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Amon-ra St. Brown powers USC’s blistering start and big win over Washington State

USC wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown catches a touchdown pass in front of Washington State cornerback Armani Marsh.
USC wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown catches a touchdown pass in front of Washington State cornerback Armani Marsh during the first quarter of the Trojans’ 38-13 win Sunday.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

After the first score in traffic and the second over the top and a third screaming untouched around the edge on a jet sweep, all Amon-ra St. Brown could do was shrug. And then, score a fourth.

It was a fitting sequence to define a picture-perfect first quarter for USC, as much a haughty, half-hearted apology to Washington State as it was a celebration. By the time St. Brown leaped into the air for his fourth score of the first quarter, tying an NCAA record and shattering what little remained of Washington State’s confidence, the junior wideout had almost singlehandedly run the Cougars out of the Coliseum.

Still, the Trojans added another gut-punch touchdown, just for good measure.

When the beating finally ceased Sunday night, the five-touchdown lead USC built in just a quarter and a half’s time was more than enough to crush the Cougars 38-13 and leave the Trojans just one win away from a berth in the Pac-12 title game.

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“You always want to play meaningful games in December and here we are,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “We’ve got the opportunity to continue to lead our half of the league and needed this one tonight with how well Colorado’s playing right now. It’s an important game for us.”

In addition to a 37-yard interception return, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga finished with a team-high nine tackles and a sack in the Trojans’ win.

Never this season has USC looked so convincing as conference contenders as it did Sunday night. After a week away, following a COVID-19 outbreak that canceled its previous outing, USC (4-0) dominated Washington State (1-2) in every facet of the game. Its offense was electric. Its defense, unmerciful. A missed kick from freshman Parker Lewis in the third quarter was USC’s only discernible mistake all afternoon — and it came with a 32-point lead that might’ve convinced even cardboard fans to head for the exits.

Otherwise, it was pretty much a perfect effort, the kind of all-around performance that suggests what the Trojans could be at their best.

“You win by 16 last week, 25 this week, I really feel like the offense is starting to click,” Helton said.

All it needed, apparently, was a week’s vacation. Even without one of its starting offensive linemen and two more reserves, USC returned well-rested and ready to roll over its opponent.

Highlights from USC’s 38-13 victory over Washington State on Sunday.

It was a welcome respite for quarterback Kedon Slovis, especially after the first three games this season prompted questions about his progress as a sophomore. But Slovis quickly silenced those concerns with five first-half touchdowns, the first four to St. Brown, and the fifth, a perfectly placed 35-yard bomb to Tyler Vaughns.

From the start, Slovis was as crisp and decisive as he’s been at any point since late last fall. After missing his first target to open the game, Slovis completed 18 straight passes, leaving little doubt about his discipline or the state of his talented right arm.

It was his left arm that caused some concern late, long after the game had been decided. Left in to direct the offense in the second half, Slovis appeared to hurt his nonthrowing arm on a third-quarter sack.

He went to the Trojans’ sideline medical tent, but exited shortly after and returned to the field after one drive.

Slovis shrugged off the scare and said his left arm was “fine.” Even with the brief absence, he finished with 287 yards, ushering USC to what’s sure to be its easiest victory of the season.

With some of USC’s offensive linemen unable to play because of COVID-19 quarantine, Courtland Ford and a couple of other freshmen received playing time Sunday.

The path from here is unlikely to be so smooth — not with crosstown rival UCLA on tap next week. A slip-up to the surging Bruins could just as easily end the Trojans’ title hopes in an instant.

Colorado, the only other undefeated team left in the Pac-12, looms close behind with only 1-2 Utah now standing in its way. But with USC expected to hold the tiebreaker thanks to its loftier College Football Playoff ranking, the Trojans remain in the driver’s seat going forward.

Against the Cougars, it was St. Brown who stole the wheel. The junior wideout hadn’t scored a touchdown this season before his historic, first-quarter barrage, and this week, Helton assured him that his time would come.

“Don’t change a thing,” the coach told St. Brown, “touchdowns come in bunches.”

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis passes during the Trojans’ 38-13 win over Washington State on Sunday
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis passes during the Trojans’ 38-13 win over Washington State on Sunday.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

He more than made up for that shortage on Sunday, finishing with seven catches for 65 yards — a total that would seem run-of-the-mill if not for the four scores that came in the column next to it. It was the first time since his first game as a junior at Santa Ana Mater Dei that he’d scored that many times.

“It wasn’t even like he was getting the ball every play,” Slovis said. “So it was awesome that he got to score every time, but at the same time we were getting the ball out to everyone and everyone was just executing and playing excited.”

As its receivers ran wild, USC barely had any use for its run game. The Trojans managed a mere five yards on 20 rush attempts as the Cougars crowded the box, often leaving a single-high safety over top.

But for all their success in stopping the Trojans’ run game, the Cougars struggled all afternoon to mount a response to anything else. USC’s defense twice picked off their freshman phenom quarterback Jayden de Laura before he was benched with a mere 134 passing yards. Another turnover, on a fumbled handoff, only added insult to injury.

The Trojans would coast from there, shrugging off the Cougars on their way to a decisive rivalry week ahead.


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