Anything can happen in a rivalry game. On Saturday night, that point became crystal clear on UCLA’s opening possession, when quarterback Mike Fafaul found Jordan Lasley down the middle of the field for a 56-yard opening score. The Rose Bowl crowd erupted and the Trojans were in shock. Suddenly winning streaks and rankings were out the window. If USC was going to win this game, they were going to have to earn it.
USC bounced right back with an nice opening drive of their own, highlighted by a fantastic catch from JuJu Smith-Schuster, which took the ball to the Bruin 1-yard line. Ronald Jones finished things off with a touchdown run, and just like that, we had a new game at 7-7.
On the first play of the second quarter, a blocked field goal gave the Trojans the ball and some momentum. But then Smith-Schuster, who had 3 catches for 47 yards on the opening drive alone, limped off the field. Two plays later, Sam Darnold was intercepted by Fabian Moreau, setting up the Bruins first and goal from the nine. Fafaul didn’t waste any time, and found Jordan Lasley for his second TD of the game.
At that point, the Trojans looked like they might actually be in trouble. ESPN began rolling clips from 2006, when UCLA’s 13-9 upset wrecked the Trojans’ season. Could it be happening again?
Someone had to come to the rescue, and on this night it was Ronald Jones. His 60-yard touchdown run on the next possession got the Trojans right back in it. Then, with just over 8 minutes to go in the half, De’Quan Hampton pulled one out of the air for another SC touchdown. The 31-yard strike from Sam Darnold gave the Trojans the lead, but a missed extra point kept it at 20-14. Just before halftime, a Matt Boermeester field goal made it 23-14.
With JuJu slowed by injury, it was clear that Darnold would need to find other options in the second half. But spreading the ball around is one of the things Sam does best, and he proved it again when he fired a second touchdown pass to De’Quan Hampton, this time from 6-yards out. With just under ten minutes remaining in the 3rd, and the score 30-14, the Trojans finally had some breathing room.
Sam Darnold and the offense kept things in control with a lengthy drive towards the end of the 3rd, and another field goal early in the 4th took the lead to 33-14. A third Boermeester kick eventually stretched the lead to 36-14. It was more than enough for USC team that looked truly dominant in the second half.
In a season where the Trojans rose from the ashes, it was only fitting that they would weather an early storm, and finish in convincing fashion. USC has now won seven in a row and made their case for the South. The rest is out of their hands. But thanks to a Utah loss, and a big win against the Bruins, a return trip to the Rose Bowl is now a very real possibility.