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USC came closer to getting shocked by WMU than the final score suggests

The Trojans escaped, and that’s fine.

Western Michigan v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

No. 3 USC didn’t lose to Western Michigan in the teams’ season opener on Saturday in Los Angeles. But for a while, it looked like the Trojans were at risk. They’d ultimately win by a 49-31 score.

It took the Trojans until well into the fourth quarter to pull away. Western Michigan got a kickoff return touchdown that tied the game at 28 with eight minutes left, after they’d led 21-14 in the third quarter. The Trojans pulled ahead after that, but WMU hung around for 56 minutes before the wheels fell all the way off.

USC only put the Broncos away when five-star freshman running back Stephen Carr romped for a 52-yard touchdown with 3:49 left. Sometimes five-stars do five-star things, and there wasn’t much for WMU to do about it. A USC pick-six after that made the margin uglier than the run of play reflected for the rest of the evening.

The Trojans out-gained WMU, 521 yards to 357. But the Broncos were pretty effective on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per rush. They moved the ball well for most of the game. (USC’s offense moved it even better, which is why USC won.)

Western Michigan won’t be what it was last season, when it went 13-1 and made the Cotton Bowl under P.J. Fleck, who’s now gone to Minnesota. But the Broncos remain a talented bunch, and new coach Tim Lester has plenty to work with. A run to another MAC championship didn’t seem impossible before Saturday. Now, it seems almost likely.

The Broncos made a few sweet plays. Their third touchdown:

And this zany interception:

USC’s probably stunned that this wasn’t a blowout, given how the Trojans crushed everything in their wake for the last 10 weeks or so of the 2016 season. But WMU is incredibly legit, and you could do a lot worse in Week 1 than struggling for a while against the best mid-major team from 2016 before closing strong.