Isaiah Pola-Mao’s end-zone interception preserved a 31-23 win for Southern California over Fresno State on an opening night in Los Angeles that saw the Trojans lose starting quarterback JT Daniels to injury.
Daniels completed 25 of 34 passes for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his first game running new USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s air-raid offense. But Daniels sustained an apparent right leg injury on a Justin Rice sack just before halftime.
The Trojans (1-0) saw an early 14-0 lead built on a pair of Stephen Carr touchdowns — one via reception, one via rush — cut to four points in the third quarter. USC then nearly squandered a 31-13 advantage when Fresno State (0-1) drove deep into Trojans territory before Pola-Mao’s interception with just under two minutes left.
USC’s Velus Jones Jr. ran just the sixth 100-yard-plus kickoff return back for a touchdown in school history, and Vavae Malepeai’s goal-line touchdown rush capped a scoring drive set up on a 41-yard pass from freshman Kedon Slovis to Tyler Vaughns.
Slovis went 6-of-8 passing for 57 yards in coming on for Daniels, and completed his first five attempts before a Jaron Bryant interception. Bryant’s pick led to the third of three Cesar Silva field goals.
The Bulldogs later cut the gap to within a touchdown on the second of Jorge Reyna’s two touchdown passes, an 8-yarder to Chris Coleman. Reyna previously found Derrion Grim on a 34-yard score amid a 19-of-39, 256-yard performance for the quarterback.
Vaughns shined for USC in its revamped offense, hauling in a career-high 150 yards on 11 receptions. Malepeai also delivered for the Trojans, rushing for 134 yards on 23 carries.
Jones, whose kickoff return in the third quarter electrified a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum crowd rendered sullen after Daniels’ injury, ran the opening kickoff 64 yards. However, a procedural penalty for two Trojans wearing the same jersey number negated the return.
—Field Level Media