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The fog lifts for USC in 44-17 blowout victory at Washington State

USC's Nelson Agholor, shown breaking a tackle attempt by Washington State's Taylor Taliulu, caught eight passes for 220 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown reception, with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown as well.
(Dean Hare / Associated Press)

The fog rolled in, the temperature dropped and rain began to fall.

USC players reveled in the conditions they faced Saturday at Martin Stadium.

And they were elated at the outcome, a convincing 44-17 victory over Washington State.

As receiver Nelson Agholor jogged off the soggy field, he and his teammates were not looking behind at missteps from the previous week or the first nine games.

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“We’re in November now,” Agholor said. “They remember November.”

Agholor was referring to fans, players, reporters and anyone else who will assess the Trojans at season’s end.

So the Trojans came to the Palouse intent on not only winning but proving they could put away an opponent and finish a game without the drama that has plagued them.

USC did it with quarterback Cody Kessler passing for five touchdowns, Agholor scoring on a punt return and long touchdown pass and receiver JuJu Smith hauling in three touchdown passes.

Despite an injury suffered by star linebacker Su’a Cravens early in the game, the Trojans rebounded from last week’s last-second defeat at Utah and improved their record to 6-3 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12 Conference.

USC, so intent on finishing, is now looking at the final quarter of its season.

The Trojans will take the week off from practice to rest and heal in preparation for a Nov. 13 game against California at the Coliseum. Looming afterward are rivalry games against UCLA at the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame at the Coliseum.

“Undefeated in L.A.,” defensive lineman Antwaun Woods said as he walked to the locker room. “That’s the plan.”

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The Trojans set themselves up for a potentially strong finish by knocking Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday out of the game, jumping to a 17-point halftime lead and then continuing to score in the second half.

Tailback Javorius Allen rushed for 114 yards, becoming the first USC back since Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen to eclipse the 100-yard mark in six consecutive games.

“All in all,” Coach Steve Sarkisian said, “a really cool win.”

There is plenty to improve upon — “We’re not perfect by any means,” Sarkisian said — but the Trojans did not allow Washington State back into the game.

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That was a major step forward after blowing second-half leads and losing to Arizona State and Utah in the final seconds, and barely hanging on to defeat Stanford and Arizona.

In the days leading up to the trip to Washington State, Sarkisian said the Trojans were intent on “finishing” games and developing a “killer instinct.”

“I don’t think we let up this game,” said Kessler, who completed 21 of 32 passes for a career-best 400 yards. “We kept attacking all the way to the end.”

On offense and defense.

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“It’s just what we needed going into the bye,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “We showed we could play the whole game.”

Agholor gave the Trojans the early lead Saturday by returning a punt 65 yards for a touchdown. It was his second touchdown return of the season the fourth of his career, a USC record.

Linebacker Hayes Pullard intercepted a pass to set up Kessler’s first touchdown pass to Smith, setting the stage for one of the game’s most important, and painful, plays.

Halliday, who leads major college football in passing yards and touchdowns, completed a third-down pass midway through the first quarter. But Williams fell on the senior’s leg as he was wrapping him up. Halliday’s right leg was immobilized and he was carted from the field.

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Cougars Coach Mike Leach said after the game that Halliday had suffered a broken leg, an injury that will end his season and college career.

Kessler’s second touchdown pass to Smith put the Trojans ahead, 24-0, before Washington State finally scored on a touchdown pass by backup quarterback Luke Folk.

The Cougars, who overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to defeat Utah, pulled to within 24-10 in the third quarter.

But Kessler connected with Agholor on an 87-yard touchdown pass play and then added another touchdown pass to Smith.

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So now it’s on to the finish.

USC’s goal is to play a complete game — and win — again . . . and again . . . and again in the final games of the regular season.

“We have a chance to do something really cool,” Sarkisian said, “in the month of November.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

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Twitter: @latimesklein


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