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It’s a first and foremost for USC quarterback Max Browne

Max Browne, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in USC's 45-7 victory over Utah State, looks for a receiver.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Now, this was the opener Max Browne dreamed of playing, not that curb-stomping USC absorbed from Alabama a week earlier.

Browne made countless visits to the Coliseum over the last three years. Never did it look as it did Saturday, when he was on the field and under center for the majority of USC’s 45-7 demolition of overmatched Utah State.

“A day full of firsts,” Browne said.

The redshirt junior went on to list them.

His first start at home. His first touchdown pass, a three-yard rollout to JuJu Smith-Schuster. His first win as a college quarterback.

“Awesome,” Browne said.

Here’s another way to describe the game: Well-deserved.

Browne earned this.

He showed up on USC’s campus as the top-rated quarterback recruit in the country, only to be told he would have to wait his turn to play. And then wait more. And more.

Saturday, he was rewarded for his patience.

He completed 23 of 30 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He was removed from the game at the end of the third quarter with the Trojans leading, 31-7.

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When it was all over, after he and his teammates saluted the student section, Browne spent a moment reflecting on his disappointments. He thought about his parents, who made the 2 1/2-hour flight from their home in Washington to watch the high point of his university experience.

“They’re in my corner, through high and lows,” Browne said. “To do it in front of them, it’s pretty special.”

If Browne’s parents were proud, so was Coach Clay Helton.

“Pretty efficient,” Helton said.

Pretty efficient doesn’t win a Heisman Trophy, but pretty efficient is something that should be valued by a program in transition, especially a program taking on what is arguably the hardest schedule in the country.

When the Trojans were emotionally recovering from their potentially traumatizing defeat to Alabama, they looked to their resilient quarterback for strength.

When they were on the verge of unraveling again — offensive lineman Chuma Edoga was ejected in the first two minutes — they leaned on their mature leader to restore order.

“He was commanding our offense,” left tackle Chad Wheeler said.

Browne made smart decisions. He moved the ball and the chain.

When Browne fumbled a snap out of the shotgun in the second quarter, he maintained his calm and completed a shovel pass to Deontay Burnett as he was crushed by blitzing safety Devin Centers. The nine-yard play set up another touchdown pass, this one from two yards to Steven Mitchell Jr. at the back of the end zone.

Trojans receivers were pleased with how Browne spread around the football and made Utah State pay for keying in on Smith-Schuster, the All-American. Browne completed multiple passes to four receivers.

“That’s awesome getting all the weapons involved because we have them,” Browne said.

The primary beneficiary of this was Darreus Rogers, who caught seven passes for 82 yards.

“I love Darreus,” Browne said. “I love getting him involved. I made the comment during the week, ‘If they’re going to double JuJu, I’m going to make Darreus a household name.’ ”

About the only significant mistake Browne made was an interception he threw in the second quarter.

Taking a snap at the Utah State 42, Browne rolled right and saw Burnett by the near sideline. He tried to float the football over the head of safety Jontrell Rocquemore, but couldn’t.

Browne was bailed out by the Trojans defense, which intercepted a pass by Kent Myers on the next play to preserve what was a 14-point advantage.

“I just have to throw a better ball,” Browne said. “I practice that throw all the time. I can fit it in there. I just have to put more air on it.”

Browne also diffused any potential awkwardness that could have resulted from Helton’s decision to replace him with mobile backup Sam Darnold in certain red-zone situations. The first time was early in the second quarter, when Darnold entered the game on the 12th play of a drive. Darnold led Burnett into the end zone for USC’s second touchdown of the game.

“It’s different, but if it helps our team, I’m all for it,” Browne said.

Darnold, whom Browne narrowly edged to become the starter, played the fourth quarter.

Still, the game was Browne’s.

Not every game will be like this. The Trojans will next take on No. 7 Stanford and dangerous Utah the week after that.

Whatever happens, Browne will always have this day.

He deserved it.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez


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