Junior tailback Ronald Jones II had himself a night with 194 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 17 USC Trojans beat the No. 22 Arizona Wildcats. Despite a late comeback surge from quarterback Kahlil Tate, USC conquered the comeback with two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game.
The team has won their last 15 games at the Coliseum. Now, the Trojans sit alone at the top of the Pac-12 South Division. A win against either Colorado or UCLA will solidify their top spot and earn them a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
"Big win for us as far as Pac-12 South goes. That leaves us in control of our own destiny," head coach Clay Helton said. "We have a great opportunity next to go to Colorado and try to seal things up."
Jones opened up the game well and carried a solid momentum throughout. The final two touchdowns that solidified USC's win came from Jones. His 52-yard run that led to the final touchdown of the night put him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He's the first Trojan since LenDale White in 2004 and 2005 to put up back-to-back season of over 1,000 rushing yards. It was also his 11th 100-yard rushing game.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold went 20-for-26, throwing for 311 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Junior tailback Aca'Cedric Ware rounded out the rest of the offense with 122 rushing yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Wide receivers sophomore Michael Pittman Jr. and redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns led the receivers with 59 yards each. Vaughns, who's grown into Darnold's clutch target, also had a touchdown.
After building up a 22-point lead, it looked like USC had the chance to put the game away. But with Tate, no win is ever certain until the clock runs out.
"They started doing some misdirection with some reverses some throwbacks, fake reverses with the quarterback sweep. It was everything but the kitchen sink," Helton said. "Defensively we held up at the end when we needed it the most."
About halfway through the third quarter, everything was getting flagged by the refs. It became comical to the point where consecutive plays were being called as fouls, going up for a review, and then being nullified after the review. By the end of the game, USC had 14 penalties for 123 yards and Arizona had three penalties for 32 yards. Arizona earned four first downs off of USC penalties.
Following the nearly hour-long third quarter, the rhythm of the game stalled. Arizona took that to their advantage. The Wildcats capitalized, scoring their first touchdown off of a Tate 32-yard run towards the end of the quarter. In about an 11 minute span, the Wildcats scored four touchdowns and completed a two-point conversion to tie the game at 35-all.
After the Wildcats tied the game, Darnold and Jones took charge of a lulled offense to take back the lead. Darnold hit Jones with a stellar lob pass for 33 yards on the next drive. Jones rounded out the rest of the drive with a nine-yard run and a one-yard punch into the end zone for the score.
On Arizona's first play of their next drive, Tate threw up a deep ball that was off target and intercepted by redshirt junior cornerback Ajene Harris.
Jones tallied off a 52-yard run, followed by another one-yard punch for the score, putting up USC 49-35 with about three minutes to play.
On third down of Arizona's next drive, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker John Houston Jr. stripped the Wildcat receiver for an interception at the 50-yard line, silencing any chance the Wildcats had of a comeback.
Jones burst out for another long run, this time for 26 yards. Comfortably in Arizona's territory, Ware picked up 16 yards to get the Trojans to first and goal at the seven-yard line. Instead of running up the score, USC let the time run off the clock, taking knees until the clock ran out.
Despite some hiccups that allowed Tate and the Wildcats to tie the score, USC made necessary adjustments and secured the win.
"There's never a question mark about these kids and how resilient they are and how prideful they are and how much they want to compete," Helton said. "They care for each other and they care about being Pac-12 champions."
USC hits the road next week as they head out to play Colorado for their final away game of the season.
"It's great knowing we control our own destiny," Jones said. "So we're really looking forward to going to Colorado and competing to be in the Pac-12 championship game."
A win next week would solidify their place atop the South, earning them a spot in the conference championship and their first bye-week of the season as USC doesn't play Thanksgiving weekend.