By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
Within the last few days the USC football program was tested in several ways as they looked to turn things around after getting blow out by Stanford the previous 28-14 at the Coliseum.
This week was in the rain in Pullma, Washington taking on Washington State, a foe with a loud and aggressive crowd that we all know her the news of a fired Trojan head coach.
Early on things went south bigtime. Starting QB Kedon Slovis went down early in the first quarter with a neck injury and would not return.
The defense was bolded over and pushed around like they were a JV team as USC fell into a 14-0 hole. The Cougars (1-2) were so confident they went for a first on 4th down four times in the first half, converting on two of them.
None of the above were good for new Trojan head coach Donte Williams. He has had the job less than a week and was put a mega test his first outing as the team came away with a 45-14 win.
The tide shifted in the second quarter when WSU was inside the three yard-line and the Trojans defense stuffed them on three straight plays and the ball was turned over on downs.
The defense tightened so much they never allowed another first down the rest of the game.
“All of a sudden they stepped up and stepped up in a big way.” said Williams who until this game was defensive backs coach and was familiar with the players on that side of the ball.
The offense also got off to a slow start. Jaxson Dart came in for the injured Slovis and had the jitters throwing an interception and losing a fumble in early possessions.
The 6-3, 215 pounder then led the USC on a 11-play 91-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Gary Bryant Jr, to make the score 14-7 at the half.
“I looked up and it was just a great ball right into my
hands,” said Bryant who also ran for a touchdown returned two kick-offs for 62 yards.
In the third period Dart picked up right where he left off connecting with Drake London for scores twice once on a five-yarder and again on a 31 yarder.
“Things were going fast for me at the beginning,” said Dart. “I felt like you know for me to succeed I had to just forget about and just move on.”
The true freshman from Kaysville, Utah finished the day completing 31 of 47 passes for 391 yards breaking the freshman debut record (282 yards) set by JT Daniels in 2018.
He looked poised and confident leading to a 28-point third quarter. He challenged the defense hitting receivers with passes that were easily catchable.
The defense launched a second half shutout holding the Cougars to 279 net yards and 15 first downs as none came in the second half.
Outside linebacker Drake Jackson made his presents felt by continuing pressure on pass plays, he finished with four tackles a forced fumble that was recovered by Tui Tiipulotu for a touchdown.
Jacksons play earned him the PAC-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week award.
Xavion Alford and Chase Williams led all tacklers with six each. Jacob Lichtenstein chipped in with five.
This was Donte Williams first game as a head coach and he and the Trojans definitely passed the test. His next big call will be who will start next week. Coach stated, “I know Kedon will be at practice next week and we will take it from there.”
TROJANS NOTES: For his efforts at WSU Dart earned the PAC-12 Freshman of The Week honors and PAC-12 Player of The Week. USC will host Oregon State this week at the Coliseum with 7:30 kick-off.