LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kedon Slovis threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns, and Southern California remained unbeaten at the Coliseum this season with a 41-14 victory over Arizona on Saturday night.
Freshman Kenan Christon rushed for 88 of his 103 yards in the fourth quarter and made two blazing runs to score his first career touchdowns for the Trojans (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12). USC beat Arizona for the seventh straight time and kept its share of the Pac-12 South lead with a dominant defensive performance against Khalil Tate and the Wildcats (4-3, 2-2), holding them to 167 yards and no points in the first three quarters.
“I believe our defense is all together, so when one makes a play, everybody makes a play,” said USC linebacker Kana’i Mauga, who had 13 tackles and an interception in a breakthrough performance. “Everybody was hype on the sideline. It was a great atmosphere.”
Tate passed for 47 yards and was sacked six times before touted freshman Grant Gunnell replaced him in the third quarter for the Wildcats, who have lost two straight after a four-game winning streak. USC led 34-0 before Brian Casteel took a short pass from Gunnell 56 yards for Arizona’s first points with 12:12 to play.
Gunnell passed for 196 yards and hit Casteel for two touchdowns long after the game was decided.
“We couldn’t protect tonight,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “They got pressure on us even without blitzing. We’ve got to be able to run the ball more effectively. We weren’t consistent enough.”
Slovis passed for 232 yards without a turnover as USC won easily despite another rash of significant injuries for a team that has already used three quarterbacks this season.
The Trojans began the night without their top three cornerbacks and defensive end Christian Rector due to injury, and they lost top safety Talanoa Hufanga to a shoulder injury in the first half and star freshman defensive end Drake Jackson to an ankle injury in the second half. Running backs Stephen Carr (hamstring) and Markese Stepp (ankle) also picked up injuries during the game.
Those injuries led to the electrifying debut of Christon, who won the California high school title in the 100-meter sprint last May. The San Diego native flew past the Arizona secondary on a 55-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter, and he added a 30-yard TD sprint moments later.
“I just followed my blockers and the O-line opened up a huge hole for me,” Christon said of his first TD run.
Tate missed his final chance to beat USC during his career with the Wildcats out of nearby Serra High, a hotbed for Trojans talent. The Inglewood native made his first career start against USC as a 17-year-old freshman, but failed in four opportunities for a win over his hometown program.
Both defenses started strong at the Coliseum, but Arizona’s turnovers gave a double-digit lead to the Trojans in the first quarter. USC kicked a short field goal after Stanley Berryhill muffed a punt, and Pittman took a screen pass 9 yards for a score after Casteel fumbled.
Stepp capped an 87-yard drive by scoring from 12 yards out to put USC up 17-0 shortly before halftime.
Gunnell threw an interception shortly after relieving Tate, leading to three more points for USC.
“We just didn’t connect as a unit,” said Arizona running back J.J. Taylor, who rushed for 80 yards. “We’ve got to put everything together to be successful. We’ve just got to game-plan better for next time.”
Moments after Slovis hit Pittman for a 54-yard gain, Vaughns caught a 5-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to put the Trojans up 27-0.
Arizona: Sumlin said immediately after the game that Tate will start next week, but the Wildcats have a decision to make at the position soon. Tate’s struggles in Los Angeles obviously weren’t entirely his fault, but Gunnell is the future for a program that might need to move on from Tate’s thrilling, but not incredibly successful, tenure.
USC: The Trojans have plenty of work to do, but they’re still in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South with their win over Utah. Injuries could be the biggest obstacle between USC and the league title game, but the Trojans looked fairly sharp while moving one step closer.
Arizona: Another trip to California to face struggling Stanford on Saturday.
USC: A short week of preparation for a trip to snowy Colorado on Friday night.