Trojans weigh in on wild comeback victory over Arizona State – Press Enterprise

Here are highlights from USC’s press conferences following its 28-27 win over Arizona State on Saturday:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening statement:

“It reminds you of 2020, doesn’t it? A year of adversity and finding a way to overcome hard situations. I’m proud of our football team. It was a frustrating day because the ball was moving, but you’re making enough mistakes offensively turning it over three times in the red zone, coming away with zero points. It really gets frustrating, but I commend our team. A year ago we may not have won this game, but a year older, a year more of experience, I did not see any panic. I saw poise and just kids saying, get to the next opportunity, get to the next opportunity, and make some big plays down the stretch. We know that Arizona State is one of the tougher teams on our schedule. We knew it was going to be a huge game for the South and the first game. And I come away from this tonight saying, hey, we just beat a good football team and have the opportunity to really grow as our football team. I think this can be an excellent, excellent football team, I really do. And how bout the play down the stretch of No. 9 and Drake London — unbelievable throw and catch to end the game.”

His takeaways from the offense:

“I was proud of Graham [Harrell] because even down two scores and we were in that eight minute range in the fourth quarter, we said just keep on playing, keep on playing, keep running the ball. If they’re going to play advantage coverages to run then go ahead and do that, and you look up and you have 177 rushing yards. That was a big part of the story today, especially down the stretch some big runs by Vavae [Malepeai] in that last drive.”

How he would describe that 1:32 second stretch where you go from down 13 to up one:

“Starting with Bru [McCoy], Bru’s had a wonderful camp and really felt confident in him going and playing today and he made some big plays in the game including that touchdown. But you look at his 5 catches and 51 yards and we needed every yard today and he was a part of that. Last kind of 3 minutes, I thought it was great situational mastery of football, down two scores treating it like a two-minute drive. Terrific job by Graham drawing offsides, terrific job by Kedon giving his guys a chance to make a play on that touchdown. And then I thought Sean, Coach Snyder did a wonderful job with the special teams today and a huge play with the on-side kick. We go down, call a couple runs, get it down there, and then as good a pitch and catch as I’ve seen on the fourth down with Drake and 9. Just being a year older, that’s one of those that you’ve got to pull the trigger — if you hesitate at all it’s not going to be a touchdown. And Kedon got that ball in there perfect timing and perfect accuracy.”

If 9 a.m. kickoff impacted the game:

“We believe in just putting the ball down, seriously. We just appreciated the opportunity and were grateful for the opportunity. To be on a national stage, to be able to go out and play a good Arizona State team, just to be here. And I told the guys in the locker room, this is one of those games I don’t care how old I get, I’ll never forget this game, I’ll never forget this team for all the things that they’ve dealt with in 2020 and the fighters that they are and the competitive people that they are. It didn’t matter if that game was at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. We wanted to have the opportunity to play the game we love, we got that opportunity and we found a way to make the most of it today.”

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His message to the team after the turnovers:

“I tried to stay positive. When it was 27-14 I was going up and down the sidelines saying, ‘Guys, I’m looking at it right now, you’re going to win this game 28-27. It’s going to take two scores, we’re going to have to treat it like a two-minute drive, go to our two-minute drive rules, we’re going to get a touchdown, get an onside kick and go score again. And they did it. I thought the whole sideline stayed positive, didn’t panic, stayed poised and just really played situational mastery football the whole way through from taking timeouts to using two-minute rules to Kedon making some huge throwing the ball away, checking the ball down, not taking negative plays down the stretch — we just weren’t in that situation where we could have that. And I thought there was great execution, and then big 21 over here (IPM) and the defense I really thought at the end did a great job of finishing the game off for us because without them it wouldn’t have happened.”

On the team’s ceiling if it can eliminate mistakes:

“I think that’s what was most frustrating. I’m looking at the sheet call, okay, there’s 558 offensive yards and I thought held a really good quarterback in Jayden to 134 yards passing. There’s really good things here. What sticks out to me, I told everybody, we all made mistakes in that game. We all took turns, it wasn’t just one guy. And you get down to the one-yard line and you fumble, an interception inside the 20, an out on downs on fourth and one inside the 15. This team can be really good. And yes, there’s a lot of rust and we shook it off. The thing that makes this team I think special is their mindset and how they deal with adversity and playmakers. I look around and you got eight catches by Drake London, seven for 145, Amon-Ra with a 100-yard game, Tyler Vaughns seven catches, you got four backs that created 177 yards. There’s a lot of playmakers around. And then defensively, if we can eliminate the big plays and a lot of them came from the quarterback getting out of the pocket, if we can eliminate those, this has got a chance to be a big team, a really good team. That was a major hurdle for us today. To play Arizona State first game out, we knew how big a game it was, we knew what it meant for the conference and to get this one today is huge. It’s huge. We can celebrate it tonight and get ready to go for Arizona next week. Gotta go 1-0 again.”

If the team considered going for a field goal on fourth-and-short in the third quarter:

“It being fourth and one, I like our offensive line and I liked how we were running the ball today. You get 177 yards rushing in this offense combined with 381 passing. I liked how we were running, I liked how our runners were running it. We ended up being five of eight on fourth down today and it was a situation I’m always going to be aggressive. And I believe in our kids. We had made a couple four and ones, I was going to put it on their backs. Good play by Arizona State. It was a big play in the game because we’re really trying to cut that thing to three.”

On USC’s defense against Jayden Daniels:

“Yeah, we did. T.O. mixed it back and forth. And one of the things we walked into the game and we knew they had a great wideout in Darby but they were kinda young in other places and we felt like we had good experience on our side and we liked our matchups. So we played a lot of man coverage, we mixed it in with some zone and some of those man situations he did get out of the pocket and it created some big runs for us. So it’s give and take there. What I was really proud of is you look at those last four plays, and it’s the same four calls in a row that T.O. did. He put man coverage out there, he trusted his defense to put pressure on the quarterback, force him to get rid of it and the DBs did a helluva job against the wideouts.”

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On avoiding early deficits in the future:

“One simple answer: Don’t turn the ball over in the red zone. To be inside the 20-yard line the amount of times we were and come away three times with zero points, that was the difference in the game to be honest with you. And so the good news is we got a lot of playmakers on this team. The things that we got to clean up is the security of the ball in the red zone and improving from Week 1 to Week 2 in that.”

QB Kedon Slovis

On the game-winning touchdown pass:

“That play’s a play that we run all the time. We ran it a lot down the stretch there too, and to be honest with you they kind of dropped a lot of guys most times we ran it and they didn’t give us a chance to get those down-the-field shots. But when they gave us the look that they did, obviously it’s something that we rep a lot in practice and Coach Harrell harps on my feet a lot, so there it was three and a hitch and ball and Drake [London] did the rest.”

On sideline energy:

“Actually I thought we did a good job the entire game, but with no fans you have to feed off each other for energy and I thought we did that, especially that last drive with the defense needs a stop, the whole sideline was making noise and on their feet. Obviously an empty stadium creates a different circumstance for you, but I thought our guys on the sideline did a good job.”

On the touchdown pass to McCoy:

“Really, we got them to jump offsides so at that point I just want to give them a chance to. I know we’re going to get another shot, it doesn’t really matter if they pick it off so I threw it to Amon-Ra to give him a chance and he tips it up to Bru. Obviously a big play for us but that’s a great call by coach to give us a chance to draw them offsides and we did and worst-case scenario we get fourth and five yards closer. So just give them a chance and things worked out.”

If anything felt different pregame compared to a normal season:

“Not really, I felt things were pretty for the most part normal. Maybe I have a different perspective on things but I felt good going in. I thought our guys were ready to go play. The weather turned out to be pretty nice so I thought it was pretty normal for the most part.”

WR Bru McCoy

On his fourth-quarter touchdown reception:

“We called a freeze play, so we didn’t even have a play called at the time, but they just jumped offsides, so we ran verts. Amon-ra did a great job just being aware. He realized it was a free play, so since its a free play, might as well give an opportunity to somebody. So he tipped the ball up, just was situaitonally aware, and I was able to make a play.”

On how his collegiate debut felt:

“It felt great, more than anything just happy to be out there, happy to help the team get a big win. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to play a game, so there were a lot of jitters heading into the game. But by about the end of the first quarter, it just felt like playing ball again. I was just excited to keep playing and executing.”

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If there was a moment when it sunk in that he was playing after a year off: