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Trojans Maul the Bears, Stay in the Hunt For the Pac-12 South

Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones light up the Coliseum in a Thursday night romp.

California v USC
Sam Darnold and the Trojans have won four straight.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As USC prepared to take on Cal in the latest edition of ‘Pac-12 after dark,’ there seemed to be a growing consensus that the Trojans will emerge as contenders for the Pac-12 title. There should be no doubt about it now. Clay Helton’s squad had an answer for Cal at every turn, in a 45-24 romp on Thursday night at the Coliseum.

On USC’s first play from scrimmage, Ronald Jones rambled 61 yards to start the Trojan attack. It was just the beginning of what would be huge evening for Jones and the Trojan offense. A few plays later, Sam Darnold found Darreus Rogers in the end zone on a 3-yard dart. The game was barely five minutes old, but it already had the look of a rout.

Darnold’s command of the offense was as efficient as ever. The redshirt freshman faced little pressure, and throughout the night, spread the ball with ease. Mid way through the first quarter, ESPN play by play man Mike Patrick commented: “Darnold looks so comfortable, he looks like he’s running a 7 on 7 drill in practice.” Moments later, as if on cue, Darnold calmly tossed a screen pass to Ronald Jones, who walked into the end zone from 16 yards out.

California v USC
In short, Sam Darnold was awesome.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

USC had 241 yards of total offense in the first quarter alone, and wasted no time adding to their lead in the second. After a quick stop by the Trojan defense, and a 32-yard punt return by Adoree’ Jackson, the Trojans were on the doorstep once again. Sam Darnold then found wide out Deontay Burnett for his third TD pass of the game. At this point, it was all looking too easy.

Cal did show some signs of life after a Darnold fumble gave them the ball on the Trojan 22-yard line. Two plays later, Cal QB Davis Webb fired a touchdown pass to Tre Watson. On the next series, USC looked sure to score after another huge run from Jones, but the drive was again halted by a turnover. Cal responded with a strong drive of their own, and a field goal cut the score to 21-10.

But if there was a theme to the night, it was that every time Cal made a surge, USC had an answer. Towards the end of the first half, a second TD pass to Darreus Rogers seemed to restore order.

Cal appeared to regroup somewhat at halftime, and moved the ball well on their opening possession. A 1-yard TD run from Webb reduced the deficit to 11, and suddenly the Bears were threatening to make it a game. But the threat was brief, because this night belonged to Ronald Jones.

NCAA Football: California at Southern California
Ronald Jones ran for career-high 223 yards and a touchdown.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With just over 7 minutes to go in the third, Jones broke yet another big run, this time taking it to the house. His 37-yard score made it 35-17. Suddenly USC was pouring it on, and minutes later, a 17-yard TD pass to Daniel Imatorhebhe turned the game into the blowout we always thought we would see.

Early in the 4th, a 16-yard TD pass from Webb to Melquise Stovall brought it back to 42-24. But by then, the task was too tall for a Bear team that was clearly fatigued. USC continued to wear down Cal’s D, and worked the clock for the remainder of the fourth quarter. They would go on to celebrate a 45-24 final score.

The Trojans will be watching this weekend’s games closely, as USC still needs some help in the race for the Pac-12. And as we hit the home stretch, it’s likely everyone else will be watching the Trojans.

Next up: USC will host the Oregon Ducks on November 5th at the Coliseum.