Jones helps No. 11 USC rebuff UCLA
LOS ANGELES — USC had little to play for, but had no problem getting up for a meeting with its cross-town rival.
Junior running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns,sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold ran in a third and the No. 11 Trojans capped its regular season with a 28-23 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
USC (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) already clinched a spot in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 1, but got all it could handle from the Bruins (5-6, 3-5). The Trojans had particular trouble with the combination of junior quarterback Josh Rosen and junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley.
Rosen completed 10 of his passes for 204 of his 421 yards on a 32-of-52 night to Lasley, who set a career yardage high. Lasley hauled in three touchdown receptions, including a 27-yarder in the corner of the end zone with 2:43 remaining to force an onside kick attempt, recovered by USC redshirt senior Matt Lopes.
Lasley previously moved UCLA within one score with his acrobatic grab of a deflected, 43-yard toss. That helped set up a 41-yard J.J. Molson field goal to bring the Bruins within four points at 10:19 remaining.
“Jordan was just feeling it, so I had to feed him,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to heat-check every once in awhile, throw it up so he can make a play.”
USC countered UCLA’s prolific passing attack with a consistent pass rush, generating four sacks of Rosen. Senior safety Chris Hawkins, senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, sophomore defensive tackle Malik Dorton and senior defensive tackle Josh Fatu all recorded one sack.
USC freshman running back Stephen Carr had his most productive game since sustaining a foot injury Sept. 29. His receptions of 21 and 29 yards on two second-half drives helped set up pivotal scores. The first led to Darnold’s 1-yard touchdown run, which ended a nearly 29-minute scoring drought, and the second extended a drive culminating in Jones’ second score, which proved to be the game-winner.
Both drives gave USC two-possession cushions, which proved critical. So, too, did stops with the Trojans defense’s back against its own goal line.
UCLA began the second half as it finished the first, turning the ball over in the red zone. USC junior safety Marvell Tell intercepted a telegraphed pass into the end zone to snuff out a would-be game-tying drive.
Darnold completed 17-of-28 passes for 264 yards. He was intercepted by UCLA senior safety Jaleel Wadood with the Trojans moving into Bruins’ territory late in the second quarter.
On the subsequent possession, UCLA marched into the red zone but the scoring opportunity was snuffed out when Dorton’s sack caused a fumble, which USC junior linebacker John Houston Jr. recovered.
“I was working on that (offensive) lineman,” Dorton said. “We switched sides ... I came inside, (Rosen) was right there, so I left my feet and got the sack. It feels good, especially in a game like this when we need those plays to win.”
It was the second of three scoring chances on the night that ended with UCLA getting no points. Molson missed a field-goal attempt of 47 yards in the second quarter.
“That’s 17 points we left out there,” UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “If you can put out 40 points, you have a lot better chance to win the game. We didn’t do that.”
Special teams gaffes proved too much for UCLA to overcome. USC scored the first points when Michael Pittman Jr. returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, a play set up when the Trojans showed a fake reverse.
“(Special teams) coach (John Baxter) knows everything,” Pittman said. “So he just told me run down, catch the ball, and go score. He simplified it for me. As soon as the punt came, I knew I was going to score.”
UCLA punter Stefan Flintoft said he knew, too, once “a sea of red-and-blue” went the opposite way of the direction he called after booting the ball.
NOTES: USC completed its second season undefeated at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans have won 16 straight there dating back to October 2015, and Clay Helton has never lost in the venue since becoming coach. ... UCLA WR Jordan Lasley caught multiple touchdowns against USC for a second consecutive season, having hauled in two in 2016. ... USC RB Ronald Jones II needs nine yards to surpass O.J. Simpson as the program’s fifth-leading rusher all-time. ... UCLA fell to 0-6 away from home on the season, but can finish the regular season 6-0 at the Rose Bowl with a win over California on Nov. 24.