The USC Trojans know they have a strong defense, and they showed just how dominant their defense is with a forced fumble on the first snap of the game.
The USC Trojan offense got off to a slow start. The UNLV Rebels defense kept the Trojans out of the end zone the entire first quarter, forcing the Trojans to kick four field goals. Chase McGrath was the unsung hero of the day, ending with five field goals to tie a school record. It was the Rebels that found the end zone first when the Trojans defense gave up a 71 yard run to UNLV senior, Lexington Thomas. It was a back and forth contest in the first half, and after their sluggish start, the Trojans went into half time with a slim 19-14 lead. Even though many thought that the Trojans offense was no longer the same without last year’s quarterback Sam Darnold, the Trojans showed what their offense was capable of in the fourth quarter.
It took a while for the Trojans to score, but after a scoreless third quarter by both teams, freshman quarterback JT Daniels extended the Trojans lead to 26-14 with a 43 yard touchdown to his high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter. And that was just the start of it, as the Trojans offense would continue to shred the Rebels defense. USC would go on to score two more touchdowns thanks to runs by Aca’Cedric Ware (who finished with 100 yards rushing) and Vavae Malepeai (who finished with 47 yards and two scores) and lead the Trojans to a 43-21 victory.
With all the hype leading up to the game, Daniels, the second ever true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for USC, did not disappoint. He passed for 282 yards, was 22 of 35 passing, threw one touchdown, and did not turn the ball over. Fellow true freshman St. Brown finished with 98 yards receiving and one touchdown. This new look for the Trojan offense showed talent and potential and they hope to continue this success as they take on No. 13 ranked Stanford next week at the Farm.
At the end of the day, the Trojans offense showed that they still are the same team that averaged 32.6 points a game last year. Even though the Trojans run defense gave up 308 yards on the ground, the run defense never panicked and maintained composure to finish the game strong. The Trojans pass defense however played exceptionally well, containing the 2017 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, Armani Rogers, to less than 100 yards passing. The Trojans played an overall complete game in the last half; the offense, defense, and special teams all showed improvements from the 30 minutes prior.
One player that especially stood out was senior Porter Gustin. The outside linebacker who had been working his way back from knee surgery, displayed how valuable he is to the Trojans defense with one and a half sacks, a fumble recovery, and three tackles. In addition, as the season continues, don’t be surprised when young Daniels continues to improve and prove to the nation that being the No. 1 quarterback recruit was no fluke.