Saturday’s USC vs. UCLA score would decide the Pac-12 South at the Coliseum, and the Trojans made sure they wanted it. For the first time, they beat Jim Mora’s Bruins, 40-21.
The lowdown: The first half was a back and forth affair, highlighted by five lead changes. Both teams were wildly inconsistent on offense, with each having a pair of long drives and nine punts combined. After USC settled for a field goal to make it 14-13 after a 15-play drive, the Trojans tightened up on defense and forced the Bruins to punt yet again. Adoree’ Jackson took the punt at the 42-yard line, broke a tackle and waltzed into the end zone for his second punt return for a touchdown in two weeks. It gave USC a 20-14 halftime lead, their first at the midway point vs. UCLA since 2011.
In the third quarter, the Bruins ended a run of three-straight three and outs with a crucial, 11-play, 78-yard scoring drive capped off with Paul Perkins’s second touchdown of the game to give UCLA a 21-20 lead.
They looked to expand on that lead, but USC forced two enormous turnovers in a row. The first of which, a Claude Pelon forced fumble, was returned by Rasheem Greene for the a touchdown. The second was an interception by freshman corner Iman Marshall, which set up a 52-yard touchdown drive capped by a Darreus Rogers catch.
After Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a field goal to end the third quarter, USC entered the final frame with a 12-point lead with a chance to win the Pac-12 South.
The takeaway: The Trojans finally slayed their nemesis, Jim Mora. And they did it in emphatic fashion, with a strong second half effort that saw USC put Josh Rosen off of his game by establishing pressure. It led to two key turnovers in the third quarter, which turned into 13 huge points after UCLA took a 21-20 lead. The worry for USC however, is that the offense continues to struggle with inconsistency, while relying on the defense to create momentum-shifting turnovers. Add in the punt return for a touchdown and USC’s offensive output was overshadowed by the impact of the defense. Against Stanford next week in the Pac-12 Championship Game, that can’t happen. USC must start to find consistency on offense.
Player of the game: He’s not a player, but it has to go to Justin Wilcox. A week after the Trojans got torched for a zillion yards at Oregon, the USC defense responded to hold UCLA in check for most of the game, while creating loads of momentum.
Stat of the game: With a gain of four yards on his sixth carry of the game, Ronald Jones set USC’s freshman rushing record for yards, passing Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. In 1976, White amassed 858 yards while being a change-of-pace back for Ricky Bell.
Next on tap: The win over UCLA means that USC has won the Pac-12 South for the first time ever, and will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford next Saturday in Santa Clara. The Trojans lost to the Cardinal 41-31 back in September at the Coliseum.