Southern California returned 16 starters looking to make noise in the PAC-12 conference after an 8 win season last year.
The Trojans did that and kept their College Football Playoff berth hopes alive in dramatic fashion in their season opener.
No. 20 USC recovered an onside kick late in the closing minutes and overcame a 13 point deficit with under three minutes to go in the fourth and rallied to defeat the Arizona State Sun Devils 28-27 on Saturday morning at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“I tried to stay positive. When it was 27-14 I was going up and down the sidelines saying, ‘Guys, I’m looking at it right now, you’re going to win this game 28-27. It’s going to take two scores, we’re going to have to treat it like a two-minute drive, go to our two-minute drive rules, we’re going to get a touchdown, get an onside kick and go score again,” said USC coach Clay Helton.
On fourth-and-13 from just beyond the red zone with 2:52 remaining, Trojans sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis launched a ball in the corner of the end zone intended for junior wide out Amon-Ra St. Brown and freshmen Bru McCoy.
The ball was deflected by defenders and floated right into the hands of McCoy for the touchdown, cutting the Trojans deficit to 27-21.
“I thought the whole sideline stayed positive, didn’t panic, stayed poised and just really played situational mastery football the whole way,” added Helton.
USC (1-0) then drew up a perfect onside kick that was muffed by an Arizona State (0-1) player, allowing the Trojans to recover and have a chance for a game-winning drive.
Slovis stayed poised and led his team back into the red zone and then found two-sport sophomore Drake London for a 21-yard touchdown to take a go ahead 28-27 lead with 1:20 to play.
“That play was a play we run all the time,” Slovis said. “There was three steps and a hitch ball, and Drake did the rest for me.”
Slovis finished 40-of-55 for 381 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while London had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score. St. Brown finished with seven catches for 100 yards.
Arizona State sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels threw for 134 yards and a touchdown, also rushing for 111 on 11 carries.
The Sun Devils totaled 258 rushing yards, compared to the Trojans 175. However, USC finished with 556 total yards while ASU had 392.
Arizona State freshman tailback DeaMonte Trayanum rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, while junior wide out Rachaad White had three catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
USC senior tailback Stephen Carr ran in a two-yard score in the first to give the Trojans a 7-3 lead, but Trayanum responded with a 25-yard scoring run to put the Sun Devils back up 10-7 with 10:39 left in the second.
Sophomore running back Markese Stepp capped off a 13 play 80 yard drive by scoring a one-yard touchdown to take a 14-10 lead for the Trojans.
Daniels then quickly responded with a 55 yard screen pass score to White to give ASU a 17-14 halftime lead.
The Sun Devils fumbled twice in the first half and the Trojans totaled four turnovers on the day, three fumbles and one interception.
Trayanum rushed for his second touchdown of the game with a 17 yard run in the third to take a 24-14 lead, followed by ASU adding a field goal early in the fourth to capture a commanding 13 point lead with 11:23 remaining, 27-14.
At that moment, the game seemingly was slipping away from the Trojans but they stayed poised and made timely plays with 14 unanswered points the rest of the way.
“The thing I’ve learned about college football, they can score at any moment,” said Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards. “We had an opportunity defensively to get off the field a couple of times, and we didn’t do it. We gave their offense life, and they were able to make the plays. I just think we’re going to grow from this, put it behind us and get ready to play next week.”
McCoy’s touchdown followed by London’s score gave USC a 28-27 lead with just over one minute to play.
Daniels and the Sun Devils failed to get in field goal range on their final possession and the Trojans held on to pick up their first conference win of the season in an instant classic.
“I told the guys in the locker room, this is one of those games I don’t care how old I get, I’ll never forget this game,” Helton said. “I’ll never forget this team for all the things that they’ve dealt with in 2020 and the fighters that they are and the competitive people that they are.”
USC next travels to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday. Kick-off is scheduled for 12:30 pacific time on FOX.