BOULDER, Colo. – Here’s life as a fullback in the Pac-12.
You spend your time plowing over opposing defenders and burying them into the ground like they’re seeds to plant so that better-known teammates and can use your work to run the ball to glory. And you do it because you love it.
But every once in a long while, you’re the guy for whom the play is drawn. So when you catch that big touchdown to help jumpstart a comeback on the road in a hostile venue against a motivated foe, it only makes sense that a gratifying smile crawls across your face because, well, it’s about time.
Hello Jahleel Pinner.
Pinner caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cody Kessler on a third quarter third-and-goal to put the Trojans in the end zone for the first time in their 27-24 win at Colorado on Saturday night. The senior from Rancho Santo Margarita entered the night with all of two receptions and no touchdowns in 2015, or for his USC career. When asked how long he had been waiting for that particular play to be called, Pinner knew the exact timeframe.
“All year,” he said.
“It’s been called, but it hasn’t gone my way, the ball hasn’t been thrown to me. It was a perfect time for that pass … That touchdown brought us a spark, and we kept rolling after that.”
Pinner slipped past a Colorado linebacker into the right flat and easily caught Kessler’s soft toss, then sidestepped into the end zone for the score, pulling USC to within 17-13. Contrary to what some might believe, the play is not found that deep in USC’s playbook.
“Any time that you have the two-back run game, especially inside the red zone, those guys are huge weapons in the pass game,” interim USC head coach Clay Helton said. “You saw Colorado do the same thing. Being able to put heavy personnel down there, you have to load up the box for the run and someone’s going to pop open if you over-commit to the run.
“We’re very fortunate that Jahleel Pinner made a great play, as did Taylor McNamara.”
McNamara caught a two-yard score on USC’s next possession to put the Trojans ahead for good. He entered the night with six receptions and two scores in 2015.
What USC showed Saturday was the willingness and ability to use players whose names don’t frequently fill headlines. For Pinner, that’s just fine.
“We just keep playing,” he said. “Whenever our number is called, it’s just time to make a play. It doesn’t matter if I’m in or Taylor’s in or another tight end is in; we just have to make our plays.
“This is the second time we’ve come back. It shows a lot about our heart and our resilience and how we want to win the game at the end of the game. We just need to make sure we have that same focus at the beginning of the game.”
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Patrick Ridgell is a special contributor to USCFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @PatrickRidgell.