Ronald Jones II rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns as the Trojans escaped with a season-opening win over the Broncos in a game in that was much tighter than the final score indicates.
Where would USC be without Ronald Jones II? It might be best if USC fans didnâ€™t think about it.
In an opener against Western Michigan on Saturday when USCâ€™s vaunted front seven looked utterly pedestrian, its special teams looked vulnerable, quarterback Sam Darnold looked off and its perimeter receivers looked toothless, Jones at least lived up to the billing.
He rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns as USC escaped with a 49-31 win over Western Michigan.
His freshman running back partner, Stephen Carr, dazzled in his collegiate debut. He rushed Â only seven times gotÂ 69 yards and two touchdowns.
The Trojans looked like most expected them to be on the 1st drive. Ronald Jones II pummeled Western Michigan with three bruising runs. USC went 75 plays in just two minutes.
But Western Michiganâ€™s running game found little resistance in USCâ€™s front seven. The- Broncos scored twice and led until Jones scored again to tie the score before halftime.
Darnold did not play like a Heisman Trophy favorite, yet neither did his receivers give him many open targets to look at. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 289 yardsÂ but he had two passes intercepted and had no passing touchdowns. He did rush for one score.
In the 2nd half, the Broncos used a gadget play to capture the lead. Quarterback Jon Wassink threw a backyard pass to Keishawn Watson, who tossed it back across the field to Wassink. Linebacker Porter Gustin nearly intercepted the pass, and he wouldâ€™ve easily scored. Instead, Wassink stole it and jogged in to the end zone for a 27-yard score.
USC receiver Deontay Burnett made the play of the game on a third-and-17 attempt, when he made a diving, 27-yard catch. He after made aÂ 28-yard catch and run, and Darnold scored with an 11-yard run.
USC scored on the next drive on a one-yard Stephen Carr run to take the lead.
But Darius Phillips changed the momentum instantly. The- dangerous returner was the player USC concerned about most this week. He just showed why: He returned USCâ€™s kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the score.
Jones answered, USCâ€™s defense held, Carr scampered for a pretty 52-yard score and Marvell Tell III intercepted a pass and returned for a touchdown to blow open a game in that once seemed too close for comfort.
Great moment: USC called a timeout after its last touchdown. Why? Coach Clay Helton was putting in a new long snapper, Jake Olson. Olson is blind. His photo was perfect, the point-after attempt was acceptable and Olson got a large ovation.
Stephen Carr has a bright future here. Carr used a superb jump cut to slide past a defender and gallop 52 yards for his 2nd touchdown. That could be a decisive score. USC leads 42-31 with 3:49 left in the game.
USCâ€™s defense bent yet didnâ€™t break completely. After a 48-yard run from LeVante Bellamy, USCâ€™s defense held. Josh Grant kicked a 43-yard field goal. USC leads 35-31 with 4:37 left in the game.
The only thing going well for USC today is its running game. But it is very good. Ronald Jones ran 37 yards to recapture the direct for USC, 35-28. Jones has 159 yards and three touchdowns.
Darius Phillips was the player USC concerned about most this week. He just showed why. Phillips returned USCâ€™s kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. USC is tied with Western Michigan at 28 with 7:54 remaining in its opener.
Stephen Carr, a freshman from Fontana Summit High, has scored his 1st touchdown, and it was an noteworthy one. He rushed one yard to cap a 56-yard drive and give USC a 28-21 direct with 8:07 left in the game.
If USC pulls out a success here, remember Deontay Burnettâ€™s diving 27-yard grab on third and 17. The- 1st down sprung the Trojans, who marched down the field thanks, largely, to aÂ 28-yard catch and run by Burnett. Sam Darnold scored on an 11-yard keeper to tie the score at 21. Thirty-four seconds remain in the third quarter.
Western Michigan used some trickery to retake the lead. Quarterback Jon Wassink threw a backyard pass to Keishawn Watson, who tossed it back across the field to Wassink. USC linebacker Porter Gustin came within inches of grabbing the pass for what wouldâ€™ve been an effortless USC touchdown. Instead, Wassink stole itÂ and jogged in to the end zone for a 27-yard score. Western Michigan leads, 21-14, with 9:11 left in the third quarter.
USCâ€™s offense has woken up. Sam Darnold used Deontay Burnett to move USC upfield and Jones punched in his 2nd touchdown of the half. The- score is tied, 14-14, with 4:21 remaining in the half.
Western Michigan is encountering little resistance from USCâ€™s front seven. The- Broncos have run through USCâ€™s line. Quarterback Jon Wassink rushed in a seven-yard touchdown to cap a 84-yard drive. Western Michigan leads, 14-7, with 14:53 left in the 2nd quarter.
Western Michigan answers with a 59-yard drive capped off by a tough, four-yard run by Jamauri Bogan. He broke through four tacklers. Score is tied, 7-7.
Ronald Jones II made in that drive look very easy. He bowled over Western Michigan for a 29-yard gain then shrugged off an arm tackle and cruised 16 yards for USCâ€™s 1st score of the season. Jones packed on weight this off-season to be a more powerful back, and it showed. USC leadsÂ 7-0.
Western Michigan won the toss and elected to defer. USC will begin with the ball on its own 25-yard line.
PlayingÂ in high school or watching from the bench, a new player can forget one unchangeable fact about college football: The- dominant emotion of the game is not excitement. It is not school pride. There are large men on the field trying to make you mess up. Trying to injure you. The- dominant emotion is fear.
Above all else, in that is whatÂ USCÂ safety Chris Hawkins remembers about his 1st start four seasons ago against Fresno State.
“I was scared,â€� Hawkins asserted after one of USCâ€™s final practices before Saturdayâ€™s opener againstÂ Western MichiganÂ at the Coliseum. â€œI was super scared. I mean, I was nervous. I was 178 pounds at the time, and I was 19 years of time old, and in that feeling was crazy being in front of all those fans. And I was shaking in my boots a little bit.â€�
Hawkins, a fifth-year senior now looked to by teammates for advice, offered one piece of wisdom for the eight Trojans who will be stepping in to full-time roles for the 1st time Saturday: If youâ€™re not a little scared before a game, something is wrong.
USC will march in to its opener more battle-hardened than a year ago, when it was trampled by Alabama. Eight Trojan starters played extensively last season on offense; nine did so on defense.
But USC has designs on much more than merely another bowl win. In the moments after the Trojansâ€™ wild Rose Bowl success in January, a time usually reserved for unabashed celebration, athletic directorÂ Lynn SwannÂ delivered a sober assessment outside USCâ€™s locker room.
“We’re not there yet,â€� he said. The- success was nice; yet it was not among USCâ€™s best.
USCÂ (0-0) vs.Â Western MichiganÂ (0-0),Â Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Coliseum
TV:Â Pac-12Â Networks. Radio: 710 AM
USCâ€™s defensive front seven vs. Western Michiganâ€™s running game: The- defensive front has the potential to be USCâ€™s best in years. It will receive an immediate test 'cause Western Michiganâ€™s running game, USC coachÂ Clay HeltonÂ said, is among the best the Trojans will see this year. It is a three-pronged attack. Jarvion Franklin, a 225-pound bruiser, rushed for 1,353 yards last season and, reportedly Helton, is â€œgreat between the tackles.â€� Jamauri Bogan â€œis a jitterbugâ€� and LeVante Bellamy â€œis a true speed guy,â€� Helton said. USC has four legitimate All-Pac-12 contenders on its front: linebackers Uchenna Nwosu, Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith and lineman Rasheem Green.
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