USC football takeaways: Jaxson Dart surprises, Drake London unstoppable

USC wide receiver Drake London runs with the ball while being chased by Washington State linebacker Travion Brown.
USC wide receiver Drake London runs with the ball while being chased by Washington State linebacker Travion Brown during the second half of the Trojans’ 45-14 win Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

A week that began with the firing of USC’s coach ended with an unexpected triumph on the road with an interim coach and a freshman quarterback. Here’s what we can take away from USC’s 45-14 victory over Washington State:

Jaxson Dart is the quarterback of the future. He also may have proven he’s the best quarterback right now.

When Kedon Slovis went down and didn’t get back up on the USC’s initial drive, it seemed the Trojans might be doomed. When Dart threw an interception to end his first possession, the outlook appeared even more dire. But Dart quickly settled in after that, hitting Gary Bryant Jr. on a deep, fourth-down bomb for a touchdown right before the half.


Dart really came alive after that, putting together a stunning 391-yard, four-touchdown debut — both records for a USC quarterback in his first game.

Filling in for an injured Kedon Slovis, backup quarterback Jaxson Dart made an immediate impact, steering USC to a comeback win over Washington State.

Is that enough to unseat Slovis, who has twice been named the Pac-12’s top quarterback? The junior was thrust into a similar situation in 2019 replacing the injured JT Daniels, and he held onto the job ever since. But there’s no denying Slovis has stagnated since last year. His first two games this season looked like more of the same.

Slovis’ job was never in question under Helton, but now? It’s unclear. When asked if he considered Slovis to still be the starter, Donte Williams was noncommital.

“Every day, every position, of everybody on this team, it’s always a battle,” USC’s interim coach said.

Slovis’ health is the first priority, and an update about his neck injury should be available Sunday. Regardless, it’s possible he may return to find his job already occupied.

It’s unclear if any Pac-12 defense is capable of stopping Drake London.

The rave reviews already were rolling in for London before he took a blowtorch to three consecutive secondaries to start the season. But Saturday’s performance was probably the best of his career. London caught 13 passes for 170 yards, both career highs, and he didn’t even play the fourth quarter.

USC interim head coach Donte Williams, center, celebrates with his players.
USC interim head coach Donte Williams, center, celebrates with his players after a 45-14 win over Washington State on Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

London left the game hobbled after catching his second touchdown and didn’t return — mostly because he didn’t need to.

“We were up, and [there] was no need for him to play anymore,” Williams said. “We gotta make sure that he’s healthy to go this week in practice and get ready for Oregon State.”

USC’s defense finally made halftime adjustments.

The book on Clay Helton was that the coach was incapable of adjusting at halftime. But Williams blazed a different trail in his debut as coach.

USC’s defense came out of the locker room at halftime looking like a completely different unit, holding Washington State to minus-two yards in the third quarter and 97 in the fourth, most of which came in garbage time.

Freshman Jaxson Dart threw for four touchdowns in relief, lifting USC to a 45-14 win at Washington State in interim coach Donte Williams’ first game.

The defense also added a touchdown when Drake Jackson notched a strip sack that Tuli Tuipulotu recovered in the end zone.

The run game still needs work.

Thanks to Dart, USC didn’t need much from its backfield. After two weeks of the Trojans preaching progress, Vavae Malepeai and Keaontay Ingram were unable to find any room, rushing 16 times for a meager 25 yards.

The freshman quarterback actually was the leading rusher with six carries for 32 yards. His performance through the air made it possible for USC to veer away from its ground game. But that won’t be the case in weeks to come.

Williams’ message of accountability was received.

After Helton was fired, Williams cracked down on the team’s culture, instituting a series of rules intended to improve accountability in the locker room. He added new policies, from a dress code to locker room cleanliness to no hats allowed in the meeting room.

Those may seem like small changes, but Saturday, players said they made a major difference.

“We made changes every day,” Williams said. “One day the locker room was dirty, I went in and I cleaned it up. And the next day I told them that if this happens again, the consequences that will occur, and the next day I went into that locker room it was spotless. So just the way we was all able to flip the switch, even myself, I’m very proud of this team.”