USC quotable: Trojans break down big win over Cal

Here are some highlights from USC’s post-game press conferences following its 41-17 win over Cal:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening statement:

“Good win for our football team. Another good road, Pac-12 win. And I’m really proud of the kids. I thought they had a tremendous week of preparation. I thought they brought the right energy and the right attitude today. I thought they really made a statement for their team and what they’re trying to attempt to do down the stretch here. There were some big playmakers all over the place. We had the game ball in there, I really couldn’t give it to one guy. This was really a team a win and there were big plays made by a lot of people. Defensively, I was nervous coming into the game. I thought Cal had done a wonderful job against Washington State the week before. And I thought defensively they really set the tone, especially that third quarter coming out and doing what they did. Offensively, couldn’t be more proud of how we operated as an offense. Four touchdown passes, I think that defense had only given up nine total for the entire year. That’s a really, really good defense and I’m proud of our kids for how they operated.”

On Kedon Slovis’ third 400-yard performance in four games:

“My favorite number is that zero; zero interceptions. That’s a really good defense and I think Justin Wilcox is one of the better defensive coaches in the country. I’ll never forget being here and Sam Darnold having one of his hardest days because of how they mixed up coverages, pressures and things like that. One, credit the offensive line. They did come after us and they held up. And credit the wideouts. They did an unbelievable job when they got their one-on-one situations making big plays for the kid. And he protected the football. When you have four touchdowns and zero interceptions, that’s a hell of a day.”

On the difference in the game:

“I thought the separation was the drive right before half. We talked about that, how important ending the half and beginning the half was going to be. It was the last thing we talked about in our team meeting because we lost that last year, if you remember. We had a turnover that happened right before halftime and then we came out flat in the third quarter. That cost us a loss against this team last year. We discussed it as a team and man, the kids took it to heart. To go down, get that two-minute drive for a touchdown, then come right out in the second half and double up with another touchdown, that was the separation we needed.”

On electing to defer after winning the coin toss:

“I challenged our kickoff coverage as well as our defense, that I wanted them to be able to set the tone tonight. We said it in our team meeting, that if we had the opportunity to win the toss, we were gonna defer and put that strike force out right off the bat and get back on the horse, go cover it and get it down. And the defense, I wanted them to set the tone. I was really proud after that first drive. There was no panic or anything amongst anybody that was there. We got two penalties on that drive that allowed them to get to the plus side of the field. Everybody took a deep breath and said, ‘Okay, this is what’s happened. Let’s go to the next drive.’ From that point on, I thought defensively they had a heck of a night.”

If he second-guessed that decision after Cal scored on the opening drive of the game:

“No. Sometimes you have to be able to show confidence in the guys that are around you and let them know that, ‘Hey, I’m confident in you.’ And it may not have paid off for the first drive, but it paid off for the game. When a coach has confidence in the men that are around him, they’ll feed off of it. And that was what I wanted to happen. I believe in these kids. They keep on showing up each and every week and putting their best foot forward. They got a chance to win five out of the last six games next week and really put an exclamation point on the season.”

QB Kedon Slovis

On the game:

“I thought the team played really well. Obviously a few drives wish we had of scored but overall I thought we had a pretty good night.”

When he felt like he was on his game:

“I don’t know I really thought like that, but in the second half after the second touchdown, we kinda had it rolling offensively, I thought.”

If Cal’s defense was as good as expected:

“That’s one of the things, the beauty of this offense, is no matter who we play, we’re an execution-based offense. So if we execute, if we do our job, we’re gonna score. And that’s what happened tonight.”

If his confidence grows playing with the receivers he plays with:

“Yeah, definitely. I remember in high school I wouldn’t be able to make some of the throws because I knew my guys couldn’t make it. It wasn’t their fault; they’re not Michael Pittman or some of these guys. It’s definitely getting used to what they can do and their skillset.”

On what he’s learned and gotten better at lately:

“Going through the reads and being more consistent. And that comes with reps. Obviously, the last week, made a few ugly mistakes and this week made a few mistakes too that obviously didn’t cost us, luckily.”

On Drake London:

“He’s been awesome. I think confidence-wise you see him getting more excited. He tried to hurdle someone so definitely more confident than he was a few weeks ago.”

On three 400-yard games in last four weeks:

“I think it just shows what our offense is capable of. Obviously I think I can play better even after a game like this and especially after the other three games. I think it’s just a testament to what this offense can be in the future.”

Where he wants to grow before season is over:

“Just eliminating those bad decisions, really. There’s one throw, the one to [Tyler Vaughns] that probably should have been picked off, I can’t make that throw. That’s a bad decision. So just eliminating those. We obviously got better at it throughout the year but just making that a staple.”

WR Michael Pittman Jr.

If anything surprises him about Slovis anymore:

“No, he’s showed up and he’s been the same guy week in and week out and I think that he’s getting better and he’s showing us that he’s an elite college quarterback.”

On breaking through 1,000 yards:

“That’s a big deal, I guess, so I’m just thankful that I had that opportunity.”

On how Drake London has played of late:

“I thought Drake has been big time. I actually talked to him after that Washington game when he didn’t make that tough catch and I kinda just challenged him. And he has came out and played great, especially for being so young. He still has a lot of time left here and I’m just looking for him to do great things.”

On his thoughts heading into his last game at the Coliseum next week:

“I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just happened so fast and I’m just so blessed to be part of this team and part of this brotherhood that I can’t see it ending. So I don’t really want to think about it yet.”

S Talanoa Hufanga

If the defense made any adjustments after Cal scored to start the game:

“We just had to focus on the run game, make sure we stop the run game, force them to throw. We just had to adjust. That’s the whole motto of it. We just got to relock in and that’s what we did when it came to the second series.”

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

On Slovis’ performance:

“Kedon’s a beast. He’s been balling all year. He’s a great quarterback. I think just each game he feels more comfortable and he’s getting the hang of it.”

If the team went in expecting to throw the deep ball or if it became a point of emphasis as the game progressed:

“I think it’s just something that developed as the game progressed. We didn’t know what we were going to see, what kind of coverage we were going to see. As the game went on, the coaches upstairs saw what they were doing and just started dialing up some shots.”

On why the deep ball was so effective:

“I think we have great guys on offense on our side of the ball. Really good receivers, a great quarterback, a line that gave protection and we just went and made plays.”

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast

On the impact of the targeting call against Christian Rector:

“It was huge. We had some things within the game plan that we were going to utilize him on third down from a rush standpoint that was kinda dialed up for him. So it was disappointing to lose him that early. But we made some adjustments for who were going to put in there and the guys stepped up and played ball.”

On the pressure the defense put on Cal’s QBs:

“Yeah, it was good. We mixed it up. We called some coverage. We called some blitzes. The guys executed it well, certainly in timely situations. The guys were disruptive.”

On Caleb Tremblay:

“He’s a guy that really benefited from redshirting last year. He’s helped us more in pass rush situations than he has in the running game. He got tied up on a couple blocks in the running game and the ball got out on the perimeter. But he’s a guy that’s still learning.”

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell

On Slovis:

“I thought he played pretty well. It helps to have some big monsters out there who can go get the ball. But I thought it was one of our more complete performances as an offense, at least for a full game. So I was happy with that. … When he plays well, he should always throw for 400 with those guys. You can’t replace experience. The more games you’re playing in any offense, the better you’re going to get. Obviously with the receivers we have and the offense we run, it’ll enable you to have the opportunity to put up a lot of points and the opportunity to put up big numbers.”

If it was part of the game plan to throw the ball deep:

“They were playing a coverage that I felt allowed us the opportunity to take some shots and the opportunity to hit some big ones. And turns out we did.”

WR Drake London

On his confidence:

“The game has slowed down tremendously.”

If he got frustrated early in the season:

“To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was in a lull at all. I was a true freshman, I was playing, I was going out there and blocking for my teammates. So that’s all I could ask for.”

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Kedon Slovis’ gem leads USC to blowout win over Cal

  • Southern California’s Kana’i Mauga (26) tackles California’s Christopher Brown Jr. during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • Southern California’s Chase McGrath (40) is congratulated by Ben Griffiths, left, after kicking a field goal against California in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

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  • Southern California’s Amon-Ra St. Brown (8) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against California during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • Southern California’s Jalen McKenzie (70) rushes against California in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • California’s DeShawn Collins (26) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Southern California during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • California quarterback Chase Garbers, left, rushes against Southern California in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis looks to pass against California in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • California quarterback Chase Garbers, right, passes against Southern California in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • Southern California’s Amon-Ra St. Brown (8) celebrates with Stephen Carr, right, after scoring a touchdown against California during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • Southern California’s Michael Pittman Jr. (6) can’t make the catch as California’s Camryn Bynum (24) defends during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

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BERKELEY — Sometimes it’s good to have balance on offense. Other times, you just got to go with what’s working.

That was the case for USC against California, as freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 406 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-17 win.

Even USC’s attempts to run out the clock in the fourth quarter of the blowout didn’t do much to disguise just how lopsided the Trojan offense was. Through three quarters, the passing game accounted for 94.3 percent of the Trojans’ total yards.

USC finished with 406 passing yards and 56 on the ground, against a defense that was ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in stopping the passing game entering the weekend.

Slovis shook off three sacks to put together one of his cleanest performances of the season with no interceptions. He was able to throw the long ball to perfection, completing seven passes for 20 or more yards, and made plays on the move when the Cal pressure necessitate it.

He spread the love, too, making sure his three leading receivers — Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London — all had over 80 yards receiving and a touchdown for USC (7-4, 6-2 in Pac-12 play).

Slovis’ final touchdown pass before being pulled in the fourth quarter went to Josh Falo, the first USC tight end to grab a TD pass this season. It was Slovis third game with 400-plus passing yards this season, all coming in the past four games.

Both teams scored on their opening drives. Cal (5-5, 2-5) did so on a five-yard run after USC defensive end Christian Rector was ejected for targeting. Slovis found St. Brown wide open in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown, with the two executing the scramble drill to perfection.

The second quarter was marred by an injury that left both teams shaken.

On the kickoff after Cal tied the game at 10, Cal linebacker Evan Tattersall was laid flat on his back by a block from USC’s Julian Falaniko. Falaniko waved for the USC trainers to tend to Tattersall even as the play was ongoing, sensing a serious injury to the Bear.

Tattersall was down on the field for several minutes, showing little movement in his extremities. Cal head coach Justin Wilcox and USC head coach Clay Helton stayed by Tattersall’s side until he was taken off the field by a cart, giving a brief thumbs up to the crowd as he was lifted up.

Later, Cal reported that Tattersall was alert and had movement in his extremities, though he was taken to an area hospital as a precaution.

Neither team could move the ball after the injury, both offenses going three-and-out. So to get the offense moving again, USC went with the most surefire move in its arsenal: Pass to Pittman.

The senior receiver caught four passes for 61 yards on USC’s final drive of the second half, including a 33-yard touchdown pass in the end zone. It gave USC a 17-10 lead heading into the locker room.

Pittman’s 180 receiving yards on the evening put him over 1,000 yards on the season for the first time in his career.

All year, when USC has won the coin toss, it has elected to receive. Heck, even when the opponents have won, they have deferred to the second half.

So when USC won the toss and deferred on Saturday, it raised some eyebrows, especially after Cal’s opening TD. But the move paid off.

After USC took the lead on the Pittman touchdown with 43 seconds left in the first half, the Trojans marched down the field thanks in large part to a 50-yard completion from Slovis to St. Brown, all through the air as the sophomore receiver leaped to make the grab between two defenders.

It set up an eight-yard touchdown pass to London, Slovis rolling right to find the freshman receiver, who had the first 100-yard game of his career. London’s third score in as many weeks gave USC a 24-10 lead.

USC would go on to complete a 31-0 run before Cal would finally score again. But there was no way the Bears could keep up with the arm of Kedon Slovis on Saturday night.

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Onyeka Okongwu’s record-tying debut leads USC to season-opening win

  • USC’s Daniel Utomi, right, drives to the basket against Florida A&M’s DJ Jones during the second half of Tuesday’s season opener at the Galen Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans fights for the ball with Bryce Moragne #23 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Nasir Core #5 of the Florida A&M Rattlers dives fro the loose ball against USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quinton Adlesh #10 of the USC Trojans fights for the loose ball against Florida A&M Rattlers Alan g with teammate Jonah Mathews in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #15 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Bryce Moragne #23 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #15 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Bryce Moragne #23 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Robert McCullum of the Florida A&M Rattlers against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Jonah Mathews #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Jonah Mathews #2 of the USC Trojans rebounds against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans fights for the loos ball against Evins Desir #34 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #15 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans smiles against Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #15 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans slam-dunks against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans shoots against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans drive to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans trips over Kamron Reaves #2 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Nick Rakocevic #31 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans fights for the loose ball against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Jonah Mathews #2 of the USC Trojans drives tot the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Nasir Core #5 of the Florida A&M Rattlers dives for the loose ball against Isaiah Mobley #15 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Daniel Utomi #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Elijah Weaver #3 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans against Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • USC Trojans song girls perform in the second half of a NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the Florida A&M Rattlers at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Nick Rakocevic #31 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Robert McCullum of the Florida A&M Rattlers against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • USC Trojans song girls perform in the second half of a NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the Florida A&M Rattlers at the Galen Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. USC Trojans won 77-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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LOS ANGELES — Center Onyeka Okongwu arrived at USC with a lot of hype; a five-star recruit, a three-time state champ at Chino Hills High.

In his first game as a Trojan, Okongwu showed why, coming two blocked shots shy of a triple-double to lead the USC men’s basketball team to a 77-48 victory over Florida A&M in the season opener at the Galen Center.

Okongwu finished with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds. His eight blocks tied a school record, set three previous times, and led a larger USC effort that limited the Rattlers to 32 points in the paint.

“That was not my objective for the night. I just wanted to go out and help my team win,” Okongwu said of the record. “But it’s an extreme milestone, but I’m happy with the W tonight.”

The freshman center left the game with 6:56 to play, drawing a nice round of applause as he made his way to the bench to finish the game as a spectator.

Such a performance might not seem important just looking at the final score, but it was necessary given how the game started.

November basketball was in full effect in the first half, with both teams struggling to shoot the ball. USC started the game 3 for 13 from the floor, and a 6-0 FAMU run put the Trojans in a 10-6 hole.

“The first half, the ball was sticking, stopping,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “Too many turnovers, not enough assists. We missed a lot of easy buckets around the paint.”

Senior guard Jonah Matthews, who didn’t start the first half due to being late to classes, broke the streak with a three-point play. A couple of Elijah Weaver baskets put USC back in the lead.

But overall USC couldn’t find the basket in the first half. The Trojans made a third of their 33 attempts and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range and 1 for 9 from the free-throw line.

Okongwu described it as “first-game jitters.” His coach was a little more harsh about the performance, which included 17 turnovers by the time the night was over.

“We were our own worst enemy in the first half, but I thought the second half our guys came together and played like a team,” Enfield said.

The only one who didn’t struggle from the field was Okongwu. The center made his first three shots, a put-back dunk four minutes in jolting the sparsely-populated Galen Center to life.

He finished the half a basket short of a double-double, which he got on the first possession after halftime as the Trojans ran a play to get Okongwu the ball in the post.

That gave way to a stronger offensive half for USC, as the Trojans opened with a 25-10 run, shot 19 for 33 from the floor and outscored FAMU by 28 after the intermission.

Freshman forward Isaiah Mobley finished the game with 17 points and seven rebounds, while guard Ethan Anderson added seven assists, two of them on alley-oops to Okongwu.

After the game Mobley, an AAU teammate of Okongwu’s for three seasons, joked he was coming for the block record himself next time around, when USC hosts Portland on Friday.

“We’re extremely competitive, so next time I’m going to try get nine,” Mobley said.

But for the night it was Okongwu making room for himself atop the record book, in his first collegiate game, too.

USC’s freshmen shined as the Trojans posted a big win in their season opener.

Peep the highlights! 👀pic.twitter.com/QJnXKHyM5N

— USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) November 6, 2019

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USC quotable: Trojans express shock at loss to Oregon

Here are the highlights from the post-game press conferences following USC’s 56-24 loss to Oregon:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening comments:

“Credit to Oregon, good football team. We made enough mistakes tonight against a top-10 team that you can’t win a ball game. You can’t turn it over four times and to have the penalties that we had and expect to be that team. Not our night. As I told the group in there, we’ll come back and work on Monday and get ready for Arizona State.”

If there was a turning point in the game:

“Really in the first half, we get up 10-0 and got the opportunity to really jump ahead. And we end up getting a red-zone turnover. In that second quarter, there were some things that went against us. Pick-six happens, and you can’t do those things against that football team. They’re a quality football team, very well coached, and tonight we just didn’t execute like we know we can.”

If there was any talk about squibbing the kickoff with 20 seconds left in the first half (the resulting kickoff was returned for a touchdown):

“Alex [Stadthaus] has been known to kick it out of the end zone. [Special teams coordinator John Baxter] and I talked and we trust Alex. He kicked a good ball. Plenty of height, the ball was deep enough. We just didn’t get the ball down. That was another mistake in that second quarter that we’re four points down and now you go into halftime down 11.”

Why he’s the right coach to lead USC:

“I’ve been here 10 years and I believe in being a servant to this university and to the young men that are here. Each and every day I wake up and represent them and our school. I will continue to do that each and every day. I’ll fight like hell with the people I believe in and the people that I love until they ask me not to do it anymore, alright? I’m gonna show up on Monday and work my butt off for the next one. That’s what coaches do. That’s what ball coaches are, and I’ll continue doing the only thing I know, which is to fight.”

If he felt he had to win against Oregon to keep his job:

“The guys that I think about are the guys that are beside me, and in that locker room. That’s what I feel is I’m trying to help them win a championship. Our staff is trying to help them win a championship. And I love them. Everyone in that locker room I’ve signed, I’ve been a part of, I’ve been in their living room. I love them like sons. I’m not worried about me. I’ve coached and played enough ball for 10 lifetimes. I’m worried about helping them win a Pac-12 South championship and try to get to a Pac-12 championship. Whatever is written is already written. God already has that plan. Until then, I’m going to dang fight and try to help them win the Pac-12 South. We’re in a hole right now. We’ve got to do our job and win the next three games and hope for a little help.”

On not controlling the divisional race anymore:

“You go to the next game, just like we’ve done. We’ve got to play an Arizona State team that’s had a week off and preparation for us, so we’ve got to get back to work tomorrow immediately. They’re at home with a talented offense. We got to go back and clean up the things that we did today and be ready to win the next one. That’s all we can, and hope for a little luck. We’re sitting here with two losses right now in the Pac-12 South. Utah’s got one, and we’ll need a little help. But all we can focus on is us and doing our job, and our job is in Arizona next week.”

How he evaluates QB Kedon Slovis’ performance:

“What I told him on the sidelines, he’s a special player. We have special quarterbacks here. Part of playing quarterback is getting to learn from each rep, and each experience. Some are good and some are bad, but you get to learn from it. This guy’s gonna be playing football for a long time, a long time. He’s very talented. Tonight was just another learning lesson that quarterbacks learn from. And what I liked is how he executed on that last drive, and that’s what I thanked him for, and thanked those kids that went out there. Those kids never quit fighting. They never quit fighting. It was nice to see Kyle Ford get his first touchdown catch and it was nice to see No. 9 go back out there and continue to try to execute and get better with every snap. And he’s going to. Mark my words, he’s going to be a really special player.”

On how he helps the team through the mental aspect of a loss like this:

“I just told them in the locker room, it’s one of those things that if nothing else comes from this, it’s a great life lesson. I know every one of us in here feel bad right, but the world doesn’t care about our feelings or us feeling sorry for ourselves. The world cares about you getting back up an doing your job. For 18-21-year-olds, that’s hard, because they pour so much into it. The amount of time they spend to get to Saturday, it’s hard when this happens. But that’s life. Sometimes life isn’t fair. And the way we react as coaches being the example hopefully rubs off on them. In real life, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to things.”

On why it’s been hard for USC to execute with consistency this season:

“A little bit of youth, a little bit of injury and we played some good ball clubs. Give them credit, too. That’s a good team out there and we made enough mistakes tonight to let it snowball. So it’s my job as their coach to clean it up and go on and move on to the next game.”

On why the momentum flipped after the first quarter:

“Really our red zone efficiency. We take the first drive down and it’s 7-0 and we get a nice turnover that we hope turns into 14-0 but we end up kicking a field goal out of it. And then we’ve got another opportunity to get down there and we fumbled. I thought the opportunities to put 11 more points on the board in that first half was critical and we just didn’t get it done.”

If losing like this at home makes it harder to bounce back:

“No. The men in that room are special. I’ve said it all along. We’ll come back to work on Monday and put our best foot forward against Arizona State. Like I said, they’re a special group of kids and they’ve been trained for highs and lows and dealing with it when things don’t go their way. You’ll watch them next week and I’m looking forward to them getting right back on the horse and ready to play.”

QB Kedon Slovis

On his four turnovers:

“I don’t think it necessarily affected my decision-making process throughout the game. You can’t commit turnovers like that, but sometimes it happens and you just got to move on to the next play.”

How he’s feeling physically after the game:

“Nothing more than a football game.”

If he feels like he’s playing for Helton’s job:

“We don’t listen to outside noise. We worry about the next game and the next play, really. That’s our mentality and we’ll continue to do that.”

C Brett Neilon

On where everything went wrong:

“We made a critical mistake down in the red zone. We could have had seven and that ends up being seven for them. That’s a 14-point swing when you add it up. Then you get the kickoff return touchdown and it just adds up. Before you know it, you have a few more turnovers. Give the ball back to a great Oregon offense and they’re gonna make you pay. We just didn’t hit on the keys to our game, which is protecting the football.”

On looking up and seeing the team was down by 39:

“The points piled up quickly. After the first quarter, we go down and score and the defense makes a great play, we should have converted but we get three more points. We were in it. Like, ‘Let’s do this. We can play with them and we can beat ’em.’ Then it takes some really quick turnovers and things go real south quick. The red zone turnover really hurt and then for them to score on that, and then get a kickoff return touchdown after that, and then a pick-six. I forgot about the pick-six. It just adds up real quick. It was like a blitzkrieg, honestly. We made critical mistakes and it killed us.”

On the thoughts about moving forward after the game:

“We still have a lot to play for. We still got to keep fighting and finish out the season and get to a bowl game and whatnot. We just got to come together and keep fighting and play.”

LB John Houston Jr.

If he feels like he’s playing for Helton’s job:

“For me, I’m playing for my teammates, everybody in the locker room just fo ourselves, trying to get us better. Not worrying about the outside factors or any of that outside stuff. Just worry about how we can do better as a whole unit and be better each and every game.”

On why the defense couldn’t keep up its first-quarter execution:

“I would say more the penalties. We had more penalties after that and just continuing drives and just being able to keep on the field. So penalties killed us.”

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

If there was a key to the game:

“I think we failed to convert a few times in the red zone. Two fumbles, interception, pick-six didn’t help. I think the targeting call on Isaiah [Pola-Mao] really changed things. We were down already on defense a few guys. But it is what it is.”

If what was surreal to see how imbalanced the score was:

“It was not something I’m used to. I’ve never lost this bad in my life. So definitely shock. But like I said, it is what it is.”

WR Tyler Vaughns

On what happened to the offense:

“Just us. We got to stay on-tune on what we were doing and just execute better. We got to finish drives and everything like that.”

On the mindset of the locker room after the loss:

“We’re just trying to battle back right now. We not what kind of team we are and it’s frustrating that we can’t show it and really ball out like we should be. But we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna come back next week and win and do our thing.”

If it was surreal to see the team down by so much:

“It was a shocker to us. I would have never guessed that. Not at all.”

DE Christian Rector


On the state of the locker room:

“It definitely hurts losing. I don’t think they’re 32-points better than us. I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot tonight. We can’t turn the ball over like and not create turnovers and expect to beat the No. 7 team in the country.”

If the team feels the weight of playing for Helton’s job:

“No, we want to win, too.”

On Helton’s message after the game:

“It was the mistakes that we made and the stuff that hurt us. And it was to learn from this and to move on.”

LB Hunter Echols

How he’d describe the feelings after the game:

“We let the game kind of get away from us today. I felt we played great in the first half and we did a lot of things well. We lost a couple players to some calls and that affected us a little bit but we can’t harp on the loss too much. I know it was a bad performance toward the end of the game but we just got to keep fighting. We still got faith and we’ll still keep working hard each and every day.”

What was the most frustrating part of the loss:

“Really just the penalties. Penalties kept us out for some drives and a couple miscues with some stuff but not really too bad of a performance by the defense today. Even the offense. We played well as a team but just a couple calls, a couple penalties hurt us and it took some players away from us in some areas.”

On how losing Pola-Mao affected the team:

“Just momentum wise. We got the guys, we got the depth here so talent wasn’t going to decrease. But just as far as momentum, Isaiah, he brought a lot of juice out there when he got his interception and just a lot of stuff that was going when Isaiah was out there. Losing Zay, a big, fast safety like that, it’s always going to affect the defense a little bit. But we try not to worry about that because we got guys who can take his place and step in for him.”

If he felt the team was playing for Helton and his job security:

“We always play for our coach, regardless, all of our coaches, our defensive coordinator, our position coaches. That’s who we do it for. They put int he work for us throughout the week all week making sure we’re prepared for the game. We play for them no matter what the score is, no matter win or lose. That’s who we’re playing for, that’s who I’m playing for.”

If he’s concerned for Helton’s job after this game:

“I’m not even worried about nothing as far as that. We all love Coach Helton and we know what he can do. He’s done some great things here at USC. He won a Rose Bowl, a Pac-12 championship, took us to the Cotton Bowl. So I feel like we’ll be alright. I support my coaches, 100 percent.”

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USC quotable: Players, coaches react to mounting injuries, breakout performances

Here are the highlights from USC’s press conferences following Saturday’s 41-14 win over Arizona:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening statement:

“Good night for our kids. In this second half of the season, we talk about winning one at a time and being 1-0 tonight. Playing a team that was at the top of the Pac-12 South along with us, a team that controlled it’s own destiny like we did. We know that if we plan on playing championship football then we got to treat every game like a championship game. Obviously a good night, but a night where we had some injuries and some guys had to step up and be the next guy up. These two guys that are up here right now [Kenan Christon and Kana’i Mauga] we those guys. Kana’i not only makes a great overall play, makes a huge turnover for us in the red zone that allowed us to put a stamp on the game. Then, I credit our coaches of just doing a great job of preparing everybody all the way from the bottom up. You never know when your time is gonna come and Kenan, he goes out there and has not only his first 100-yard rushing game but two touchdowns. I’m so proud of him, proud of our boys. We’re 1-0, 1-0 in this second half and now we’ve got a really short week on the road at Colorado so we’re right back to work first thing tomorrow.”

On balancing the excitement from the win with the half dozen injuries USC suffered:

“I feel terrible for those kids. We had six injuries, significant ones, tonight that we’ll have to see where they’re at. It’s bittersweet because the kids are playing extremely hard. You saw what they did to Notre Dame, which is a physical game on both sides. Came out tonight with a chip on their shoulder and really something to prove and played extremely hard. I’m sad for those six kids.”

On what he knows as of Saturday night about the injuries:

“Talanoa [Hufanga] suffered a shoulder injury. I’ll have to give you more information on Monday when we practice. Stephen Carr suffered a hamstring injury. I’ll give you more information on that on Monday. Malik McClain suffered a shoulder injury. Drake Jackson, ankle injury. Markese Stepp, an ankle injury and Munir McClain, a knee injury.”

On what impressed him about the defense’s performance without six starters for much of the game:

“We talked about getting to the quarterback, and to have seven sacks on the night I was really, really happy with the pressure. But most importantly, just containing the quarterback. We had issues in the first half of the season. I credit [defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast] along with the defensive staff, Johnny Nansen. They went out and studied NFL teams, teams that have played Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, some athletic quarterbacks, Baltimore Ravens and really see what others are doing to defend it and input in some of those things. I thought the kids thrived off of it and I was looking forward to watching it. They did a really nice job against I think one of the better athletes [Khalil Tate] in the country.”

On what exactly the defense did to be effective against Tate:

“I don’t want to give game plan away, but one of the things that you did see was you had the opportunity for a lot of up-field twist games. You saw that a different package came in on third down on passing situations, and different personnel. Malik was a part of that, which is sad. He really did a nice job of creating pressure, along with Hunter Echols. Drake was inside, which he’s normally not inside. He was at the three, Caleb [Tremblay] who’s usually outside became a three. You really had an extremely fast group that was not only penetrating but also with the twist games really controlling the line of scrimmage. It was a nice package that was put in this week and very effective.”

On Christon’s game:

“With Vavae [Malepeai] down this week, that’s part of training camp, that’s part of always carrying guys, keep building them up and getting them to the point. Some guys are ready Game 1 and some guys are really building themselves and being ready. This guy over the six weeks prepared himself. It was fun tonight. Because when he hit the first one, Mike Jinks as soon as he hit the line of scrimmage said touchdown. When you’re a 100-, 300-meter kid and you got that type of speed, it was neat to watch. Credit to Kenan and Coach Jinks, they prepared a kid to be ready for his time and he got his time tonight.”

On the role that Christon could play in the offense in the coming weeks:

“We’re gonna see where we’re at. Losing Vavae this week and then losing two more backs this week, obviously I would imagine Kenan’s gonna have a pretty big role going into Colorado, as well as Quincy Jontti. Hopefully we get one guy back.”

On Mauga’s big night:

“He reminds me a lot of what [Michael Pittman] did when he was a young person. This is kind of our special teams captain and a guy that’s sitting right behind [Palie Gaoteote IV] in getting those reps each and every day. Just a guy that we can count on day in and day out. I remember that with Pitt. He was just waiting for his time. And then meanwhile he was so special on our special teams. That’s what Kana’i has been. Just a true and doing whatever is called upon to help the team win. He’s called upon to be the starter tonight and then low and behold interception, forced fumble, tackles everywhere. It was like unleashing somebody that was just waiting for his chance. I can’t tell you how happy I am for him.”

On USC’s young players stepping up after injuries:

“We have a talented young bunch. There’s a bunch of freshmen and sophomores on this team and I’ve said it multiple times, I think this is gonna be a team that’s gonna be a really good team for a long time. They’re gonna grow together. It’s only eight seniors on this team and if you look at the freshmen and sophomores playing on this team right now, they’re very talented. We don’t lose many people and there’s a lot of people that are going to be here in 3-4 years.”

On the offense’s performance:

“I didn’t feel like we had a great rhythm, to be honest with you. I thought we found that rhythm once the running game started going and we found a little bit more advantage coverages because of it. I thought [offensive coordinator Graham Harrell] did a nice job in the second half of being able to take some deep ball shots to kind of open them up. It’s been every game, we kinda had to diagnose what the defense is doing, and what we scouted is kinda not what we got in the first quarter. There’s just a little bit of time to take place, go okay, this is what we’re getting an these are our adjustments. And he as a coach and an offensive staff have done a great job of being able to say, ‘Okay, this is what it’s going to be today. Let’s get to the plays we need to get to.’ “

Running back Kenan Christon

On if it’s been tough to stay ready before his debut:

“I would say it’s not tough at all. I’m here to help the team. I’m willing to do whatever I can, wherever they need me I’ll go and I’ll play. I just been preparing the right way and staying focused.”

On his first touchdown:

“I was just being patient, followed my blockers and they opened up a huge hole for me and just finished the run.”

Linebacker Kana’i Mauga

On the defense’s mindset entering the game without four starters, and then losing two more:

“Our mindset through the game was to contain the quarterback as much as we could. Our DBs did a very good job of plastering to their man and our d-line did a fantastic job staying in their lanes.”

If his forced fumble provided any momentum for the defense:

“Most definitely. I believe that our defense is all together. So when one makes a play then everyone makes a play. So it was hyped on the sideline and it was a great atmosphere.”

Quarterback Kedon Slovis

On the offense’s performance:

“Whenever you score 40 points you should be happy, but I think we left a lot of points out there. Could have done a lot more to get first-half scoring.”

On what the team needs to do to get the offense going earlier:

“A lot of that’s on me. I didn’t do my job and wasn’t very disciplined and missed a lot of opportunities.”

On Christon’s performance:

“That was awesome. You see him in practice do it time and time again, but to see him do it against live defenders was great.”

On the mindset after the win:

“We’re 1-0 for the rest of the second half of the season. We got to keep this up and improve from where we can.”

Center Brett Neilon

On Christon’s perfomance:

“You can see that he’s definitely a track champion. He was patient and then he took off. He’s a tremendous talent. I didn’t even see him hit the hole and then I look up and he’s already by the end zone. We knew he was fast. He’s got some wheels. We knew he’s got that speed. I was just thinking, ‘Dang, this kid has got some wheels.’ He’s got the little wing tattoos on his legs. He deserves to have those, for sure.”

Cornerback Dorian Hewett

On his nerves before his first start:

“Nerves weren’t that bad. Coming from Texas, I was coming from a big state that loves football. The crowd and the community was good and they helped me calm down those guys.”

On the team’s mindset after so many injuries:

“Coach Clancy and all them do a great job of making sure everybody gets reps just in case so that if something goes down and you have to step up. In my case, I’ve been working as the No. 2 and I been the backup corner for this whole season and when I had my chance to step up I had to show that I could come in and contribute to the team and hold down my position.”

On his own performance:

“I did good. I didn’t have any catches, I had two tackles and I didn’t mess up really in any plays. I feel great about our secondary. The way we came out tonight and we contributed to the run and the short passes and everything and we stopped them and we showed everybody we’re not a secondary to be played with.”

If it’s a confidence boost to have this performance against a top-10 total offense:

“[They knew Arizona] would try to come out and tempo us. We had to play and keep our own tempo, keep moving with our own tempo. I feel like that was a big confidence boost for us to be able to hold down a top-10 team to only 14 points and for us to really show how our defense would play.”

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast

On the injuries suffered by the defense:

“It was unfortunate. We’re kinda beat up. I know the guys that are down will be in there tomorrow, getting rehabbed and get them back as quickly as possible.”

On Mauga’s performance:

“I was really happy with the way he played. He’s been practicing well all season and doing well on special teams. So I knew when he got his opportunity he was gonna make the most of it. And tonight he did.”

On the toughness the defense displayed:

“Tribute to the guys, to their studying of the opponent, really diving into the game plan and the whole staff getting all of their positions ready.”

On how the defense slowed down Tate:

“We wanted to keep him bottled up. I think that we’ve seen a lot of him over the years and we know what kind of player he is and the guys just really zeroed in and focused on what we needed to do tonight.”

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell

On Slovis’ performance:

“I thought this was probably the most hesitant he’s been all year. He’s young. I think he played more like a freshman than he normally plays like tonight.”

Cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart

On what the defense showed overall:

“Personally, I think we showed we’re great. Keeping the quarterback contained, not letting him scramble for a bunch of yards. We did a great job in the passing games and all the shots from the d-line, they were just getting that pressure which is great for us defensive backs. We forced them to make bad plays and that’s how tackled.”

On how he felt coming back from an ankle injury:

“I felt great. I came out there to help the team. As long as I help the team doing what we do, I feel great, personally.”

If he knew he’d be able to play as much as he did:

“No, not really. I didn’t fold to challenge. I stepped up to it. If they need me in, I’m gonna give my all I got because I love this game.”

On the in-game injuries:

“It does hurt us a lot because those are guys who fought and who gave everything they have.”

Cornerback Max Williams


On the defense’s performance:

“We prepared hard all week and watched a lot of film so we came out here and did our job.”

On watching the injuries mount:

“We just have a next-man-up mentality. Everybody prepares in practice, go hard, be ready when your number’s called.”

On his third-down tackle in the first quarter:

“I just seen two big guards coming out to me so I used my size to my advantage, got little and made the tackle.”

On Mauga’s performance:

“He did really good. He does that in practice, though, so that’s what’s expected from him.”

Cornerback Chris Steele

On three true freshmen starting at corner:

“It felt real good just be out there with the dudes in my class that I came in with and stuff. I think everybody performed real well. I think everybody took advantage of the opportunity so I’m real happy for everybody.”

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5 takeaways from USC’s win over Arizona

Here are five takeaways from USC’s 41-14 win over Arizona on Saturday:

1. Short-week problems. The slew of injuries USC suffered on Saturday doesn’t bode well for a short week in which the Trojans travel to play Colorado on Friday. Defensive end Drake Jackson was in a walking boot after suffering an ankle injury, while safety Talanoa Hufanga was in a sling after injuring his shoulder. Receiver Munir McClain (knee), defensive end Malik McClain (shoulder) and running backs Markese Stepp (ankle) and Stephen Carr (hamstring) all needed carts to get them out to the team bus. Even those who avoid lengthy recovery times will be hard-pressed to be ready to play in six days.

2. Turnover battle. USC won the turnover battle on Saturday, and in resounding 3-1 fashion. The Trojans picked up two fumbles, one an unforced punt return error by Arizona and the other forced by Kana’i Mauga. Mauga also intercepted an Arizona pass in the third quarter to complete USC’s trifecta. The Trojans’ lone turnover was a fumble by former walk-on running back Quincy Jontti after Stepp and Carr went down with injuries. It continued an encouraging trend for USC a week after playing a turnover-less game against the Irish.

3. Defense stands tall. The Trojans faced a tough challenge in the Arizona offense, which was among the best in the country at moving the ball down the field. But USC was so effective at stopping the Wildcats, despite being down six starters, that Arizona benched quarterback Khalil Tate midway through the third quarter. Clay Helton said that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and his staff studied NFL defenses that had success against running quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson to develop a game plan for Tate. It involved using a more athletic package on third down to create pressure, moving ends like Jackson in to tackle to cause issues for Tate, who finished 6 for 10 for 47 yards and six sacks.

4. Christon’s for real. Freshman Kenan Christon made an immediate impact in first career action, rushing eight times for 103 yards and two touchdowns of over 30 yards each. With Stepp and Carr injured, and starter Vavae Malepeai out indefinitely following knee surgery on Tuesday, Christon’s emergence was vital. But even if Stepp and Carr recover in time for Colorado, Christon might have proven that he deserves to be a legitimate third option until Malepeai returns.

5. Pac-12 South outlook. USC is now 3-1 in Pac-12 play, tied atop the South Division standings with Utah. The Trojans hold the tiebreaker over the Utes, and therefor control their fate for a division title and trip to the conference championship game. USC has five remaining games: At Colorado, vs. Oregon, at Arizona State, at California and vs. UCLA. Four of the five are games USC should win, with Oregon being the lone exception. Utah has a similar slate, with only Washington looming as a likely stumbling block. If USC wins the games it should, a division title is very much within reach.

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USC’s freshmen show promise in exhibition victory over Villanova

LOS ANGELES — It was only an exhibition, two-and-a-half weeks before the games start to count. But it was hard for USC to not feel encouraged by its 72-61 victory over Villanova on Friday night at the Galen Center.

Against a likely top-10 team, USC just wanted to work on its execution and show signs of improvement as it worked through the growing pains of a roster full of freshmen and transfers. The Trojans made significant strides from the first half to the second and came away with a win as the cherry-on-top confidence boost heading into the season.

“I thought it was a terrific early basketball game. Even though it didn’t count on your record, you couldn’t tell by how the two teams were playing,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “It gives our players confidence that we can compete against a physical Big East team like Villanova that’s been so successful.”

USC played five members of its six-man freshman class on Friday (the sixth, Drake London, is a little busy with the football team). But it was the two five-star recruits, center Onyeka Okongwu and forward Isaiah Mobley, who started for the Trojans against Villanova.

It was clear in the first half that USC was still trying to figure out how to incorporate Okongwu and Mobley on offense. The ball moved around the perimeter without landing in either’s hands.

A free throw from Okongwu with seven minutes left in the first half represented the only scoring either did in the first 20 minutes. Mobley didn’t take a shot until he missed a turnaround jumper with 5:50 left before halftime, and Okongwu’s only attempt from the field was a failed 3-pointer three minutes later.

“The first half was choppy,” Enfield said, noting USC’s 11-man rotation in the period. “Some of that choppiness on offense was my fault because it’s hard for some guys to get into a flow.”

Okongwu was much more assertive in the second half. The former Chino Hills High star made a jump hook on the opening possession of the second half and was active on the offensive glass to get himself some extra opportunities on offense. He finished the game 6 for 12 from the field with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“In the second half, he was dominant for a 5- to 6-minute stretch,” said Enfield, who hopes this group can spark a turnaround for a program that went 16-17 last season. “He’s learning how to play college defense.”

Mobley was less active in the second half but finally broke through with 11 minutes left, posting up to get the space he needed for a soft hook shot.

The other freshman who got extended run on Friday was guard Ethan Anderson. The former Fairfax High standout was the second man off the bench and provided USC’s best highlight of the first half when he drove past his man to the left and threw down a dunk.

But more importantly, Anderson proved that he can be a valuable playmaker, showing some creativity with his passes.

In the first half, he caught a rebound and skied it ahead to Nick Rakocevic, who was fouled in transition. Then Anderson found Quinton Adlesh cutting to the rim and bounced the ball to him, picking up a hockey assist as Adlesh swung it to Daniel Utomi in the corner for one of his four first-half 3-pointers.

Utomi, a graduate transfer from Akron, matched Okongwu with 15 points, all on 3-pointers.

“Coach Enfield has a great offense for all of his players,” Utomi said. “I feel like he puts every single one of us in great positions.”

In the second half, Anderson, who finished with nine points five assists, lobbed a pass to Mobley, who tapped it in for a bucket.

Anderson had three assists and five points during a 16-5 second-half run that helped the Trojans take control of the game.

“He’s different,” senior Jonah Matthews said of Anderson. “He has it all; the athleticism, the handles, the defense, the guard play, the IQ. There’s nothing really missing from there.”

Big win over the Cats in our exhibition!

👀 all the highlights 💥pic.twitter.com/iHSi1724cy

— USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) October 19, 2019

USC 64, Villanova 56 with 2:31 to go

Trojans looking to close out the Cats! pic.twitter.com/uD0c3CG95s

— USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) October 19, 2019

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Five takeaways from USC’s loss to Notre Dame

Here are five takeaways from USC’s 30-27 loss to No. 9 Notre Dame:

1. First-half regrets. In all three of USC’s losses, the Trojans have had opportunities to win, if not for self-inflicted damage. Against BYU and Washington, it was all about turnovers and penalties. Against Notre Dame, it really came down to first-half execution. In the first quarter, the Trojans couldn’t take advantage of winning the field-position battle and failed to score more than three points. In the second, the defense failed to contain Notre Dame in the run game and paid dearly for it, giving up 17 points in the quarter. Those miscues came back to haunt USC in the three-point loss.

2. Cleaned up. Clay Helton wanted a cleaner performance against Notre Dame after flags and turnovers piled up prior to the bye week, and he got his wish. USC didn’t turn the ball over once; the only time the Trojans fumbled, they recovered (even if the officials initially pointed the wrong way). And USC had just two penalties enforced, a marked improvement from the 9.5 it was averaging the previous two games.

3. Stepp up. Though he was the third-string running back to start the season, redshirt freshman Markese Stepp is beginning to look more and more like USC’s future at the position. He had 10 carries for 82 yards and the late touchdown that gave USC one last gasp at a comeback. It was a strong performance for the Indiana native back in his home state, literally, as he often dragged several Notre Dame players with him on his carries.

4. Tackling woes. USC struggled to bring Notre Dame players to the ground on Saturday. Even stud safety Talanoa Hufanga missed two tackles on the Irish’s 97-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, including on the scoring play. USC had trouble with Notre Dame’s big receivers and tight ends and needs to clean this area up in the back half of the season.

5. Banged up. The defense got beat to hell in this game. Five different starters left at different points for injuries: Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV, defensive end Drake Jackson, and corners Olaijah Griffin, Isaac Taylor-Stuart and Greg Johnson. Their statuses moving forward remain unclear, but USC can’t afford to have all three of its starting corners missing practice before facing Arizona and Khalil Tate this week.

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USC QB Kedon Slovis leaves win over Utah with head injury

LOS ANGELES — USC starting quarterback Kedon Slovis left the first drive of the Trojans’ 30-23 win over No. 10 Utah with a head injury.

Head coach Clay Helton said that Slovis remembered what happened on the play when he left the field, but the medical staff did not clear him to return.

“You can tell that something was wrong, so we’d rather be careful with all our players and make sure their safety,” Helton said. “So we’ll see where it is going into next week. We got an extra day [before facing Washington].”

Slovis was driven into the turf after releasing a pass, hitting the back of his head against the field. The true freshman tried to stand up but collapsed back to the ground.

He was eventually helped off the ground and he slowly made his way over to the sidelines as Matt Fink came in to replace him. Slovis briefly went to the trainer’s tent before heading to the locker room, leaving USC with one healthy scholarship quarterback on the field.

Slovis had completed his first two pass attempts when he was taken out of the game. The true freshman was named the starter after JT Daniels left the season opener with a torn ACL. Prior to Friday, Slovis was 58 for 75 for 715 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

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Whicker: Michael Pittman, Matt Fink show value of staying put at USC

LOS ANGELES — Michael Pittman could have been in an NFL meeting room Friday night. Matt Fink could have been at Illinois, a football-free zone, trying to figure how to survive Nebraska.

Pittman did not turn pro. Fink, contrary to reports, never transferred to Illinois. Other assumptions about USC, and the constantly-moving tectonic plates of its football program, will be proven or disproven in due time.

What happened Friday night was that Pittman had one of the best nights any receiver ever has had as a target for a third-string quarterback. The Trojans rode those two, plus a defense that bent, broke and reassembled itself, to a 30-23 win over 10th-ranked Utah and a 3-1 record with three different quarterbacks.

“We’re running out of them,” Pittman said, smiling. “But Matt did a great job. He loves to throw those fades.”

Fink and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell rejected the second rule of insanity: If something works, quit doing it.

Pittman, at 6-foot-4, was turning Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson and his mates into spinning tops. Fink kept throwing drones in Pittman’s direction, and Pittman kept catching them, for 26, 33, 77 and 42 yards. He wound up with 232 yards on 10 catches. Both were career highs for Pittman, and only four USC receivers have gained more yards in a game. In all of 2018, Pittman caught 31 for 437.

Few blue-chip recruits go to college intending to become seniors, but that’s what Pittman is after he decided to avoid the NFL draft. Few quarterbacks expect to graduate from college before they get their first significant action and Fink, finding himself behind JT Daniels (now hurt) and Jack Sears (in the transfer portal), visited Illinois as a possible grad transfer.

But when Kedon Slovis was knocked incoherent on the second play of the game, Fink came in with a well-rested and hungry arm.

“I didn’t know what Matt was going to do, but I just supported him and told him to do what was best for him,” Pittman said.

“Check out those stats,” Fink said, referring to Pittman’s, although his own 351 yards on 21-for-30 passing stood up, too.

“The guy’s a monster. You can’t stop him, but I can say that about all our guys. We’ve got weapons stacked across the board and when they play like that, you can’t do anything about it.”

“If our guys get one-on-one opportunities, they’re going to win them,” Harrell said. “We’ve got eight of them that I feel great about, one-on-one. Michael Pittman at times wins two-on-one, as you saw tonight, so that really helps the cause.”

There was intrigue on both sides of the sideline.

Utah came in ranked No. 10 and was voted the preseason Pac-12 title favorite. It lost running back Zack Moss halfway through Friday’s game, but also committed seven holding penalties and 16 infractions overall, lost a fumble on the USC 2-yard line, had a field-goal attempt blocked and gave up a safety on Drake Jackson’s sack, shortly after USC punter Nick Griffiths jailed the Utes on their own 6-yard line. They weren’t very good, in other words.

But there was also the usual noise around the status of Coach Embattled Clay Helton (now his given name) and the presence of former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, working the game for Fox Sports.

Meyer won the 2014 national championship with Cardale Jones coming from deep off his Buckeyes bench, so he probably thought he saw a well-coached team Friday night.

Carol Folt, the new USC president, was here, too. She was inaugurated in the afternoon. Her comprehensive broom is supposed to sweep out Helton, especially after she hires an athletic director to replace the dismissed Lynn Swann.

But it’s worth noting that Folt comes here from North Carolina, where the previous football coach, Larry Fedora, was 5-18 the past two seasons, after losing bowl games in the previous three. So Folt probably did not think she was watching bad football here. How her North Carolina experience translates into her evaluation of USC basketball, we’ll have to see.

And there was the usual sky-is-falling posture from the fans after USC lost in overtime at Brigham Young.

“We don’t hear what the fans say that much, because they’re only with you when things are good,” Pittman said. “And that’s what a fan is. They’re not going to cheer on a team that goes 5-7. There’s no reason to.

“We wanted to win this game because it was one of our goals, like getting to the playoff, getting to the natty (championship game). We’re just checking off the boxes.”

As in the win over Stanford, USC’s defense swelled with each quarter, once it got a handle on stopping the slippery moves of quarterback Tyler Huntley. The Utes piled up the yards and snapped the ball 79 times to USC’s 54. But USC had enough gas to deny Utah touchdowns on four of six red-zone trips.

Utah was down 21-17 early in the fourth and had a third down on the USC 1-yard line. Isaiah Pola-Mao, who made the critical interception against Fresno State, sought out Huntley and dealt him a 6-yard loss, forcing a field goal that kept the Trojans ahead.

Then Griffiths pinned Utah back, and yet another holding penalty forced a second-and-10, which Jackson, the freshman from Centennial High of Corona, turned into a safety off “a rip move,” as he said. Huntley was called for intentional grounding on his way down.

“The sideline got super-excited when we saw that,” said Markese Stepp, the brutish runner who gets the call when the other defense is too tired to take him on. Stepp bulled his way on a 4-yard score that made it 30-20, after Fink, on third-and-8, speared Pittman for 42 yards.

The stairmaster gets steeper. The Trojans play at Washington next Saturday, and at Notre Dame two weeks later. Harrell’s Air Raid offense needs an offensive line that doesn’t make quarterbacks as disposable as blue razors.

The fourth-stringer is walk-on Brandon Perdue, although Pittman said he was “pretty sure” Slovis would be available next week.

But the Trojans can bask, temporarily, in the virtues of the green, green grass of home, and of the dubious nature of unnecessary change. We’ll see if anyone else agrees.

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