USC fans at the Coliseum should have been cheering. Instead, they were silent.
The sight of star receiver Drake London writhing in pain after catching a second touchdown pass stunned fans, teammates and coaches as his leg injury cast a shadow on USC’s 41-34 win over Arizona on Saturday at the Coliseum.
The win ended a three-game home losing streak for the struggling Trojans (4-4 overall, 3-3 Pac-12 Conference) but cheers of victory ring hollow for the team that could lose its brightest offensive star to what interim head coach Donte Williams feared is potentially season-ending ankle injury.
The junior from Moorpark entered the game with 79 catches and 1,002 receiving yards and was on pace to eclipse Marqise Lee’s school records set during the former receiver’s Biletnikoff Award-winning 2012 season. London’s catches were the most ever by an FBS player through seven games and he had eight more for 81 yards in less than one half against Arizona, catching his second of two touchdowns with 4:16 left in the second quarter.
London caught a pass from quarterback Jaxson Dart and dragged a defender into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown, but the Arizona player appeared to roll onto London’s leg. London immediately reached for his right leg and teammates signaled to the sideline for assistance. Trainers stabilized London’s leg using a large black air cast that covered his foot and leg to his upper thigh.
While being driven off the field, London used his jersey to wipe away tears.
“That was horrible, to be honest with you,” USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “For him, I feel horrible. For us as a team, the next guy’s gotta step up and make plays.”
The Trojans held off Arizona (0-8, 0-5) in the second half without their star receiver by leaning on the running game. Running back Keaontay Ingram had a career-high 204 rushing yards despite several big runs getting called back because of penalties. Receiver Tahj Washington tied his career high with eight catches for 87 yards.
“Obviously it hurt to lose him,” said receiver Gary Bryant Jr., who had two touchdowns and a career-high 89 receiving yards. “But do what we do. Drake knows. He’d tell us, ‘Just do what you guys do,’ and we will.”
London was carted back onto the field during the third quarter and watched the second half from the sideline, where he sat with his right leg stretched out on the bench. It was covered below the knee with a hard cast. Williams said London remained in high spirits and continued to cheer on his teammates, who checked on him between plays.
“It’s crazy because you can tell he was really hurt, but he wasn’t worried about himself as much as he was about the team, which I think shows a lot about his character,” said quarterback Jaxson Dart, who threw both of his touchdown passes Saturday to London. “He made sure that all the guys in the locker room at halftime were focused on the task at hand and not worried about him.”
USC scored a touchdown on the drive immediately after London’s injury but was shut out of the end zone in the second half. The Trojans held on to the victory with two second-half field goals, and after the game, London rode up the tunnel on the back of the injury cart, telling reporters, “it’s just part of the game.”
Fans, some of whom were dressed in his No. 15 jersey, leaned over railings as he was driven toward the locker room. London flashed USC’s “Fight On” symbol with both hands.