LOS ANGELES – Despite a hot start and a crushing performance from the USC defense, the Trojans had little room for error early in the fourth quarter of the season opener against San Jose State.
After the offense stalled on three appearances in the red zone, USC was uncomfortable at nine with the ball in the hands of the Spartans. But the shorthanded defense still had a big game up its sleeve.
Senior nickel back Greg Johnson stepped in front of a pass from San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel with a wide open field in front of him. Johnson returned the interception 37 yards for the touchdown and the space the Trojans needed to complete a 30-7 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
It was one of several outstanding defense games. First, linebacker Drake Jackson stepped outside a screen pass to make an interception that set up a 29-yard bouncing touchdown catch from Tahj Washington. True Safety for Newbies Calen Bullock, who started instead of Isaiah Pola-Mao (Health and Safety), had a drive-ending tackle in third place in the first quarter.
San Jose State (1-1) never made it to the USC side of the field in the first quarter and only did so in the second quarter after Ben Griffiths was forced to leave the Trojans’ end zone. USC (1-0) held the Spartans in seven attempts in the first half without a third-down conversion.
And when the Spartans threatened to shorten USC’s 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, USC responded with a stand in the red zone, with Jayden Williams coming up with a goal-line pass resolution and the Trojans a long pass at Fourth down forced to flip the ball on downs.
USC did it all despite a litany of injuries that left starters Jackson, Chris Steele and Nick Figueroa on the bench for much of the second half.
The Trojans scored a 10-0 lead in their first two attacks. The running game got under way, with newbies Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai reaching 114 yards on 19 carries in the first half. Ingram broke a few outer runs that drew oohs and aahs from the 54,398 Coliseum people.
However, the off-season air strike was evident. After completing 12 of his first 14 tries, quarterback Kedon Slovis finished the second quarter 1-for-7 for three yards. Washington and Drake London each made four catches in the first half, but no other receiver was involved as Slovis relied on Malepeai and tight ends instead.
USC ended the first half with a lost fumble, three punts and a field goal.
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The offense continued fighting after half time, opening the third quarter with two punts before making it into the red zone to begin the fourth. But a sack, a quick close to London, and a Slovis goalkeeper weren’t enough to set up the first and goal, and USC had to settle for Parker Lewis’s third field goal of the game.
Slovis, who finished the game 25-on-36 for 263 yards, found Erik Krommenhoek in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown with 2:07 before the game to put the finishing touches on the win.
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