The Fresno State offense created several problems for the USC Trojans, but the Trojans prevailed with a 31-23 victory in their season opening game.
Sophomore quarterback JT Daniels completed 34 passes for 215 yards, junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns made 11 catches from 150 yards and junior tailback Vavae Malepeai had 23 carries for 135 yards.
Former West L.A. College quarterback Jorge Reyna completed 256 passing yards and 109 rushing yards for Fresno State. USC head coach Clay Felton noted that Reyna was good at creating plays
“He had 88 net yards and he kept plays alive for them,” Felton said. “I think we missed some opportunities and missed tackles in the back end, behind the line of scrimmage.”
The early minutes of the game the Trojans had to pivotal plays nullified. During the kickoff, wideout Velus Jones Jr. ran a 61-yard return, which was discarded due to the Trojans having two players with the no. 7 jersey on field. The second came when wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. attempted to score a TD off a 15-yard passing play.
That did not deter the Trojans, as running back Stephen Carr made two trips in the end zone within three regulated minutes. Fresno quarterback Reyna ran a 21-yard keeper put the Bulldogs in position for a field goal.
Malepeai made the rushing plays and Vaughns was a key target for Daniels. Vaughns made a 28-yard advance, helping the Trojans get to the Fresno State 20-yard line to kick a successful field goal.
Reyna continued to make advances on the ground until he sent a 34-yard pass to wideout Derrion Grim on a third down, scoring a touchdown. The USC offense returned to the field, a 26-yard rush from Malepeai would give them a first in goal. Linebacker Justin Rice intercepted Daniels pass, but the USC defense got their revenge by sacking Reyna for a 10-yard loss in Fresno State’s next possession.
“This is fun, coming off ball, really keeping it up tempo,” Malepeai said. “It’ the best feeling in the world to have a head coach that’s always gonna bet on you no matter what.”
The Bulldogs’ defense sacked Daniels near the end of the second quarter, causing the Trojans to lose possession and their starting quarterback who was sidelined with a knee injury. At halftime, the Trojans were up 17-10 against the Bulldogs.
USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis replaced Daniels and quickly made sound passes to the receivers corps. Jones found some momentum for the Trojans with an agile and speedy punt return for a touchdown.
“When you get a chance to hit a home run, hit a home run and so that’s what I did,” Jones said. “I couldn’t have done without my brothers blocking for me.”
On their next possession, Slovis sent a 41-yard bomb to Carr, setting up a first-and-goal situation. Malepeai rushed in a touchdown a few plays later, cementing their score at 31.
As the fourth quarter commenced, the Bulldogs advanced enough to secure a field goal. On their next possession, wide receiver Chris Coleman committed a touchdown catch; this put the Bulldogs within eight points of the Trojans. Although Fresno State kept USC from any big plays in the final minutes, the Trojans secured their first win of the season.
The Trojans will host the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, September 7 at 7:30 p.m.