Drake London, the rising star receiver who slung a struggling USC team on his back through two tumultuous months , will miss the rest of the Trojans’ season after fracturing his ankle in a 41-34 win over Arizona.
The devastating prognosis seemed all but assured in the second quarter Saturday night, as London was loaded onto the injury cart with his right ankle immobilized by an air cast. In obvious pain, the junior wideout buried his face in his jersey, wiping the tears from his eyes. As the cart rolled up the tunnel, London waved to the Coliseum crowd, likely for the last time.
On Sunday night, USC interim coach Donte Williams confirmed London won’t play again in 2021. And with the NFL certain to beckon next spring, it’s unlikely London, whose season was set to cement him among the best receivers in school history, will ever suit up for USC again.
“Those eight games he played, all the awards you could think of, he deserves,” Williams said. “Whether it’s the Biletnikoff, whether it’s the All-American, the things he did for this team and this university, you know, he was about to put up one of the best statistical seasons that any receiver has put up in college football. That’s saying a lot.”
It’s not an exaggeration either. Even after missing the second half of Saturday’s game, London still leads all Power Five wideouts in receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,084). Had he continued that pace, London would’ve almost certainly surpassed Marqise Lee (118) for the most receptions in a single season in school history while also challenging him for the single-season record for yards (1,721). Lee set both marks in 2012, capping his record-setting season by winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
London was considered to be a leading contender for the same award until a second-quarter screen pass Saturday. As London dragged an Arizona defender into the end zone for his second touchdown of the first half, his tackler appeared to roll over London’s leg as they fell to the turf. London reached immediately for his right knee, and trainers were called over. An entire stadium fell silent.
London returned to the sideline in the third quarter, outfitted with a hard cast over his right ankle. He was still in high spirits after the season-ending injury was confirmed, hobbling into the Sunday team meeting on crutches.
“He was still one of the guys,” Williams said. “He didn’t look at it as he was devastated and crying and by himself. He was still here. That shows you once again what kind of person he is. He’s a team leader and a team captain for a reason. He still wanted to be around his guys and still wants to do everything he possibly can to lead them.”
During a particularly dark season at USC, London had been a lone bright spot. The offense had come to rely on his stunning propensity to catch almost any pass thrown in his general vicinity. Even as defenses regularly double-teamed him, London routinely worked his way open, breaking open even the best-laid game plans.
His loss is nothing short of devastating for a USC offense in which London accounted for 43% of the Trojans’ yards through the air. In his place, USC will have to rely on a cadre of receivers, many of whom have been inconsistent throughout this season.
“Obviously, it hurt to lose him,” sophomore receiver Gary Bryant Jr. said. “But do what we do. Drake knows. He’d tell us, ‘Just do what you guys do,’ and we will.”
Bryant, who scored two touchdowns and reeled in a career-high 89 receiving yards, is expected to step into a larger role, along with shifty sophomore transfer Tahj Washington, who had eight catches for 87 yards. Sophomore Kyle Ford, who’s a similar size to London, could also find himself with more opportunity moving forward.
“I think it puts a great emphasis on those guys,” Williams said. “But at the same time, those aren’t the guys we’re truly worried about stepping up. It’s everyone else. The guys that no one has got a chance to truly see yet. The Michael Jacksons of the world. The Kyron Ware-Hudsons. The Joseph Manjacks.
“And it puts even more of an emphasis on our tight ends. It’s not one person that could take over Drake’s role. It’s going to be done collectively. They all need to step their game up and they will.”
For London, the injury should only be a blip in his football future. London was expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring.
“It sucks, he’s the best receiver, the best player on the team, so it hurts a lot,” quarterback Kedon Slovis said Saturday.