LOS ANGELES—It wasn’t a rollicking return to the offensive style and pace USC showed Trojans fans in the season opener.
There were lapses on special teams and defense and too many penalties.
But USC made big plays when it needed them most Saturday night against Oregon State.
The No. 18 Trojans bounced back from their loss at Boston College two weeks ago with a 35-10 victory at the Coliseum that answered some questions but left others still dogging them.
Quarterback Cody Kessler passed for two touchdowns, including a Hail Mary to receiver Darreus Rogers at the end of the first half, as the Trojans improved their record to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12 Conference.
Su’a Cravens returned an interception for a touchdown, tailback Justin Davis scored twice and tailback Javorius Allen also rushed for a touchdown while the defense once again did not give up a touchdown pass.
USC Coach Steve Sarkisian, under fire after the Boston College debacle, would have been facing a crisis if the Trojans lost to Oregon State for the first time since 1960.
Instead, USC will prepare for next week’s Pac-12 South game against Arizona State with confidence rather than the uncertainty that surrounded the program the last two weeks.
The 37-31 defeat — in which the Trojans surrendered 452 rushing yards—did not look any better when Boston College lost to Colorado State on Saturday.
But the Trojans can finally put that behind after not allowing an offensive touchdown against the previously unbeaten Beavers (3-1).
But USC outgained Oregon State, and mostly neutralized quarterback Sean Mannion.
The senior and junior receiver Richard Mullaney burned Trojans cornerbacks several times, but Mannion completed only 15 of 32 passes for 123 yards and had two passes intercepted.
Cravens, who moved from safety to linebacker for the game, returned a first-quarter interception 31 yards for a 7-0 lead.
In the third quarter, freshman cornerback Adoree’ Jackson tipped a pass in the end zone and sophomore safety Leon McQuay III intercepted it to end a threat and protect a 14-10 lead.
The statistics might not reveal it, but USC also showed some small signs of evolving on offense.
Sarkisian said after the Boston College loss that he might have been too stubborn to run the ball and that would consider using the pass to set up the run.
He did that against Oregon State, the Trojans throwing numerous first-down passes against an Oregon State defense that had not given up a touchdown pass and ranked first nationally in passing-efficiency defense. Nine players caught passes for the Trojans.
Kessler completed 17 of 22 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He finished 24 of 32 for 261 yards and has yet to have a pass intercepted.
Allen, who rushed for only 31 yards against Boston College, gained 115 yards in 20 carries.
USC led, 21-10 at halftime, on Cravens’ interception return, Kessler’s short touchdown pass to Davis and Kessler’s heave to Rogers on the final play of the second quarter.
Cravens’ touchdown gave the Trojans a 7-0 first-quarter lead, but it didn’t last long.
On the ensuing kickoff, Oregon State’s Ryan Murphy caught the ball at the three-yard line, broke to his left and then outran the Trojans down the sideline in front of the Beavers’ bench to tie the score.
USC went three and out on three consecutive possessions before Oregon State finally took advantage with a field goal from Trevor Romaine that put the Beavers ahead, 10-7 early in the second quarter.
The Trojans came back and finally put together a scoring drive.
Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon’s 31-yard reception was the key play in a 65-yard march that concluded with Kessler’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Davis for a 14-10 lead.
The tip by Jackson and interception by McQuay set the stage for the biggest play of the game.
USC’s final possession has stalled at Oregon State’s 48, and it looked like the Trojans would take a four-point lead to the locker room at halftime.
But Sarkisian let the clock run down to one second and then called timeout.
On fourth down, Kessler took the snap, moved to his right and then launched a pass to toward the right corner of the end zone.
Rogers out-jumped several Trojans receivers and Oregon State defenders, made the catch and landed on the one-yard line, before turning and crossing the goal-line for a 21-10 lead.
Allen’s 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter gave USC more than enough.
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