Drake London caught a career-high 13 passes for 144 yards, Greg Johnson returned a late interception 37 yards for a touchdown and No. 15 Southern California pulled away for a 30-7 victory over San Jose State in its opener Saturday.
Kedon Slovis passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns, with more than half of his completions finding their way to the dominant London. Slovis also hit Tahj Washington with a 29-yard touchdown pass in the first half, but the rest of USC’s passing game struggled until the Trojans’ final surge.
Erik Krommenhoek made a sliding 20-yard TD catch with 2:07 to play for USC, which outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the fourth quarter.
USC still hasn’t lost a home opener played in the Coliseum in the 21st century, but this victory largely was another version of the underwhelming starts that have been common under seventh-year head coach Clay Helton. The Trojans led the defending Mountain West champions just 13-7 heading into the final period, but the USC defense capped its impressive day by stopping San Jose State on downs near the goal line with 7:20 left.
Parker Lewis kicked three field goals for USC in the California schools’ first meeting since 2009. USC improved to 5-0 against San Jose State, which hasn’t beaten a ranked team since 2013 and hasn’t beaten a Pac-12 team since 2006.
Nick Starkel passed for 308 yards and Tyler Nevens rushed for a touchdown for the Spartans, who trounced Southern Utah in their season opener last week.
The Trojans’ passing game trailed behind the rest of the team throughout the first three quarters at the 98-year-old Coliseum, where fans watched their team for the first time since November 2019.
A coverage sack on third-and-goal forced USC to kick a short field goal on its opening possession, but linebacker Drake Jackson’s interception of a screen pass then set up the Trojans’ offense for a jump-ball TD pass to Washington, the transfer receiver from Memphis.
San Jose State managed only one drive longer than 20 yards in the first half, and that one ended in a missed 29-yard field goal. The Spartans finally scored when Nevens’ 2-yard TD run capped a 74-yard drive midway through the third quarter.
After the Trojans settled for a third field goal early in the fourth, they got breathing room when Johnson returned an underthrown pass untouched for a score with 11:42 to play. The three-year starter’s interception was the third of his career and his first since 2019.
San Jose State: The Spartans don’t have USC’s pure talent, but they learned they can hang with a five-star-studded program on both sides of the ball, although the conference champs probably knew it already.
USC: The Trojans’ defense and running game were solid. Their concerns are in the air, where the receiving depth behind London is suspect: Washington had four catches, fellow transfer Malcolm Epps had one — and no other wide receivers caught a pass.
Final score aside, the Trojans produced yet another edition of their September special for the past decade: An unconvincing victory that tempers the overwrought preseason expectations around this high-profile program and likely pushes it slightly downward in the rankings.
San Jose State: An off week followed by a trip to Hawaii.
USC: Stanford visits the Coliseum on Saturday night.