Justin Davis

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High-ankle sprain to sideline USC’s leading rusher vs. Arizona

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The dreaded high-ankle sprain has claimed yet another victim.

The latest to fall into the injury’s clutches is Justin Davis, with USC head coach Clay Helton confirming Thursday that the running back won’t play against Arizona Saturday because of it.  The decision to sideline Davis came after the back hadn’t practiced at all this week.

The senior sustained the injury in the win over Colorado last weekend.  It’s possible the injury will linger beyond this week, although it will help that the Trojans have a bye for Week 8 and won’t play again until Thursday, Oct. 27, against Cal.

Davis currently leads the Trojans with 476 yards and 6.4 yards per carry.  Sophomore Ronald Jones, who’s second on the team with 208 yards, is expected to get the start in place of Jones.

Additionally, Helton stated that fellow sophomores Aca’Cedric Ware (133 yards) and Dominic Davis (13) will shoulder more of the running-game load than usual.

“We’ve got three really quality runners,” the coach said by way of the Orange County Register. “We still remain balanced. We’re going to stick to our M.O., where our run still sets up the pass and be a balanced offense. We got a lot of confidence in the three kids.”

Clay Helton’s hot seat cools a little as USC moves past No. 21 Colorado

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USC head coach Clay Helton’s hot seat cooled a little on Saturday afternoon as the Trojans used some big plays through the air and a few timely stops on defense to move past No. 21 Colorado 21-17.

Young quarterback Sam Darnold made many wonder why he wasn’t the starter from day one with yet another impressive performance. He finished 25-of-37 for 358 yards and three touchdown throws, almost all of which came on a scramble in order to find some daylight.

The Trojans run game was paced by tailback Justin Davis, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry but sat out the final quarter after leaving with a leg injury. Even more impressive was the effort of the team’s defense, which limited a normally potent offensive attack and saw super-athlete Adoree’ Jackson pull in a highlight interception in the second half.

Colorado’s first game as a ranked opponent in a long time didn’t wind up exactly how they thought it would go. While Phillip Lindsay was solid in the run game (and caught a wild 67 yard touchdown on a trick play), the Buffs just couldn’t get much going in the first half on offense and saw quarterback Steven Montez get hit or pressured on nearly every play.

The victory by USC will further muddle the Pac-12 South standings as they were the only team without a conference loss coming into the week. The division remains a tossup at this point but UCLA could make some moves with a win on the road at Arizona State.

That probably won’t matter much to Helton, who gets the Trojans back to .500 on the season after a brutal start and likely hears a little less about his job status come Monday.

Late interception gives Wisconsin its first win over USC

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Rafael Gaglianone field goal with 2:29 remaining lifted Wisconsin to a 23-21 win over No. 25 USC in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday night in San Diego, giving the Badgers their first win over the Trojans in now seven tries. Wednesday night’s game was the pair’s first meeting since 1966.

The Badgers actually appeared to take the lead one drive earlier, as Tanner McEvoy took a direct snap and ran around the right side. Officials ruled he stepped out of bounds but replays show he did stay in bounds. What would have been a long touchdown run was taken off the board in controversial fashion.

Joel Stave‘s nose was stepped on by a cleat on the play, forcing him to give way to back-up quarterback Bart Houston, who fired two incomplete passes and led to a Badgers punt from the USC 41.

Wisconsin forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then drove 42 yards to set Rafael Gaglianone up for a go-ahead 29-yard field goal.

Though Gaglianone knocked in the winning score, it was outside linebacker Jack Cichy that was the star of the game for the Badgers. Cichy ended the drive following the go-ahead field goal by forcing Cody Kessler into his first interception since Nov. 13 into the waiting arms of Sojourn Shelton — it was Wisconsin’s first interception by a cornerback since the 2013 season — at the USC 46 with 1:44 left to play. The Badgers managed to kill 65 of the remaining 104 seconds, leaving USC a scant 36 seconds to try a game-winning field goal. Their last-gasp drive moved 40 yards before turning the ball over on downs at midfield with three seconds left on the clock.

Prior to forcing the interception, Cichy single-handedly killed a USC possession by sacking Kessler on three consecutive plays.

The former walk-on, suspended for the first half for a targeting hit in the Badgers’ season finale against Minnesota, entered the Holiday Bowl with two sacks on the entire season.

After a scoreless first quarter, Wisconsin jumped to a 10-0 lead thanks to a 28-yard Gaglianone boot and a six-yard Corey Clement touchdown run. USC answered with a three-and-a-half minute drive that culminated in a one-yard Justin Davis plunge, but Wisconsin closed the first half with another short field goal, then opened the second half with a four-yard scoring strike from Stave to Austin Traylor, giving the Badgers a 20-7 lead at the 7:49 mark of the third quarter.

USC used another Davis run and a seven-yard toss from Kessler to Darreus Rogers to take a 21-20 lead with 10:19 left to play, but the Trojans were unable to protect the lead.

Kessler closed his college career by hitting 18-of-32 passes for 221 yards with a touchdown, an interception and, oddly, a seven-yard out on the decisive 4th-and-10 with the game in its dying moments. Ronald Jones led the Trojans’ ground efforts with eight carries for 47 yards, and JuJu Smith-Schuster caught four passes for 65 yards.

The loss dropped USC to 8-6 on the season, and pushed Clay Helton to 0-2 as the Trojans’ full-time head coach.

Stave led the Badgers by connecting on 18-of-27 throws for 217 yards with a touchdown and no picks, and Clement charged for 66 yards and one score on 19 carries. Alex Erickson grabbed a game-high five passes for 54 yards.

The win allowed Wisconsin to close the year and Paul Chryst‘s first season as the head Badger at 10-3, giving the program double-digit victories in two straight and five of the last seven seasons.

 

USC dominates UCLA for Pac-12 South crown; Trojans vs. Stanford for Pac-12 title

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For the first time in program history, the school with the most football championships in Pac-12 history will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) snapped its three-game losing streak against crosstown rival No. 22 UCLA (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) in convincing fashion in the second half to pick up a 40-21 win and claim ownership of the Pac-12 South Division championship. The win will send USC to the Pac-12 Championship Game to play Pac-12 North champion Stanford next week.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler may not have put up huge numbers against the Bruins, but his 15-of-26 for 175 yards and two touchdowns without an interception was effective enough to lead the team to a victory. Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen for UCLA got his first dose of the rivalry with the Trojans, and it did not go as well. Rosen was picked off twice and he completed just 19 of his 37 pass attempts. Bruins running back Paul Perkins rushed for 95 yards and two scores, but USC’s Justin Davis was the big runner of the day with 130 rushing yards. USC’s Adoree’ Jackson made some big plays happen as well with a punt return for a touchdown. USC’s Rasheem Green had a 31-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter that gave USC a 26-21 lead. This proved to be the game-winning score, as the Trojans continued to tack on a couple of more touchdowns on offense.

USC was the preseason favorite of the Pac-12 media at media day this summer, and now they have a chance to make good on those expectations. The fact they have arrived at this point is a fascinating story all by itself given the bumpy path it took to get to this point.

Stanford handed USC its first loss of the season in the early part of the season. The Cardinal took a 41-31 victory against the Trojans and never really looked back in conference play. USC struggled a few more times and had to go through an in-season coaching change with the firing of Steve Sarkisian. Clay Helton took over as the interim coach for the Trojans, and quickly calmed the stability of the program after a loss at Notre Dame. USC ripped through Utah to mix up the Pac-12 North and went on to win the next three games before hitting a speed bump on the road at Oregon against a resurgent Ducks program. USC has won more Pac-12 conference championships than any other conference member, including time as the Pac-8 or Pac-10, with 38 conference championships. It has not played in the Pac-12 Championship Game though, but that will change next week.

USC may be able to play spoiler for Stanford’s playoff dreams, if the Cardinal manage to beat Notre Dame tonight. The Pac-12 champion is still unlikely to sneak into the four-team playoff field, but Stanford is the one that has a slight chance to do so. USC, with four losses, will not have enough things bounce their way to make that giant leap.

Pac-12 South division race down to USC and UCLA

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Next week in the historic Los Angeles Coliseum, two rivals will enter but only one will leave with the Pac-12 South championship banner. Despite a loss today at Oregon, No. 24 USC (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) will get a chance to win the Pac-12 South Division at home and earn a trip to its first Pac-12 Championship Game. Standing in the way will be rival UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12), fresh of a road win against No. 13 Utah (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12).

UCLA did what it needed to do to remain in the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South. Needing a win against Utah to secure a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Utes, UCLA got right to work out of the gate with a game-opening touchdown drive on the road (Josh Rosen to Thomas Duarte) and eventually took a 10-0 lead before letting the Utes wiggle back in with three field goals chipping away at the double-digit lead. Once Utah kicked a third field goal to cut the lead to one point, UCLA responded with a 14-play touchdown drive ending with Paul Perkins scoring a short touchdown run to put the Bruins up 17-9. That would prove to be more than enough, as that score held the rest of the way.

USC’s secondary was picked apart by Vernon Adams and Oregon in Autzen Stadium. Adams finished his day with six touchdowns thrown and 407 passing yards in a 45-28 victory over the Trojans. USC’s offense actually did some good things, outside of protecting quarterback Cody Kessler at times. Kessler avoided throwing an interception and Justin Davis led the running game with 141 yards. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had to leave the game temporarily in the first half but did return despite having to be helped off the field by trainers. USC’s defense gave up five touchdowns of at least 30 yards through the air, so they will have to find a way to tighten things up in the secondary before taking on UCLA next week. Oregon racked up 578 yards of offense in the win.

The Pac-12 South is now a two-horse race between USC and UCLA, as Utah has now been eliminated from contention. Utah needed to beat UCLA in order to stay ahead of the Trojans, but now the Utes cannot win as tiebreakers go against them. The winner of next week’s crosstown rivalry game will more than likely get a crack at Stanford. Stanford needs a win against Cal later tonight to claim the Pac-12 North title. A loss opens the door for Oregon to grab the North next week with a win over Oregon State. Stanford loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ducks after Oregon upset the Cardinal last week. Stanford’s Pac-12 schedule wraps up tonight and they play Notre Dame next week.

The Pac-12 Championship Game will be played on December 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. UCLA appeared in the first two Pac-12 championship game sin 2011 and 2012, although USC won the Pac-12 South and was ineligible for postseason play in 2012 (USC pounded UCLA 50-0 that season).