By Johnny Curren
It was a big day on both sides of the ball for the Trojans on Saturday as Clay Helton’s squad came up with their third consecutive victory — all against conference opponents — taking down a clearly overmatched Arizona team in Tucson, 48-14.
In a game featuring big-time performances by USC quarterback Sam Darnold and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Wildcats (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) looked like they might be able to keep things close initially, but with the game tied 7-7 mid-way through the first quarter, the Trojans (4-3, 3-2 Pac-12) seized firm command of the contest in a hurry, with three defensive plays playing a key role.
Following an 11-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to Deontay Burnett that put USC in front 14-7, the Trojans came up with a crucial turnover to start the second quarter, as Chris Hawkins jarred the ball loose from Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, with Adoree’ Jackson making the recovery and returning it 27 yards. Just two plays later Darnold hit a diving Daniel Imatorbhebhe for an 8-yard touchdown to extend USC’s lead to 14.
Arizona appeared poised to answer the Trojans’ score, but after driving all the way down to the USC one-yard-line, Tate’s pass on fourth down sailed incomplete.
The Trojans defense would come up clutch again a little later in the quarter, with Iman Marshall intercepting a Tate pass with in Arizona territory, and on the ensuing drive, Darnold hit Smith-Schuster for a three-yard touchdown.
USC’s first-half scoring run wasn’t complete, as Darnold hit Smith-Schuster with a pass outside, with the talented junior running through and everyone in his path, before darting down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown, giving the Trojans a 41-7 lead just before halftime.
Darnold and Smith-Schuster would connect one more time, early in the third quarter, with the big wide receiver out-leaping a defender on a deep pass before cruising into the end zone on a 46-yard touchdown play.
Smith-Schuster finished with nine grabs for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Darnold, meanwhile, completed 20 of 32 passes for 235 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 54 yards.
Aca’Cedric Ware would follow an Arizona touchdown with a 21-yard touchdown run of his own to cap off USC scoring for the day. The sophomore out of Cedar Hill (Texas) led the Trojans in rushing on Saturday, compiling 103 yards on 12 carries. Ronald Jones II and Dominic Davis also enjoyed productive days, with Jones amassing 77 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries, and Davis carrying the ball seven times for 89 yards – 85 of which came on a single run.
Defensively, the Trojans shut down Arizona’s passing game, with Tate completing just 7 of 18 passes for 58 yards – although he did compile 78 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
It wasn’t all good news for the Trojans on Saturday – particularly in regard to the USC wide receiver corps. Steven Mitchell went to the sideline in the second quarter with a leg injury, and Smith-Schuster went out with a back injury in the third quarter. According to Helton, Smith-Schuster’s X-Rays came back negative, however, and he is expected to be fine.
Following a bye, USC will next face California on Thursday, Oct. 27 in the Coliseum.