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USC scores 45 unanswered points in dominant win over Washington State

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Southern California quarterback Jaxson Dart throws a pass during the first half.
USC quarterback Jaxson Dart throws a pass against Washington State on Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

USC ended a tumultuous week that began with the firing of coach Clay Helton with a 45-14 victory over Washington State on Saturday.

Day of debuts: QB Jaxson Dart shines in interim coach Donte Williams first game

USC cornerback Jayden Williams and safety Xavion Alford tackle Washington State wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr.
USC cornerback Jayden Williams and safety Xavion Alford tackle Washington State wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. during the first half Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

The debut of the day was that of USC interim coach Donte Williams, who replaced the fired Clay Helton after last week’s debacle against Stanford.

Another debut eclipsed even Williams leading the Trojans to a 45-14 victory at Washington State on Saturday.

Quarterback Jaxson Dart, a freshman who was the national high school player of the year in 2020, was thrust into the game after Kedon Slovis was injured on the first series.

Highlights from USC’s 45-14 victory over Washington State on Sunday.

And Dart delivered, overcoming early jitters to complete 30 of 46 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He connected with Drake London 13 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Gary Bryant Jr. and Kyle Ford also caught touchdown passes.

The USC defense, porous throughout the first half, stiffened in the second half and contributed a touchdown when Drake Jackson forced a fumble on a sack in the end zone and the ball was recovered by Tuli Tuipulotu.

Washington State was held to 174 yards passing and 99 yards rushing, the bulk of which came in the first half.

The victory improved USC to 2-1 and 1-0 under Williams, who was demonstrative and celebratory on the sideline as his team pulled away in the second half.

Dart’s 391 yards passing were the most by a Trojan in his debut and his performance likely will create a quarterback controversy when Slovis — the starter since 2019 — returns.

Last season at Corner Canyon High in Draper, Utah, Dart threw 67 touchdown passes and for 4,691 yards to go along with 1,195 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

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Jaxson Dart throws another TD pass and USC turns it into a laugher

Now Jaxson Dart is just making it look easy. After Washington State turned the ball over on downs at the USC 36-yard line, Dart need only one play to extend the lead to 45-14.

The freshman quarterback hit Kyle Ford on a post pattern for Dart’s fourth touchdown pass and Ford’s first career touchdown catch.

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USC turns a first-half fiasco into a celebration with 38 unanswered points

USC extended its lead over Washington State to 38-14 with eight minutes to play when Parker Lewis hit a 34-yard field goal.

Freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart has passed for 355 yards, the most ever in a Trojan debut. He overcame two early interceptions to throw three touchdown passes.

Drake London has 13 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns for USC.

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Jaxson Dart throws his third TD pass to extend USC lead to 35-14

Jaxson Dart is getting better and better right before the eyes of Trojans fans. The freshman quarterback threw his third touchdown pass, this one of 31 yards to Drake London with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.

USC leads 35-14 after scoring 35 unanswered points.

Dart is playing only because starting quarterback Kedon Slovis injured his neck on the first series of the game.

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USC’s defense joins the fun, forces fumble in the end zone and recovers for a TD

After Jaxson Dart had a pass intercepted at the Washington State five-yard line, the USC defense made a huge play, with Drake Jackson sacking Victor Gabalis in the end zone. Gabalis fumbled and the ball was recovered by Tuli Tuipulotu for a touchdown.

The Trojans lead, 28-14.

On Washington State’s next possession, a long pass by Gabalis was intercepted by freshman safety Calen Bullock, and Dart was off again, leading the Trojans on another drive.

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USC pulls ahead 21-14 on Gary Bryant Jr.'s second touchdown

Jaxson Dart is getting more comfortable by the minute, taking USC on an 81-yard drive for a go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter.

The march was culminated by a three-yard run by Gary Bryant Jr., who outraced Washington State defenders to the corner of the end zone after slipping in the backfield.

USC, thoroughly outplayed in the first half, is ahead 21-14 and clearly has momentum. Meanwhile, Washington State is committing costly penalties and has changed quarterbacks from Jayden de Laura to Victor Gabalis.

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USC forces fumble on second-half kickoff, Dart connects with London for TD: 14-14

After recovering a fumble on the kick return to begin the third quarter, Jaxson Dart threw a, ahem, dart to Drake London for a five-yard touchdown that tied the score 14-14.

On a third-and-10 play from the Washington State 15 that gained only one yard, the Cougars were called for roughing the passer, extending the USC drive.

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Jaxson Dart acquits himself well in the first half after replacing Kedon Slovis

Thrust into the lineup when Kedon Slovis was injured on USC’s first series, freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart finished the first half completing 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards. He did commit two turnovers, throwing an interception and fumbling.

Dart’s touchdown pass to Gary Bryant Jr. in the last minute of the half enabled USC to climb within 14-7 despite being outplayed by Washington State.

The Trojans rushed for only 24 yards in 12 carries, with Dart gaining 35 yards. The rest of the team was held to minus-11 yards.

Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura completed 10 of 16 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougars rushed for 67 yards in 16 carries.

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USC team plane reaches its tipping point just after players deplaned Friday

The USC team plane tipped backward on the tarmac after landing in Lewiston, Idaho, on Friday, sending the plane’s nose into the air. Apparently, the grounds crew did not put the plane’s tail stand in place.

Coaches and staff were still on board but the players had already deplaned. No one was injured, a team spokesperson said.

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Here’s what you need to know about Jaxson Dart, the Trojans’ sudden man of the hour

USC's Jaxson Dart during USC's spring game in the Coliseum on April 17, 2021.
USC’s Jaxson Dart during USC’s spring game in the Coliseum on April 17, 2021.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Just one year ago, Jaxson Dart was barely a blip on USC’s radar. The young Utah quarterback had no Power Five offers. His profile didn’t even appear on all the major recruiting sites.

It would take a senior-season transfer, a pandemic-altered high school campaign, and a meteoric rise to Gatorade national player of the year for Dart to arrive at this moment, with coach Clay Helton making official Thursday what so many around USC had expected since the freshman’s standout spring. Dart will be USC’s backup quarterback behind Kedon Slovis this season, while Miller Moss, a fellow four-star freshman, will occupy the No. 3 spot.

Slovis remains the unquestioned starter under center. The significance of the selection at backup quarterback extends beyond this season, with Dart now presumed to be at the center of USC’s future plans at the position and Moss — for now, at least — on the outside looking in.

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USC scores on fourth-down pass in waning seconds of the first half, pulls within 14-7

USC was outplayed by Washington State the entire first half, but pulled to within 14-7 when Jaxson Dart connected with Gary Bryant Jr. on a 38-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-nine with 32 seconds to play in the half.

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Washington State extends lead to 14-0 midway through the second quarter

Jaylen de Laura hit Travell Harris in the end zone from seven yards to extend Washington State’s lead to 14-0 with 6:13 to play in the first half.

The Cougars have moved the ball pretty much at will the entire half, the exception being USC’s goal-line stand in first two minutes of the second quarter.

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USC’s goal-line stand helps put a poor first quarter in the rear-view mirror

The second quarter began much better for USC. The quarter began with Washington State at the Trojans’ one-yard line, but USC put together a spirited goal-line stand and took possession with 13 minutes to play in the half.

Jaxson Dart connected with Gary Bryant Jr. for a key first down on third down from the one-yard line, then hit Drake London for a 33-yard gain down the middle.

The drive stalled at midfield, however, and the Trojans punted with 9:44 left in the half.

Washington State outgained USC 139-40 in the first quarter.

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Jaxson Dart in at quarterback after Kedon Slovis shaken up on USC’s first possession

Freshman Jaxson Dart has replaced Kedon Slovis at quarterback for USC midway through the first quarter after Slovis was shaken up while being sacked on the Trojans’ first possession.

Dart, the national high school player of the year at Corner Canyon High in Kaysville, Utah, dashed for 23 yards on his first play.

His first pass also resulted in a first down, with Dart scrambling before hitting tight end Malcolm Epps on third down with four minutes left in the quarter.

However, Dart’s pass a minute later was intercepted by Daniel Isom, who returned the ball beyond midfield.

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Washington State culminates long drive with a touchdown for a 7-0 lead

Washington State’s first possession, a methodical 89-yard march, resulted in a touchdown catch by Travell Harris for a 7-0 lead.

Jayson de Laura completed five of seven passes for 52 yards on the drive.

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Kedon Slovis sacked to end USC’s first possession of the Donte Williams era

The Donte Williams era began with USC quarterback Kedon Slovis getting sacked on a third-and-12 play two minutes into the game.

Washington State freshman edge rusher Andrew Edson clobbered Slovis, who was slow to get up but eventually jogged off the field.

USC was put in a hole because of a penalty. The Trojans were assessed 94 yards in penalties during last week’s loss to Stanford.

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Here are 13 candidates to replace Clay Helton as USC’s permanent head football coach

With Clay Helton’s firing Monday, the USC football head coaching job is open for the first time since 2015. Here are the top candidates for athletic director Mike Bohn to consider while making a tenure-defining hire.

First calls

Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell walks on the sideline during a game against Iowa on Saturday
(Matthew Putney / Associated Press)

Campbell has done the unthinkable by turning Iowa State into a yearly contender in the Big 12, and he’s done it in no-frills fashion, with a strong running game and defense. Campbell recently signed a lengthy extension with the Cyclones, but you’d have to think that there are certain schools, such as USC, that would pique his interest.

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati head coach

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell speaks with quarterback Desmond Ridder before a game against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 4.
(Jeff Dean / Associated Press)

There are obvious deep connections between Fickell and USC, as Bohn hired Fickell to be the Bearcats’ head coach when he was the athletic director at Cincinnati. Bohn saw firsthand how Fickell built the Bearcats into an undefeated playoff contender out of the Group of Five last season. Fickell is an Ohio guy and now has the Bearcats on the verge of joining the Big 12, so it’s possible he would not risk a cushy situation to come across the country to Los Angeles.

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What’s going on with USC football? Clay Helton’s firing and what comes next

USC coach Clay Helton watches his players warm up before a loss to Stanford at the Coliseum on Sept. 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

After more than seven seasons at the helm of the USC football team, coach Clay Helton was fired by the university on Monday. USC athletic director Mike Bohn made the decision following the Trojans’ 42-28 loss to Stanford in USC’s Pac-12 opener at the Coliseum.

For years, many USC fans had been calling for Helton’s firing, and the university publicly supported him heading into the 2021 season. Saturday’s loss quickly changed its stance.

Here’s everything you need to know about what led to Helton’s firing and what comes next for USC as it begins its search for a new coach.

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USC is betting on a better future without Clay Helton. Should you?

Stanford wide receiver Brycen Tremayne makes a catch against USC cornerback Chris Steele.
Stanford wide receiver Brycen Tremayne makes a catch against USC cornerback Chris Steele during the Trojans’ loss on Sept. 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Getting embarrassed by Stanford was the last straw for USC athletic director Mike Bohn. Citing the need for a change in leadership, Bohn fired Clay Helton, who had been the head coach of the Trojans since 2015. Expectations are justifiably high at a place like USC and the team had met too few of them on Helton’s watch.

Bettors were extremely skeptical of Helton for several seasons leading up to his firing. Many shied away from taking USC, especially in games in which the Trojans were facing a perceived coaching disadvantage, like Saturday night. The talent level in the program also took a dive with some lackluster recruiting classes that pushed the power rating for oddsmakers and handicappers down year after year.

But does Helton’s firing have any impact this week in the minds of those that set the lines?

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Donte Williams, Urban Meyer and what we know about the USC football coaching search

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer stands on the sideline during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer stands on the sideline during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 29.
(Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

Clay Helton was out of his job for no more than a few hours on Monday afternoon before the backchanneling began. With one of college football’s famed powerhouse programs in need of a coach following Helton’s firing, interested calls from agents came rolling in right away at USC.

There was scarcely time for the school’s brass to catch its breath before the rumor mill, and the attendant speculative fireworks, erupted. Every news conference denial or non-denial regarding the USC job will be analyzed with a Zapruder-esque level of scrutiny. They already have.

The urgency to find the perfect fit has never been higher at USC, where the last three coaches have been fired midseason during a 10-year span that has yielded just one Pac-12 title. But for the two administrators at the center of USC’s search, athletic director Mike Bohn and his chief of staff Brandon Sosna, there’s no reason to rush. The benefit of firing your coach two games into the season is that you have all the time in the world to conduct a thorough search and get it right.

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Donte Williams focuses USC football on Washington State among the madness of the week

USC interim head coach Donte Williams conducts practice Wednesday at USC.
USC interim head coach Donte Williams conducts practice Wednesday at USC, two days after the university fired Clay Helton.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Since the moment he was pulled aside Monday afternoon and unexpectedly handed the reins of one of college football’s preeminent programs, Donte Williams has been caught in a whirlwind. While learning the language of USC’s offense, correcting “dumb mistakes” on defense, coaching his usual cornerbacks, reassuring the staff, and, of course, that small matter of keeping USC’s locker room together through an emotionally taxing transition, the Trojans’ interim coach hasn’t found much time for sleep.

“It’s almost like I go home and just basically take a shower and close my eyes and I’m right back at work,” Williams joked on Thursday morning.

Williams, who’s the first Black head football coach in USC history, will lead the Trojans into hostile territory against Washington State on Saturday with no head coaching experience at any level. But the cornerbacks coach and ace recruiter received a crash course the last few days, from his fellow USC assistants and from hours upon hours of film.

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USC set multiple performance benchmarks for Clay Helton. He didn’t make it past No. 1

USC coach Clay Helton walks the sideline during the Trojans' loss to Stanford on Sept. 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The criteria for the most consequential decision of Mike Bohn’s career was established ahead of the football season, weeks before the disastrous defeat that accelerated the end of Clay Helton’s disappointing tenure as USC’s coach.

In the late summer it was understood among Bohn, USC President Carol Folt and Rick Caruso, chairman of USC’s board of trustees, that the athletic director would take stock of his embattled football coach at specific points during the 2021 season. At each pre-assigned benchmark, Bohn would evaluate the criteria they agreed upon, from the energy and culture of the team to its on-field performance and competitiveness to recruiting momentum and fan sentiment, among other variables. How would firing — or retaining — Helton affect each of those variables going forward?

Bohn ultimately needed just one evaluation. The first of four planned benchmarks, according to a person familiar with the decision to fire Helton, came last Saturday night.

As USC fell in humiliating fashion, 42-28 to Stanford, every discernible flaw of the Helton era was laid bare in front of a half-empty Coliseum. There were sloppy mistakes and ill-timed penalties, a stagnant offense and a defense that lacked discipline. The stands were draining before the fourth quarter, with USC trailing by four scores. The sideline was lifeless, sending an ominous message to the university decision makers watching from on high.

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USC at Washington State: Three things you need to know

USC tailback Keaontay Ingram looks for room to run
USC tailback Keaontay Ingram looks for room to run against Stanford on Sept. 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC (1-1) vs. Washington State (1-1)

Location: Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Fox.

Weather forecast: 63 degrees, high chance of rain.

Latest line: USC by 8.5 points.

About USC: After a difficult, emotional week which opened with Clay Helton’s long-awaited ouster, USC must take its show on the road and move forward if it has any hope of salvaging the 2021 season. USC interim coach Donte Williams has assured there won’t be many major changes and that he plans to lean on his coordinators. But for his sake, he better hope both sides of the ball look better than they did last Saturday. This Saturday’s effort will tell us a lot about whether USC can actually save its season, post-Helton.

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Betting analysis and the pick for USC vs. Washington State

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis throws against Stanford on Sept. 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC Trojans (-8, 62.5) at Washington State Cougars

It has been an interesting week for USC. Preparing for Washington State is a lot different than it used to be with the Air Raid offense of Mike Leach. Now the Trojans are preparing for more of a run-and-shoot style preferred by former Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich.

All of that game-planning has to be done with a new head coach. To top it off, USC has to travel to Pullman, which has historically not been the easiest place to play.

The Trojans had no issues with the Cougars last season in a 38-13 victory on Dec. 6. The final score was a bit misleading, as USC outgained Wazzu by just 24 yards, but the Trojans were +3 in turnover margin and Kedon Slovis had five touchdown passes.

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