It wasn’t pretty early on, but USC survived another tough game by defeating Cal 30-20—outscoring the Golden Bears 17-7 in the fourth quarter.
As it went last week, the Trojans were once again carried by their defense—in particularly the front-seven led by outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Christian Rector who were challenged early in the game.
Sophomore cornerback Jack Jones really showed up as he finished the game with two interceptions, leading all Trojans on the season with three.
Cal senior RB Vic Enwere set the tone early with his six-foot, 240-pound frame battering his way into the heart of the defensive line and surprisingly—pushed the front-seven back.
Following Enwere’s lead was Cal’s star RB Patrick Laird who was also tough to bring down, found success early on against the Trojans and finished the game with 82 yards on 15 carries.
As far as the Trojan offense went, the struggles were evident.
With Ronald Jones II out for undisclosed reasons, freshman Stephen Carr got his first start as a Trojan as did fellow freshman wide receiver Tyler Vaughns.
In his first start, Carr amassed 82 rushing yards on 20 carries for one score and 47 receiving yards on six catches.
Sam Darnold struggled mightily, as he only had one interception in the first half yet was very close to having three, both on roll-outs and incredibly poor forced throws. He finished the game with 223 yards for two touchdowns on 26 for 38 passing.
Darnold’s first-half interception came deep in the redzone on a pass to Deontay Burnett who was clearly well-covered by Cal sophomore cornerback Joshua Drayden.
Even with USC’s struggles in the first half, the game was tied 13-13, with Cal having all the momentum.
Cal came out hot in the second half, gaining big chunks of yardage and converting on 3rd-and-long as well as 4th-and-1.
However, the luck continued to be on USC’s side as Laird dropped an easy score in the endzone after beating Cam Smith on a wheel route. On that same drive, Cal’s Matt Anderson missed a 29-yard field goal, just barely swerving past the left crossbar.
On the ensuing drive, USC failed to convert their second fourth-down attempt, as Aca’Cedric Ware was absolutely crushed on a fourth-and-one carry out of the pistol.
It all changed in the beginning of the fourth quarter however, as Uchenna Nwosu intercepted his first pass of the season as Cal QB Ross Bowers felt the pressure from defensive tackle Josh Fatu and let the ball slip right out of his hands—giving USC the ball at Cal’s three-yard line.
Carr finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown, effectively giving USC a 23-13 lead and momentum for the remainder of the game.
Bowers was once again stifled by the Trojan defense as he threw back-to-back interceptions—this time to sophomore safety Ykili Ross on a poorly thrown deep ball on Cal’s second drive of the fourth quarter.
The Trojan defense forced a grand total of five turnovers, their highest of the season, all the while intercepting Bowers three times in the fourth quarter.
There are still unanswered questions surrounding Darnold and this offense however—and they’ll need to figure them out in a hurry as another difficult Pac-12 matchup is on deck against #18 Washington State on a short week.