LOS ANGELES -- Cornerback Iman Marshall and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu were two of the last Southern California players to reach the locker room after helping push the hydration cart back into the locker room, an apt conclusion to a perfectly workmanlike win.
"We beat them handily, but not like we wanted to," USC safety Chris Hawkins said. "The score says we played well, the stats say we played well. We can get a lot better. I'm not satisfied, but I think it was a good win for us."
USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) bounced back from last week's 30-27 loss at No. 11 Washington State, but its performance remained enigmatic. The offense had 512 yards, but Darnold turned the ball over twice. The defense held the Beavers scoreless in three sudden-change opportunities, but still had the occasional lapse in concentration. Freshman walk-on Chase McGrath made his eighth straight field goal this season, but Ajene Harris muffed a punt.
Coming off his worst performance as a starter, Darnold was 23-of-35 passing and 12 receivers caught passes. Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns and tight end Josh Falk each had their first career touchdown reception, and Deontay Burnett capped a quiet afternoon with a 16-yard touchdown catch.
But the redshirt sophomore also lost a fumble when the ball slipped out of his hand and was intercepted by Manase Hungalu when he didn't see the linebacker in coverage. It was his ninth interception of the season, matching his total from all of last season.
"I think, honestly, I'm stopping the offense a little bit right now with the way I'm turning the ball over and it's never good, so I just got to be better," Darnold said.
Oregon State (1-5, 0-3) felt the same way despite losing their fourth straight game at FBS opposition this season, all by 28 or more points.
Artavis Pierce rushed for a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and had 60 yards in place of starter Ryan Nall, who did not play due to a sprained left ankle. Darell Garretson was 16 of 29 passing for 197 yards and was intercepted by cornerback Jack Jones on Oregon State's first drive.
"We had opportunities to finish drives in the red zone numerous times and just didn't," Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen said. "We could move it between the 20s, but didn't get points.
The first quarter summed up that inefficiency as Oregon State recovered the special teams' mistake at the USC 29 and Darnold's fumble at the USC 23, but failed to score on either possession after Jordan Choukair had a 46-yard field goal blocked by Jones and missed a 37-yard try wide left. Choukair did make a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.
USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, held a 21-3 advantage at halftime and was never seriously threatened. However, both teams felt like it was missed opportunity. Hawkins was waiting for USC to dominate, while Oregon State cornerback Kyle White was equally nonplussed with the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 or the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
"I think USC was USC. Nothing special," White said.
White said about Darnold: "He's a normal Pac-12 QB. I didn't see anything special. He had one picked off. Should've been three. He's OK. A lot of the plays he made is because we shot ourselves in the foot."
Oregon State: The Beavers were expected to take a step forward and possibly push for bowl eligibility in head coach Gary Andersen's third season, but winning a single conference game looks like an unlikely prospect right now. Injuries have gutted the offense, while the defense played admirably despite the significant talent gap with USC. Oregon State spent decades as the doormat of the Pac-12 in its previous iterations, and finds itself back in the cellar.
USC: The offense is still too inconsistent. The emergence of Vaughns, a redshirt freshman who had five receptions for 68 yards, and the return of Steven Mitchell Jr. from a groin injury helped Darnold to his best performance of the season, but there were still long stretches where USC failed to put the game away. USC has to be much sharper next week against No. 20 Utah in a game that could decide who wins the Pac-12 South.
OLSON'S SECOND SNAP
Darnold's backup Matt Fink rushed for a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The score allowed long snapper Jake Olson, who lost his eyesight at age 12, to play for the second time this season on the ensuing extra point.
Oregon State did not rush on the extra point, and USC coach Clay Helton thanked Andersen for "the class he showed for allowing Jake to get in and perform his craft."
Oregon State: The Beavers host Colorado next Saturday.
USC: The Trojans host the Utes next Saturday.
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