LOS ANGELES — Tyler Vaughns flashed the slightest of smiles talking about his 37-yard touchdown catch Oct. 7 against Oregon State.
“It’s a simple concept,” he said. “I can’t say what it is, but it’s a concept we use every day in practice.”
Practice has been a time for the redshirt freshman Vaughns to shine recently, catching the eye of USC head coach Clay Helton. After the receiver’s breakthrough performance at Washington State, Helton noted the developing chemistry between Vaughns and quarterback Sam Darnold. But it wasn’t until the Oregon State contest that Vaughns made it to the end zone for the first time in his USC career.
“Felt great. I got my opportunity to score, and I took it,” Vaughns said. “I’m very confident in my play, and I’m confident in my coaches and [teammates].”
Vaughns’ recent ascent to become USC’s second-most productive receiver is a preview of the Trojans’ future. Fans, opponents and teammates can all anticipate many more touchdowns in the wideout’s collegiate career — and he was not the only Trojans player to reach pay dirt for the first time against Oregon State.
While Vaughns has stepped up in recent weeks to fill the void USC had for a No. 2 receiver, tight end Josh Falo provided a glimpse of the kind of pass-catching acumen the Trojans got from the position a season ago.
Falo caught a 30-yard dart from Darnold on his way to the end zone, his first reception and score in cardinal-and-gold. The 6-foot-6 freshman looked on that route like Daniel Imatorbhebhe, the standout pass-catcher who has missed most of 2017 after playing a key role in the USC offense.
“Only thing that was on my mind was scoring,” Falo said. “[Oregon State was] ready for the run, and we just had a great play [called]. They had one [defensive back] on two guys, and he couldn’t guard both.”
It may have been his first TD, but Falo said, “it was like I’d been there before.” And he could be primed for more; which, if it came to pass, would be a huge development for the USC offense. The lack of that big-play threat at tight end has been one of the elements holding the Trojans back from producing at last season’s level.
Yes, drawing a struggling Oregon State at the midway point of the slate provided USC a much-needed opportunity to expand the offense, integrate more players into the action and possibly kick-start things ahead of the stretch run in Pac-12 play.
Despite a few early turnovers, Darnold impressed Helton with what the coach called “big-league throws,” and with the quarterback’s distribution to 13 different pass-catchers.
But as much as the win over Oregon State was about injecting life into the Trojans offense ahead of key games against Utah and Notre Dame, the 38-10 win also readied USC for life A.D. — After Darnold.
Reserve quarterback Matt Fink came in to take a few snaps in the fourth quarter, and did the usual mop-up duty stuff — well, aside from a 51-yard touchdown run.
Fink said it was the kind of play he dreamed of making in a USC uniform — and should Darnold leave for the NFL draft this offseason, as many expect, plenty of Trojan faithful will be dreaming of Fink making plenty more similar plays in the years to come.
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