Sports

Freshmen play like veterans in USC romp

USC freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith avoids a tackle by Fresno State safety Derron Smith on his way to a long gain on a pass play in the first quarter of Saturday's 52-13 victory. Smith had 123 yards on four catches, one of several freshmen to shine in the opener. “We're making a big impact,” a smiling Smith said afterward. “We're all going to contribute.” PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

LOS ANGELES – Although USC’s freshman pass catchers impressed throughout training camp, there was still a hint of uncertainty heading into their first game. Would they continue to perform? Or would they succumb to rookie jitters?

The answer came 12 plays into the first series of USC’s 52-13, season-opening romp over Fresno State on Saturday at the Coliseum. Receiver Adoree’ Jackson caught a slant pass, took a wicked hit from safety Derron Smith … and held on to the ball. From there, Jackson and his classmates put on a show.

Jackson and tight end Bryce Dixon caught touchdown passes. Receiver JuJu Smith had 123 yards on four catches. Three freshmen played on the offensive line. And Jackson was one of a handful of first-year players to play meaningful snaps on defense.

“We’re making a big impact,” a smiling Smith said afterward. “We’re all going to contribute.”

With a roster still depleted by NCAA sanctions, USC coach Steve Sarkisian knew he was going to need significant contributions from his freshman class. So the onus was placed on them from the start.

“We’ve been throwing those guys in there and living with their mistakes,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve challenged them from Day One.”

Sarkisian could tell by the look in the freshman players’ eyes that the moment wouldn’t be too big for them. Quarterback Cody Kessler clearly trusted them, connecting with Smith, Jackson and Dixon eight times.

“Ever since this summer, these guys have come in wanting to learn,” Kessler said. “They’re asking me questions. That really showed tonight.”

REGARDING SHAW

Cornerback Kevon Seymour rooms with Josh Shaw, the senior whose tall tale about how he injured himself last weekend ignited a national firestorm.

Seymour said he has talked to Shaw since all the trouble started “just to make sure he’s all right.” But Seymour said he didn’t ask Shaw what really happened the night he sprained both of his ankles falling from a balcony at a Los Angeles apartment complex.

“That’s none of my business,” Seymour said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I’m just hoping for the best for him.”

Sophomore Su’a Cravens said Shaw, who had been a team captain, texted him before the game.

“He just told me to be a leader,” Cravens said.

Saturday night was the first time USC players were made available to the media since Shaw’s lie was revealed and former tailback Anthony Brown accused Sarkisian of being a racist. Cravens said he’s friends with Brown but doesn’t put any credence into his comments about Sarkisian.

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