Trojans rally for last-minute win in season opener

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The knock on USC head football coach Clay Helton is that he seems overmatched by the better coaches he comes across in the Pac 12 and at national powers like Notre Dame and Alabama.

Helton seemed overmatched against former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, who coaches the Arizona State Sun Devils. Indeed, for most of the Trojans’ season opener Nov. 7, Helton appeared to be outcoached and the Trojans were out-executed by Arizona State.

But in the last four minutes of the game, USC’s superior athletic talent won out and the Trojans defeated the Sun Devils, 28-27, to get the 2020 college football season underway.

The Trojans try to make it 2-0 against Arizona schools Nov. 14 when they play the University of Arizona Wildcats in Tucson at 12:30 p.m. Fox will be televising the game.

The Trojans come into the game with a decided advantage — they played last week. Arizona’s season-opener against Utah was canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Utah roster.

The Trojans were lucky to win their season opener, overcoming a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit thanks to Kedon Slovis’ two touchdown passes in the last three minutes.

For the first 57 minutes the Trojans infuriated their fans by turning the ball over, failing to make first downs on fourth-down conversions and other things that have become commonplace since Helton became the head coach.

But sophomore quarterback Slovis managed to lead a comeback that culminated when he hit receiver Drake London with a 21-yard scoring pass on a fourth-down play with less than a minute to play to give the Trojans the win they might not have deserved.

The Trojans turned the ball over four times with three fumbles and an interception. One fumble was at the Arizona State goal line, ending a promising first-quarter drive.

The Trojans also failed to convert two fourth-down plays inside Arizona State territory when Helton might have been better off ordering field goals.

But the Trojans have a freshman kicker, Parker Lewis, so Helton was hesitant to use him in those situations.

Lewis did kick the game-winning extra point and made a successful onside kick that gave the Trojans the ball back after they closed the Sun Devils lead to 27-21 with 2:52 to play on a Slovis to Bru McCoy touchdown pass.

McCoy then made his second big play down the stretch when he recovered the onside kick.

Slovis picked up where he left off as a freshman. He broke the school record for passes completed in a game with 40 in 55 attempts. He threw for 381 yards with only one interception.

London had eight catches for 125 yards and Amon-Ra St. Brown also was over 100 yards receiving with seven catches for 100 yards.

The Trojans used three different running backs with Vavae Malepeai gaining 60 yards in eight carries leading the way. Markese Stepp had 53 yards on 14 carries and Stephen Carr gained 45 yards in 10 carries.

The Trojans defense under new coordinator Todd Orlando gave up only 10 points in the second half after the Trojans trailed 17-14 at halftime.

After rising in the Associated Press’ top 25 poll the last three weeks despite not playing a game, the Trojans remained at 20 in this week’s poll.

They will have to try to do it against an Arizona team playing its first game of the season.

At least this game has a normal starting time unlike last week’s 9 a.m. start.

SAME OLD BRUINS: It must have been sweet revenge for Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell as his debut as head coach was against the team he played for as a college student and then coached for five years earlier this century.

The Bruins turned the ball over three times in the first half, Colorado turned all three into touchdowns on their way to a 35-14 halftime lead and the Buffaloes held on to win 48-42 in the season opener for both teams.

Dorrell had a 35-27 record in five years with the Bruins from 2003 to 2007.

Three head coaches, later the Bruins are still trying to regain that winning form.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, now in his third year as the Bruins quarterback, rolled up 412 yards of total offense, passing for four touchdowns and running for another, but the Bruins couldn’t stop the Buffaloes in the first half and couldn’t quite come back against the Buffaloes.

The Bruins defense gave up 257 yards passing to Sam Noyer, who played safety for Colorado last year, and running back Jarek Broussard gouged the Bruins defense for 187 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

The Bruins are scheduled to play Utah at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, but that game is in danger of being canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak at Utah that caused the Utes to miss their season opener against Arizona Nov. 7. The game was originally scheduled for Nov. 13, but was moved back a day to help Utah clear more players.

BAD TREND: There is an old axiom in sports: good teams win close games and bad teams lose close games.

The Los Angeles Chargers fell to 2-6 with a 31-26 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders Nov. 8. Of the team’s six losses thus far this season, this may have hurt the most.

After losing last week to Denver on a last-second field goal, the Chargers again lost on the last play, but that only happened after the Chargers had thought they won the game.

Donald Parham thought he had caught a pass from Justin Herbert on the last play of the game that would have given the Chargers the victory. But after a review of the final play, it was ruled that Parham was juggling the ball as he hit the ground. The call of touchdown on the field was reversed and the Raiders ran off the field celebrating a victory and the Chargers were left wondering when the breaks would fall their way.

They outgained the Raiders 440-320, led 26-16 in first downs and 34:44-25:16 in time of possession in their ninth consecutive loss to an AFC West opponent dating back to last season.

Herbert completed 28 of 42 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns for his fourth 300-yard performance in his seven starts.

Herbert has thrown for 2,146 yards, the third-most among quarterbacks with seven career starts behind Billy Volek, who had 2,305 in 2003 and 2004 for the Tennessee Titans and Patrick Mahomes, who had 2,149 for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 and 2018.

The Chargers travel across the country this week for a 1 p.m. game against the Miami Dolphins and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

GOOD BYE WEEK: The Rams had a successful bye week last week. Their three rivals in the NFC Western Division all lost, leaving the Rams tied with the Arizona Cardinals for second place in the division at 5-3. The Seattle Seahawks fell to 6-2 with a loss to Buffalo.

The Rams can move into a tie for first in the division with a win Nov. 15 against the Seahawks at SoFi Stadium.

DODGER FREE AGENCY: The Dodgers have some off-season decisions to make as they continue to celebrate their first World Series championship in 32 years.

Third baseman Justin Turner is the biggest name of eight players who became free agents the day after the World Series ended, and is probably the player the team needs to retain the most.

Other free agents are outfielder Joc Pederson, utility man Kike Hernandez and pitchers Alex Wood, Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Jake McGee and Jimmy Nelson.

Turner is the unofficial captain of the Dodgers and one of the team leaders, along with Clayton Kershaw. He is getting on in years and his legs are starting to go, but he probably has a couple of years left in him.

The Dodgers should sign him on a one- or two-year deal.

For the other six free agents, if they want to return to the Dodgers they better be willing to sign team-friendly contracts.

Pederson has proven to be an all-or-nothing power-hitting outfielder. He hits for power, but not much else and the Dodgers are loaded in the outfield and have a couple of youngsters waiting at Oklahoma City waiting for their chance.

The same holds true for Kike Hernandez. The Dodgers value his ability to play several positions well and he has had some clutch hits during his career. But Gavin Lux and Zach McKinstry are about ready for the Major Leagues and they will be much cheaper for the Dodgers for the next six years than Hernandez.

Of the five pitchers on the list, Pedro Baez might be the most valuable. He is a highly dependable relief pitcher, as long as you don’t pitch him in crisis situations.

The Dodgers took Treinen, McGhee and Nelson off the free agent scrap heap last offseason and there are more veteran relief pitchers that are free agents this year, too. The Dodgers must address their closer situation this off-season. They can’t spend another season with an inconsistent Kenley Jansen being asked to close games on a regular basis.