Stephen Carr

Getty Images

Cal plays tough, but No. 5 USC pulls away late to stay undefeated

3 Comments

USC’s annual trip to the Bay Area for what is commonly referred to as ‘The Weekender’ is typically a casual affair for the Trojans when they go to Berkeley and their team takes on overmatched Pac-12 rivals Cal. Such was not the case for most of Saturday afternoon however, as the Bears pushed and prodded their in-state rivals before the dam finally broke early in the fourth quarter for a 30-20 win by the cardinal and gold.

The closer-than-it-indicated final score may not have been all that pretty but still allowed USC to capture their 14th straight victory and run their record against Cal to 13 straight wins over nearly a decade and a half.

Part of the reason the Trojans couldn’t pull away until late was an ineffective offense that was a continuation of last week against Texas. Quarterback Sam Darnold had to carry the team at times but wasn’t quite as sharp early in the passing game, forcing several balls while throwing his seventh interception (after having just nine all last year). His numbers improved as the game went on and, in front of a bunch of NFL scouts, he still finished with 223 yards and two touchdown passes against a feisty defense.

The biggest issue for the signal-caller was the lack of a running game. Normal starter Ronald Jones II didn’t even make the trip with the team, while true freshman Stephen Carr had his moments rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown taking the bulk of the carries.

Head coach Clay Helton can once again thank his defense for bailing out the slow starting offense as they forced six turnovers and straight up took over in the final quarter to change momentum. Josh Fatu forced a fumble early in the 4th that was recovered near the goal line to kick the party off and interceptions by Ykili Ross and Jack Jones in the next few series all but sealed the deal in Strawberry Canyon.

As a result, the numbers for Cal signal-caller Ross Bowers looked dreadful on the final stat sheet (303 yards, 1 TD, four interceptions and a fumble). Still, he did help give the team a chance for most of the day and, combined with a solid run game and defensive performance, helped show that things are still looking up for Justin Wilcox’s team despite suffering their first loss of the year to move to 3-1.

That might not be the case for USC as they fly back and look over the game tape from a sloppy victory. While it does put the team up 2-0 in league play, notching another win might prove to be even more difficult if they play like that given they face a stiff test next Friday against a Washington State team that should be ranked in the top 20.

No. 5 USC opens flat against Cal and it’s all tied up in Berkeley at halftime

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Imagine telling somebody before the season that No. 5 USC would dominate Stanford in the trenches during a blowout, but struggle against the other Bay Area team in a nail-bitter. Up is down, down is up in the Pac-12 apparently.

The Trojans came out flat to start their annual weekend trip to the Bay Area and needed a few defensive stands to keep the score locked at 13-all on a warm California day between the two in-state rivals.

Quarterback Sam Darnold (157 yards, one touchdown) did his Heisman campaign no favors, tossing his seventh interception of the season (after just nine in all of 2016). Things could have been worse for the signal-caller and his inexperienced receiving corps too as the Golden Bears nearly grabbed two others. Part of the issue could be that his terrific tailback Ronald Jones II failed to make the trip up for the game with an injury and true freshman Stephen Carr (36 yards) was forced to carry much of the load.

Cal’s offense had its own moments but was just 2-of-8 on third down conversions to help stall some early momentum. QB Ross Bowers threw for 124 yards but it was big running back Vic Enwere who was the star of the show with 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown he punched in on 4th and goal. The real story for the home team was the continued play of their defense however, pressuring Darnold on a number of snaps, forcing two turnovers and covering exceptionally well downfield to limit big plays.

The performance through two quarters will lead many to question whether USC really should be ranked in the top five and considered the Pac-12 favorite but the cardinal and gold could turn things around with a trip to the locker room and some adjustments. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with Justin Wilcox’s squad giving everything they can to another big name opponent in Berkeley this month.

Sam Darnold, No. 6 USC run win streak to 11 by beating up No. 14 Stanford

Getty Images
3 Comments

USC has the history, the trophies and the lofty rankings but, at least in Pac-12 play lately, there was one team the Trojans have had consistent trouble beating in their in-state rival Stanford.

On Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum though, it was the cardinal and gold that was the big bully in the trenches and the team whose tailbacks were running wild on a good defense. What looked like a shootout early on wound up being an impressive opening statement to conference play as No. 6 USC won their 11th in a row with a 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford.

The win comes after six days of wondering what was up with quarterback Sam Darnold, the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite who struggled a little in the team’s opening win but responded to all the nay-sayers with a vengeance by starting the game off with 11 straight completions. The redshirt sophomore wasn’t perfect (two interceptions) but was still masterful when moving around the pocket and posted eye-popping numbers of 21/26 for 316 yards and four touchdowns.

As good as he was, his two teammates in the backfield were even better.

That would be the one-two punch at running back in Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. The former racked up 116 yards and two scores on the ground while the latter, just a freshman, recorded 119 yards. The two not only ran hard to keep the chains moving but showed plenty of burst and quickness to give rise to a potentially new combo of thunder and lightning in Los Angeles.

When all was said and done, the Trojans stayed remarkably balanced and had over 300 yards passing and rushing on the night. Then there was the defense that allowed just a late touchdown in the second half and started to tee off on their opponents with a terrific pass rush.

The loss was undoubtedly one of the more disappointing ones for David Shaw and the Cardinal — more so because they failed to win in the trenches for the first time in forever. Tailback Bryce Love did have some solid numbers with 160 yards and a touchdown on the ground but most of it came on an untouched score from 75 yards out. Quarterback Keller Chryst likewise started strong but the high scoring game quickly got too much for him in the second half.

Few teams were questioned quite like USC was after their opener but Saturday’s blowout win was quite the statement that yes, the program was indeed back on the college football scene. Judging by what happened to Stanford though, it doesn’t seem like the team is done either.

USC leads Stanford 28-17 at halftime of a West Coast shootout

Getty Images
1 Comment

Stanford and USC have regularly given us some of the best games of the year out West and the two California rivals are well on their way to doing so once again this season.

Well, unless you like defense that is.

The Trojans managed to hold onto a 28-17 lead going into halftime of a WAC-esque shootout at the L.A. Coliseum that will send all four coordinators involved back to the white board at halftime to come up with something new.

A week after everybody wondering what was wrong with Heisman favorite Sam Darnold, the young quarterback responded in a big way by completing 11 consecutive passes to open the contest and finishing the first two quarters with 225 yards and three touchdowns. He wasn’t the only one who looked impressive in cardinal and gold though, as the run game was hitting on all cylinders between Ronald Jones (29 yards, one score) and freshman Stephen Carr (62 yards).

But for everything the Trojans could do, so could the Cardinal. Bryce Love became the latest tailback to torment a Southern California rival as he rushed for 137 yards and a score — most coming on an untouched 75 yard scamper that set the tone for the offense early in the game.

Everybody expected this to be the one of the biggest games of the year and the Pac-12 opener has certainly lived up to that early billing after one half in Los Angeles.

No. 4 USC escapes Western Michigan’s upset bid

Getty Images
2 Comments

When USC accepted the ball to open its season and rolled 75 yards in six plays, capped by a 16-yard Ronald Jones II scoring rush, it looked to be business as expected for the Trojans.

But then the Trojans went 3-and-out on its next possession, and Western Michigan responded with an 8-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. And then, when USC went 3-and-out again, and Western Michigan again capitalized with a lengthy touchdown march — 84 yards in 11 plays — it was obvious nothing about Saturday’s opener was business as expected for USC.

That moment did not arrive until the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter, when Stephen Carr raced for a 52-yard touchdown, providing put-away score of No. 4 USC’s 49-31 defeat of Western Michigan.

This game remained so close for so long because the Broncos, playing their first game under new head coach Tim Lester, performed every bit like the defending MAC champions that they are. Four players carried the ball at least seven times and all gained at least 30 yards. LeVante Bellamy led the way with 102 yards on nine carries, and WMU as a team rushed 43 times for 251 yards and two scores.

Jones far and away outperformed USC’s purported Heisman candidate Sam Darnold. Jones racked up 159 yards and three touchdowns on only 18 carries, while Darnold completed 23-of-33 passes for 289 yards and no touchdowns against two interceptions, though he did run for an 11-yard score.

The teams traded touchdowns for much of the game. After Jones’s opening punch, Western Michigan notched two consecutive scores to grab a 14-7 lead, marching 59 and 81 yards in the process. Jones’s second touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, tied the game at 14-14 just before the half.

Western Michigan moved 75 yards, punctuated by a 27-yard scoring strike from Jon Wassink to Keishawn Watson, to reclaim the lead at 21-14 to open the second half, then had a chance to take complete control after intercepting Darnold for a second time. But the Broncos punted on their ensuing possession, and USC took advantage with an 83-yard touchdown drive. In fact, Western Michigan would not stop USC again after Darnold’s second pick.

The Trojans pulled ahead for the first time since 7-0 on a 1-yard Carr run, but Western Michigan immediately responded when Darius Phillips went goal line to goal line on the ensuing kickoff.

USC needed only three plays to move 83 yards to reclaim the lead at 35-28 thanks to a 37-yard Jones run and, after a WMU field goal, put the game away on Carr’s 52-yard sprint. Marvin Tell III provided the exclamation point with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:13 left to play.

The loss was Western Michigan’s (0-1) first regular-season setback since falling to Northern Illinois on Nov. 18, 2015, a streak of 14 games. USC (1-0) extended its winning streak to 10 games, trailing only Oklahoma’s 11 for the longest active winning streak in FBS.