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USC Trojans Come From Behind To Defeat The Wildcats

The Trojans came from behind to defeat the Arizona Wildcats 38-30 at USC's Homecoming game on Saturday. 

The USC football team pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat the University of Arizona Wildcats, 38-30, on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans relied heavily on young playmakers, such as true freshman running back Ronald Jones II, but it was sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster that really stole the show. 

Calling sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster a vital part of the Trojan offense is an understatement. Heading into USC’s homecoming game, Smith-Schuster had more than twice as many receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns as any other Trojan this season.

But after he fractured his right hand against the California Golden Bears on Halloween and underwent surgery on Monday, many were uncertain if he’d even play against the Arizona Wildcats. On Tuesday, head coach Clay Helton expressed uncertainty about Smith-Schuster — who he referred to as “Superman” — and his availability but his teammates knew all along whether or not they’d see the star wide receiver out on the field on Saturday.

“We never thought JuJu wasn’t going to play,” USC captain Su’a Cravens said after the game.

Smith-Schuster — physically unable to use his injured right palm to catch the ball — reeled in a one-handed catch on USC’s first play from scrimmage and all doubts regarding his health were subsided. He finished the game with eight receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown, leading the team in receiving yet again.

Behind Smith-Schuster’s and running back Ronald Jones II’s combined 320 yards from scrimmage, USC extended its Homecoming winning streak to five by coming back from a 14-point deficit to defeat the Arizona Wildcats 38-30.

The game began with the teams exchanging three consecutive three-and-outs but Arizona managed to get their offense rolling before USC could. On the first play of the second quarter, quarterback Anu Solomon found wide receiver David Richards in the end zone to put the Wildcats ahead by two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Trojans struggled to find their rhythm early on, rushing for -22 yards in the first quarter.

But a key sequence of plays in the second quarter swung the game in USC’s favor. With the score at 14-3, the Wildcats were just outside the red zone, trying to make it a three possession game. However, defensive back John Plattenburg read Solomon’s eyes, picked off a pass and ignited the Coliseum crowd. And the Trojan fans erupted even more when quarterback Cody Kessler found Smith-Schuster on a go route for a 72-yard touchdown on the very next play. And with those two plays, the Trojans were back in striking distance with all the momentum on their side.         

Though Smith-Schuster’s injury didn’t hinder his performance, he was surprised that he was even able to play.

“It’s a miracle that I played today,” he said. “I cried the first night because it was so much pain.”

But Smith-Schuster wasn’t the only Trojan hero against the Wildcats. Plattenburg’s interception in the second quarter kept Arizona from extending their lead to three possessions and his desperation tackle on kick returner Tyrell Johnson prevented a certain touchdown and kept the Trojans out in front.

Plattenburg — who wasn’t even starting for USC at the beginning of the year — made huge plays on defense and special teams, and he and Cravens both led the team in tackles with eight apiece. After the game, the captain lauded Plattenburg’s performance, especially praising the sophomore safety’s versatility

“He is kind of like our Swiss Army Knife out there,” Cravens said.

Plattenburg attributes his growing skillset to the extra work he has put in during practice, especially in regards to conditioning. Another player who has worked on expanding his play is Jones, who had a historic night in the Coliseum against the Wildcats.

Jones — along with the rest of the Trojan offense — got off to a slow start and at halftime head coach Clay Helton emphasized the importance of the running game. Jones listened to his coach’s advice, emphatically turning around by with a USC freshman record and career high 177 rushing yards. Jones’ powerful 74-yard touchdown with less than ten minutes to go extended the USC lead to eight and put him in the record books..

He also caught a five-yard touchdown just before halftime, which tied the game up at 17-17. It was only Jones’ second reception of the year and his efforts to improve all parts of his game have been both noticed and appreciated by his head coach.

“He’s becoming a more complete player by the day,” Helton said. “As special as the [74-yard] run was, what I was more proud of was him catching the ball in the flat and scoring the touchdown. He came to USC to become a complete player and he really has become a student of the game.”

Helton also compared the freshman to Hall-of-Famer Roger Craig — a name Jones later admitted he was unfamiliar with — and Cravens said that the rising star reminds him of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

Cravens also remarked that Jones’ modesty is one of his most admirable traits and that humility was apparent after the game as the star of the Trojans’ third consecutive victory explained that his milestone performance wouldn’t have been possible without his teammates.

“My offensive line and the receivers’ blocking made my job easier,” Jones said. “I’m making the most of my opportunities.”

And with young players such as Plattenburg, Jones and Smith-Schuster improving and developing together as stars, the team’s efficiency and chemistry will only become more potent.

While his fellow Trojans were leaving the postgame press conference, Smith-Schuster hung behind for a few moments to practice his beatboxing into the microphone. Met by laughter from Jones and Helton, Smith-Schuster cracked a smile before heading out with his team.

“Come on, Superman,” Helton said as he embraced his wide receiver and headed out the door.

By: Nathan Desai 

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