RECAP: JT Daniels tosses 3 TDs; Blocked FG helps USC edge Washington State
LOS ANGELES (AP) — J.T. Daniels passed for 241 yards and three touchdowns, and Jay Tufele blocked Washington State's attempt at a tying field goal with 1:41 to play in Southern California's 18th consecutive home victory, 39-36 Friday night.
Vavae Malepeai rushed for his second touchdown with 8:03 to play, helping the Trojans (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12) remain unbeaten at the Coliseum under coach Clay Helton.
After back-to-back road losses to Stanford and Texas put the Trojans in dire September straits, USC rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half and eventually held off the Cougars (3-1, 0-1).
"I've always thought that adversity kind of defines who you are," Helton said. "Being in that second half down two scores, a bunch of great kids defined who they are as men, and I can't tell you how proud I am of them."
Gardner Minshew passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the new quarterback's latest strong performance for Washington State, while James Williams and Max Borghi rushed for scores.
But one year after the Trojans took their first loss of last season in a Friday night game in Pullman, USC showed resilience and fourth-quarter tenacity while avoiding a disastrous start to the season.
After Malepeai's go-ahead TD and Daniels' pinpoint 2-point conversion pass to Tyler Vaughns, Washington State drove into field goal range in the waning minutes, but Tufele swatted down Blake Mazza's 38-yard attempt with relative ease.
"Looked like they got a pretty good push, and it looked like we struck it low," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "I thought we played pretty good. We played pretty hard across the board. I think our effort is great. We've got to become a more consistent team."
The Trojans' special teams have made several significant mistakes this season, but the unit executed perfectly at the biggest moment. Tufele, the freshman defensive lineman, came through with the big play.
"The kids knew exactly what to do," Helton said. "Our last team meeting, we showed it. We showed the gap that would be open. It was the absolute perfect call at the right time."
Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman caught early TD passes from Daniels before the precocious freshman found his high school teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown, for a beautiful 30-yard TD pass with 14:31 to play.
Easop Winston caught his second TD pass from Minshew with 10:15 to go, but the Trojans responded with a 56-yard scoring drive.
"We left too many drives out there," said Minshew, who went 37 for 52 without an interception. "That was all on me."
USC had no trouble moving the ball on its opening drive, going 80 yards on five rushing plays culminating in Malepeai's TD run. Not much went well after that in the first half for the Trojans, and Dezmon Patmon's TD catch eventually sent the Cougars into halftime up 24-17.
Washington State then opened the second half with a 75-yard drive capped by Borghi's 13-yard TD run, but the Trojans finally responded.
Pittman, whose exceptional catch shortly before halftime was ruled just out of bounds, took a 50-yard pass to the house. USC's defense stiffened and forced two punts before St. Brown's gorgeous TD catch and the extra point put the Trojans up 31-30.
But Winston immediately caught a 59-yard pass down the middle and followed it up with a 4-yard TD catch. Washington State's 2-point conversion attempt failed, and USC drove for Malepeai's TD run and Vaughns' 2-point conversion catch, putting the Trojans up 39-36 with 8:03 left.
The weekday attendance of 52,421 was USC's smallest for a home game since 2001, but was still bigger than many expected for the school's first Friday home game since 1999. Parking and tailgating around the Coliseum is severely limited while the 95-year-old stadium undergoes an extensive renovation.
Washington State: After opening the season with three victories over modest nonconference opposition, the Cougars responded fairly well to a big step up in competition. Late-game execution wasn't perfect, particularly on special teams, but this loss is no embarrassment for the Cougs or Minshew, who looked excellent again.
USC: The Trojans responded to a major gut check with a series of big second-half plays. Although they still made far too many mistakes and committed too many penalties, they'll grow from this one — and their freshman quarterback is getting better every week.
Washington State: Host Utah next Saturday, Sept. 29.
USC: At Arizona next Saturday, Sept. 29.