career came on October 13, when the No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes came to town. Pittman Jr. had 155 receiving yards and two touchdowns in arguably USC’s most complete win of the season.
So JT Daniels has an arm, huh?— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 14, 2018
QB1 finds Michael Pittman Jr. for a 65-yard TD to give the Trojans the lead. #Pac12AfterDark pic.twitter.com/xZ7NqNl6mM
Michael Pittman Jr put a nice move on #2 Harper and took it 50 yards for the TD! #USC pic.twitter.com/K2KxX9HYc0— #FreePhillipDorsett (@ftbeard_17) September 22, 2018
Most of the Trojans’ highlight reel plays this season came from the skill set of Pittman Jr., who averaged 18.5 yards per reception. Without No. 6 on the field, USC’s offense would have been a lot more stale in 2018. Mr. Reliable finished the season with 41 receptions, 758 yards, and six touchdowns.
While the junior is eligible to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, Pittman Jr. has stated that baring a very high draft grade, he will likely be returning to USC to chase All-American honors and secure a captain’s patch.
Though his season ended in injury, true freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga was a glory to watch on the field during his debut season. Hufanga stepped into a starting role after USC’s defense was decimated by injuries and did not let the Trojan Family down.
Hufanga’s first career start came against the undefeated Washington State Cougars on September 21, where he was second in total tackles with nine, and had one crucial third down pass break-up late in the shoot-out game. The freshman’s best game of the season came on the road at Utah, where he flew across the field wrapping up for 12 total tackles and another clutch third down break-up.
Though he only played in eight games, Hufanga led all freshman in tackles with fifty-one. He tied senior linebacker Cameron Smith with four passes broken up and was not shy about making momentum swinging plays whenever the situation presented itself. When Hufanga made a rare freshman mistake, he was not one to repeat it, showing the Trojans that he will be a reliable safety for years to come.
it's never alarmed me until now but this the 3rd or 4th pass deflection at the LOS against Manny Wilkins. I wonder if USC got the timing down on some of his passes or maybe I'm overthinking this whole thing and it's just the fact that Talanoa Hufanga is a baller for USC. pic.twitter.com/7ZTO5QJXfc— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) November 7, 2018
Do not be surprised if next season you see Hufanga starting at safety for USC. After suffering a broken collarbone in the Trojans’ loss to Arizona State, Hufanga was sorely missed in USC’s defensive rotation but will be a welcome source of production once he gets back on the field in 2019.