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Michael Trigg’s breakout performance for USC ignited by stunning TD catch

USC tight end Michael Trigg pulls in a touchdown pass over Colorado safety Isaiah Lewis.
USC tight end Michael Trigg, right, pulls in a touchdown pass over Colorado safety Isaiah Lewis during the second quarter of the Trojans’ win Saturday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

On an offense in desperate need of new weapons, Michael Trigg’s arrival always felt imminent. Ever since USC’s fall camp, when he first dazzled with his tantalizing talent, it seemed only a matter of time before the freshman tight end had his moment.

That moment came suddenly Saturday on a second-and-five play in the second quarter of the Trojans’ 37-14 rout of Colorado. Lined up on the perimeter, with a safety over him, Trigg shot a look at quarterback Kedon Slovis, who checked out of the run. He called a fade route for his 6-foot-4 tight end and let a deep ball rip in his direction.

Before the season, USC’s coaches assured Trigg’s role would grow with his understanding of the playbook. Over the first three weeks, he received just 17 total snaps. But as the Trojans grew more desperate to find another option alongside wide receiver Drake London in the passing game, that progress was expedited. Trigg got the start against Oregon State and caught three passes, enough to prove to coaches he was deserving of more.

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Drake London was spectacular, Kedon Slovis was lethal, Keaontay Ingram was swift, and the Trojans’ defense was stout in a one-sided victory over the Buffaloes.

“We knew we were going to give him a lot more looks this week,” Slovis said.

Even before Slovis lofted that deep pass in his direction, Trigg said later, he knew he was coming down with it. But for those who hadn’t seen the freshman snatch jump balls out of midair in practice, it was a particularly stunning display.

With Colorado’s Isaiah Lewis draped all over him, Trigg lifted off with his arms outstretched, pulling the ball down with both hands over the top of Lewis. As Trigg came down, he landed on his left foot, somehow keeping steady as the Colorado safety fell to the grass. Then, Trigg spun around, turned up field and sprinted for the end zone.

Even Trigg expressed surprise that he was able to stay upright on his way to a 46-yard score.

“I’m still shocked, to be honest,” Trigg said.

No one at USC was all that stunned by the freshman’s breakout performance, and he reminded why on the next drive, when he took a 20-yard reception nearly to the goal line, only to have the play nullified by a questionable pass-interference penalty.

Cincinnati’s upset victory over Notre Dame might have been the greatest victory in Luke Fickell’s career, but it probably won’t make him a match for USC.

Trojans interim coach Donte Williams was quick to point out that pass interference, along with a few other mistakes, noting that Trigg still has plenty of room to grow. But Saturday was certainly a strong start.

“Trigg showed me that he can come out here and be another threat and a mismatch really for those guys,” Slovis said. “Man to man, if he’s against a safety or a smaller guy, you can’t stop him.”

With defenses sure to key on London the rest of the season, Trigg’s emergence could be crucial in helping unlock a USC passing game that hasn’t always been the most effective relying on its one-man-show approach. Through five games, London has accounted for a whopping 45% of the Trojans’ yards through the air. USC’s second leading receiver, Tahj Washington, has 30 fewer catches than London so far this season.

Trigg might have finished with more than his two catches for 51 yards if he hadn’t been held out for much of the second half. The freshman was briefly checked by trainers on the sideline just before halftime and didn’t factor in again.

Williams dismissed any concerns about an injury Saturday and added Sunday that Trigg’s absence wasn’t because of any disciplinary issue. But Williams has been notably cagey about disclosing injuries over his three weeks in charge.

Cincinnati’s upset victory over Notre Dame might have been the greatest victory in Luke Fickell’s career, but it probably won’t make him a match for USC.

“He’s actually probably more healthy now than he was going into the game,” Williams said of Trigg.

Assuming that’s the case, it’s safe to expect the freshman’s role should only grow from here.

“He’s a really really special talent, and he’s a guy that we’re going to depend on and we’re going to use,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “He’s just continuing to grow more and more each week. It’s not like Game 1, he’s not ready. He’s just learning it, still maturing into a college student-athlete. Each week, he gets better and better and [we] can put more and more on his plate.”


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