USC’s torrid start helps it weather mistakes in win over Arizona State
Ryan Kartje (LA Times) — It was a picture-perfect start, a record-setting, statement-making first quarter for the ages. And within a couple of hours, it was very nearly squandered.
Fresh off its most disappointing defeat of 2019, with coach Clay Helton under fire and its season on the brink, USC burst out of the gates Saturday intent on taking out its frustrations on Arizona State. Quarterback Kedon Slovis came out firing, with 297 yards and four touchdowns in the first quarter. The Trojans’ defense came out ferocious, with just a single yard allowed over that same stretch.
But over the next three quarters, that near-perfection nearly came apart at the seams. What began as a smooth sail to bowl eligibility became a rocky ride just to stay alive, one the Trojans were lucky to survive in a 31-26 victory.
USC couldn’t have asked for a smoother start, as Slovis completed his first 11 passes to open the game, slicing and dicing a defense that ranked among the Pac-12’s best. He hit Drake London from eight yards to cap a steady opening drive. He found Kenan Christon in the flat for a score, then downfield for another as Christon broke tackles to complete a 58-yard play.
With the Trojans backed up on their next drive inside their 5-yard-line, Slovis sent another pass soaring downfield toward a pack of three Sun Devil defenders. But Amon-ra St. Brown burst past the crowd to catch the pass in stride. Ninety-five yards later, USC had its fourth score in the game’s first 14 minutes and a 28-7 lead.
For Slovis, who grew up not far from Sun Devil Stadium, it was a historic start to a much-anticipated homecoming. After one quarter, Slovis had 297 passing yards, more than any college quarterback in a quarter over the past 15 years.
A week after throwing four interceptions in a loss to Oregon, the freshman was on a jaw-dropping pace. Slovis, who left the game for two drives because of cramps, would end up with 432 yards and four touchdowns.
This was pure, unadulterated domination. Arizona State, which was without its own freshman starting quarterback, Jayden Daniels, could barely move the ball. It seemed only a matter of time before the rout was on.
Except, the rout never arrived. Instead, as the Trojans’ offense stalled and the defense diminished and special teams looked far less than special, USC found itself up just a single score with three minutes remaining and Arizona State marching.
USC would ultimately hang on, holding off Arizona State over the final minutes. But the fact that the Sun Devils were even in the game at all, following a phenomenal first quarter, was certainly a cause for concern.