What we learned about USC in its win over Fresno State

What we learned about USC in its win over Fresno State
USC running back Javorius Allen breaks into the Fresno State secondary for a big gain in the third quarter. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Five things we learned from USC's 52-13 victory over Fresno State on Saturday:

Playing through distractions


USC Coach Steve Sarkisian should consider sending former coach Lane Kiffin a thank-you card for building a well-adjusted team that is resilient to distractions.

From cornerback Josh Shaw's fabricated heroic rescue story to tailback Anthony Brown's accusations of Sarkisian being a racist, the team dealt with endless controversy this week.

But defensive lineman Leonard Williams said the events were nothing compared to last season, when they underwent four coaching changes.

"Something this small, we are not going to let it affect us at game time," Williams said.

He was right. There were no signs of turmoil in the program on Saturday when the Trojans routed Fresno State, 52-13.

Freshmen out in full force


Sarkisian said a week ago he planned to play at least 10 freshmen this seaon.

He played 11 on Saturday and if their high-performance level continues, most could play significant roles as the season continues.

As expected, Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama started at left and right guard, respectively. Viane Talamaivao came in to back up Mam as the two rotated throughout the game. It's probable that could turn into a trend this season.

Although it's not a shock, it is a mild surprise that receiver Juju Smith started after he was listed as a backup on the depth chart. Smith caught four passes for 123 yards. He looked every bit a big-time playmaker who will have a major role in Sarkisian's offense.

Adoree' Jackson spent the fall running between offensive and defensive drills. The extra conditioning between fields paid off. He made a tackle and caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown in his debut.

Tight end Bryce Dixon only caught one pass, but he made it count. Dixon held on over a defender for a 22-yard touchdown reception. Sarkisian announced walk-on Chris Willson broke his foot during the game, which means Dixon will see more playing time behind Randall Telfer.

Receiver Ajene Harris was the most consistent freshman throughout camp. He was listed as a starter going into the week, but played sparingly on offense.

Cornerback Jonathan Lockett, safety John Plattenburg and linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Olajuwon Tucker all checked in on defense late in the game.


That was fast

We've been telling you to buckle up for Sarkisian's up-tempo offense, but I didn't even think they'd go this fast in the opener.

The team ran 105 plays for 701 yards of total offense.

In fact, they set a Pac-12 record, breaking the previous 103-play record set in 2012 by Arizona against Stanford -- and that game went to overtime.

The Trojans weren't Oregon fast, they weren't even Washington fast. But they went quick, and if the learning curve continues they'll only speed up.

Almost even on offense

The way the game started, it looked like Sarkisian created a game plan through the air.

But eventually, the run game caught up.

Here's how the 701 total yards of offense broke down: 277 yards rushing for three touchdown and 424 yards passing for four touchdowns.

Sarkisian was committed to the rushing game at Washington on the legs of running back Bishop Sankey.

It was unclear how the run game would factor for the Trojans in the up-tempo offense, but there were plenty of Javorius "Buck" Allen and Justin Davis sightings.

Allen rushed for a team-best 139 yards in 22 carries with a touchdown.

Forcing turnovers

The defense didn't intercept many passes during camp, so it was unexpected to see them pick four from the Bulldogs.

Linebackers Anthony Sarao and Michael Hutchings both intercepted a pass. So did safety Gerald Bowman.

Even the defensive line got in on the action when Leonard Williams made his second career interception.

It will be interesting to see if the trend continues when the Trojans face quarterback Kevin Hogan next week at Stanford.

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