Los Angeles, CA – USC turned the offense over to true freshman J.T. Daniels who turned to a familiar face to overcome a slow start. The Trojans held a five-point lead when Daniels hit fellow true freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Mater Dei connection helped No.15 USC to a 43-21 victory over UNLV in the season opener Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Yeah, its goosebumps, running out there and seeing the stadium and all these fans,” Daniels said of his debut. “It’s hard to put into word, for my first time in the Coliseum. It was really magical.”
Daniels got off to a shaky start but once he got his timing down, the offense got on a roll, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Rebels.The former Monarch went 22-of-35 for 282 yards and a touchdown.
St. Brown, another former Mater Dei standout, caught three consecutive passes on one drive and finished with seven receptions for 98 yards.
“It was nice to get my first touchdown catch in the Coliseum in my first college game,” St. Brown said. “I think it would have been just as special if it was from Matt Fink, Jack Sears or JT Daniels, they are all great quarterbacks.”
The Trojans youth is on defense where several freshman saw playing time and it showed as USC gave up 308 yards on the ground. On a bright note, they held UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers to 97 yards passing and sacked him five times.
“We did not know what we were going to get defensively,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “We talked about making adjustments at halftime to really be able to put points on the board.”
Helton said he likes to see the eyes of young players and the eyes give it away, whether you’re ready for the moment. It was really neat to see a lot of young people ready for this moment, and guys that had been redshirted, ready for this moment and stepping up, Helton added.
UNLV running back Lexington Thomas took the handoff up the middle but was stripped by true freshman Isaiah Pola-Mao on the Rebels opening possession. Senior linebacker Porter Gustin recovered the fumble but USC could not capitalize on the turnover and went three-and-out.
After back-to-back field goals by USC, running back Lexington Thomas kept the handoff on a fake reverse and went 71 yards for the score and a 7-6 UNLV lead in the first quarter.
Tyler Vaughns came down with a catch in the end zone but it was ruled out of bounds. USC settled for a 29-yard field goal to retake the lead, 9-7. Rogers connected with Kendal Keys for a 31-yard touchdown and a 14-9 lead. The Rebels used a fake punt to keep the drive alive.
USC running back Vavae Malepeai scored from two yards out to give the Trojans a 19-14 lead heading into halftime. Aca’Cedric Ware rushed for 100 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Kicker Chase McGrath tied a school record with five field goals. The Trojans will go on the road to take on No. 13 Stanford
“Good game, good win,” Helton said. “1-0 on the week, but we’ve got a lot to fix before we get to Stanford this week.”