Clay Helton walked into the USC Trojans' locker room and breathed a sigh of relief. Not because his team had just played a dramatic closely fought game, but simply because they were able to play at all. After two weeks, three confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, and over 10 players stuck in quarantine, the USC Trojans finally played football again.
"To be honest with you, we’re just thankful to get the opportunity," said Helton after the game. "It’s so awesome to see these guys that love each other so much, and play for each other so much, just have fun together, especially in the
last two weeks."
As it turned out, there was no dramatics or late-game comebacks. The well-rested Trojans thoroughly thrashed Washington State, 38-13, on Sunday night at the LA Coliseum to remain undefeated on the shortened season.
“I really thought during practice this week that It almost felt like a bye week.," said Helton about how rested his team was. "You could see how fresh the guys were in
practice this week and how much they were flying around. I credit them, we talk about how important games in December are, and here we are."
The Trojans (4-0, No. 20 in the CFP) played just their second game at home this season after a coronavirus outbreak cancelled their Nov. 28 game against Colorado and pushed this game to Sunday night.
The game was originally scheduled to be played on Friday night, but it was postponed to Sunday to allow players on USC to finish their time in isolation after three positive tests for COVID-19, and several others were forced into quarantine because of contact tracing. Less than 48 hours before Sunday's kickoff, 10 players were still in quarantine.
The rare Sunday night game was just the fourth time in the Trojans history the team has played on a Sunday, and the first time since the 2000 opener against Penn State.
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Kedon Slovis tied a USC record with five first half touchdowns, completing 17 passes in a row at one point in the first half. Slovis finished 25-for-32 for 287 yards and five touchdowns.
“I was really excited to get to the Colorado game. I felt against Utah not my worst game in the world, but I felt we left a lot on the table as an offense. So I was really looking forward to the Colorado game and I think that carried over to this week," said Slovis. "I think as a whole offense we were looking forward to going out there and putting a lot of points up."
Four of those five touchdown passes were to junior wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown, who tied an NCAA record with four touchdowns in a single quarter. Outside of his four scores, St. Brown was relatively silent the rest of the game, finishing with seven catches for 75 yards and four touchdowns.
“For us offensively, I think Amon-Ra had three or four receptions and four touchdowns," said Slovis. "It wasn’t like he was getting the ball every play. It was awesome that he got to score every time, but at the same time we were getting the ball to everyone and everyone was just executing and playing excited.”
“The last game where I had four touchdowns was actually my first game in high school as a junior. That’s the last time I had four touchdowns in a game," said St. Brown. "So, for it to come today, in college, was crazy because it’s very uncommon. I’m just glad my teammates and coaches trusted me.”
Fellow USC receivers Drake London and Tyler Vaughns also had big games for the Trojans. London had five catches for 92 yards, averaging over 18 yards per catch. Vaughns finished with five catches for 69 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
USC scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions in the first half. They recorded points on their first six possessions until they missed a 31-yard field goal by Parker Lewis on their seventh drive of the game.
Washington State had three turnovers before they finally found the end zone just before the half.
"They played much better football than us, took advantage of our mistakes, turnovers," said Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich. "Offense
never got in rhythm. I’m glad the defense kept fighting and woke up a little bit in second half. We had horrible field position, most of the game. We kept battling and I appreciate it. We’ve got to execute better offensively no doubt.”
Freshman quarterbacks, Jayden de Laura from Honolulu, Hawaii was 18-for-29 for 134 yards with two interceptions and Gunner Cruz from Arizona was 5-for-7 for 34 yards and a touchdown. One of the lone bright spots for the Cougars was running back Deon McIntosh who had 10 carries for 65 yards.
“I’m glad they weren't scared to get in there and try to do their job," said Rolovich about his young quarterbacks. "Seemed like it went fairly smoothly. I’m glad both of them got in. Showed some toughness, I think they each had a pretty strong quarterback run to get to get a first down. I think they were waiting for their opportunity."
After splitting their first two games against both Oregon teams (38-28 against Oregon State, and 29-43 against Oregon), Washington State had their next two games against Stanford and Washington cancelled because of COVID-19. The Cougars showed obvious signs of rust after not taking the field in 22 days.
Meanwhile, the Trojans earned their most impressive win of the season, after barely escaping against Arizona State and Arizona in their first two games. They will have to wait until Monday to discover if their lopsided victory is enough to convince the committee to move the Trojans higher in the rankings.
Next up for USC is their final regular season game of the year against crosstown rival UCLA. A victory at the Rose Bowl would send the Trojans to the Pac 12 Championship Game with an opportunity to crack the College Football Selection Committee's top 10.