USC vs. ASU was all about bringing back the fun for the Trojans, who hope to use the 48-17 victory as a springboard in the Pac-12 South.
That was fun, wasn’t it?
On Saturday night, USC went into Sun Devil Stadium against a smoking-hot ASU squad with the Pac-12 South potentially on the line and put on a show in a 48-17 victory.
“We had something to lose, but we played like we had nothing to lose,” safety Chris Hawkins said.
Sure, there was the topsy-turvy Hail Mary pass to end the half, resulting in a bizarre sequence with both teams leaving the field only to return for an extra point attempt after a video review. But it wouldn’t be #Pac12AfterDark without some #Pac12refs and #drama.
Book-ending the halftime madness, the Trojans found their form, playing what head coach Clay Helton termed some of their best team football of the year.
A week after a joyless performance against Notre Dame, there was joy in the game once more. There were so many moments to cheer they all seemed to run together.
A dime of a touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Deontay Burnett. A sensational Tyler Vaughns dive into the endzone and two Ronald Jones II homerun scampers. The return of Porter Gustin. The return of Josh Fatu. An Uchenna Nwosu batted pass and back-to-back sacks. A near pick-six for John Houston. A near scoop-and-score for Marvell Tell.
And an actual pick-six for Ykili Ross, who was swarmed by teammates who were just as, if not more, excited over the defensive back’s triumph in the fourth quarter as scores in the first.
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“The message of the whole entire week was to have fun and get back to our swagger,” linebacker Cameron Smith said.
That was a message repeated over and over by Trojan players in the aftermath of Saturday’s win. From Smith and Hawkins to Darnold, Josh Fatu, Rasheem Green, Nico Falah and Jack Jones, fun was the buzz word. Go out and have fun.
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It started even before USC left for the desert. Many around the program wondered if the Trojan coaches understood what did and didn’t need fixing in the aftermath of that loss in South Bend, especially after the Trojans practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday with no discernible tweaks. But there were little changes which helped break USC out of the Notre Dame daze.
“We practiced the same, but I think this is a much looser team. We came out very loose and really ready to play,” Hawkins said.
The safety said he spoke to Helton on Thursday about getting back to the team mentality that helped them win nine games in a row in 2016. It was about playing loose, having fun and being a family. Helton responded.
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“He changed some things up,” Hawkins said. “We went out to practice on Friday and we had music while we warmed up. We had music for the first time in about two years.”
Music at practice may seem like a small thing, but it was something different, something to break up the grind of a 12-week season without a break. It worked.
USC is only nine weeks through that stretch, but they are back on track and still in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South.
“This was the next step,” Helton said. “We have another big step next week with another Arizona team that’s playing really good football.”
In the midst of a four-game stretch to win the division, for USC it’s one down, three to go.