USC special teams finally have a play to brag about

USC linebacker John Houston Jr. recovers a blocked put off kicker Josh Pollack and runs it into the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter of a game at the Coliseum.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

For most of the season, USC’s special teams had been anything but. USC’s kick return had been toothless. Its punt returns had been nearly non-existent. Its coverage on both had been better, but not by that much. And above all, USC’s special teams had failed to produce any big, game-changing plays.

Finally, USC found one on Saturday against Arizona.

It may be more accurate to say that one found USC. Arizona’s first drive ended with a punt. The snap was low. Punter Josh Pollack bobbled it.

Michael Pittman Jr. didn’t have to do much more than walk into him. He blocked the punt easily. Jalen Greene scooped it and scored for the first points of the game.


Finally, USC had scored its first special teams touchdown of the season.

It was the Trojans’ second block of the season. They also blocked a field goal against Oregon State.

Running back Stephen Carr was back in uniform on Saturday after missing four games because of a foot injury. But he was not at full strength. USC used him cautiously early in the game.

When healthy, Carr is an explosive, versatile option to complement Ronald Jones II. Against Stanford, he had a 100-yard rushing performance in just the second game of his career. In his first five games before the injury, he averaged 5.9 yards per rush and added another 13 catches for 130 yards. He quickly established himself as USC’s primary backup.

“He was so dynamic not only as a runner but what he was able to do out of the backfield catching the ball,” coach Clay Helton said during the week. “He brings that level of not only explosive run ability but also pass catching ability.”

But on Saturday, Aca’Cedric Ware received the bulk of the backup’s carries early. Carr worked into the rotation in the second quarter. Facing a fourth-and-one from their own 43-yard line, the Trojans opted to give Carr just his second carry of the game. He fell forward to just barely nudge the ball over the yardsticks.

Pittman started at receiver for the second week in a row. The regular starter, Steven Mitchell Jr., was limited for the second week in a row with a sprain to the AC joint of his shoulder.

Pittman had just three catches in his first four games after a return from a high ankle sprain. A week ago, he had two catches against Arizona State and had a would-be touchdown called back because of a penalty.

Tyler Petite left the game to be examined in the locker room in the first quarter. He appeared to injure his left shoulder. … Running back Vavae Malepeai (knee injury) was not in uniform for Saturday’s game. He did not participate in practice during the week after sustaining the injury against Arizona State a week ago. … Josh Fatu started at defensive tackle. His snaps a week ago were limited after a return from a concussion. … USC won the coin toss for only the second time this season.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand