LOS ANGELES (astateredwolves.com) – Arkansas State racked up 402 yards of total offense, but No. 8 USC capitalized on four Red Wolves’ turnovers for a 55-6 victory Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the season opener for both teams.
The Trojans (1-0) used a four-play, 77-yard drive on the opening possession to grab an early 7-0 lead over A-State. The Trojans faced third and nine from their own 39-yard line and quarterback Cody Kessler found wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster for a 61-yard touchdown catch.
“If you don’t play your best with a team with this kind of talent then you are going to exposed,” A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. “Some things that were uncharacteristic for us happened and then some things went their way and it made it look pretty bad. Just something we have to learn from."
A-State (0-1) went three-and-out on their first possession and Red Wolves’ punter Luke Ferguson pinned the Trojans deep at their own seven with 50-yard punt.
USC used six plays to close in on midfield, but freshman linebacker Tajhea Chambers sacked Kessler for loss of eight yards. The sack forced a punt, but the Red Wolves were unable to capitalize on the defensive stop.
The Trojans took over inside A-State territory on their next possession, but the Red Wolves stuffed a fourth-down conversion attempt to take over on downs at their own 38-yard line. Knighten rushed for a 19-yard gain on the first play of the drive, but the Red Wolves drive stalled as Chris Hawkins intercepted Knighten at the USC 10-yard line.
After the interception, the Trojans ran eight plays for 27 yards, but the Red Wolves defense forced another USC punt. A-State went three-and-out on the ensuing drive setting up the Trojans on the A-State 40-yard line after a 31-yard punt return.
The Trojans took advantage of the field position and two play, 40-yard drive to take a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. It took one play with 9:40 left in the second quarter for the Trojans to add to the lead as Tre Madden rushed for a 65-yard touchdown.
USC grabbed a 28-0 edge going into halftime with an eight play, 68-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass to Taylor McNamara.
The Red Wolves seemed poised to score before the end of the half, but failed to convert a fourth down play to keep the drive alive. Starting the drive on their own 29 yard line, freshman running back Warren Wand broke free for a 26-yard gain to get the Red Wolves across midfield.
A-State gained a first down at the USC 34-yard line, but two rushes for a gain of seven yards and an incomplete pass forced a fourth and three. The Red Wolves attempted to find Dijon Paschal on the play, but the pass was incomplete giving USC the ball with 30 seconds left in the half. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones punctuated the end of the half with a sack of the Trojans quarterback.
The Red Wolves used seven plays covering 78 yards to get on the board, trailing 28-6 with 13 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Knighten started the drive with a 41-yard completion to Tres Houston and a five-yard pass to Paschal. After a six yard rush to convert third down and five, Knighten let running back Michael Gordon complete the scoring drive. Gordon had runs of 17 and nine yards, respectively, to cap the drive. The Red Wolves two-point conversion attempt failed after the snap was bobbled.
USC responded with two touchdowns to close the third quarter with the lead at 42-6. The Trojans led 35-6 after an interception set up USC with field position inside the Red Wolves 10-yard line. Knighten was picked off at the 37 and the Su’A Cravens returned it 32 yards. Madden caught an eight-yard pass to make it 35-6 and USC added to the lead with 44-yard rush by Ronald Jones.
Freshman James Tabary took over at quarterback for the Red Wolves on the last possession of the third quarter, setting up A-State third and seven at the USC nine as the third quarter expired. The Red Wolves were faced with fourth and sixth, but the attempt failed and the Trojans took over at the five-yard line.
Knighten led all A-State rushers with 58 yards on 14 carries, while Gordon finished with 55 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Warren Wand added 52 yards on 10 carries, while Tres Houston hauled in two receptions for 54 yards. J.D. McKissic led all Red Wolves wide outs with five receptions on the night.
Defensively Chambers recorded three of the Red Wolves’ five sacks on the night in his collegiate debut and led the team with 13 tackles.
A-State will host Missouri in its home opener at Centennial Bank Stadium at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12.