PASADENA (CBSLA.com) — Sam Darnold passed for 267 yards and hit De’Quan Hampton for two touchdowns, leading No. 15 Southern California past UCLA 36-14 Saturday night in the Los Angeles rivals’ 86th crosstown showdown.
Ronald Jones II rushed for 121 yards and two TDs for the surging Trojans (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12), who won their seventh straight game after a dismal start to the season.
PHOTOS: USC 36, UCLA 14
USC claimed the Victory Bell for the second consecutive year, overcoming Darnold’s two early interceptions and eventually taking apart UCLA’s solid defense for 527 total yards.
Jordan Lasley caught two first-half touchdown passes from Mike Fafaul for UCLA (4-7, 2-6). After five losses in their last six games, the Bruins are assured their first losing season in coach Jim Mora’s half-decade in charge.
Utah’s loss to Oregon earlier Saturday also kept the Trojans in the Pac-12 South race. A few hours after USC finishes the regular season next Saturday against Notre Dame, the Trojans would claim the division title if the Utes beat No. 12 Colorado, which lost at USC last month.
Ten years after UCLA stunned USC 13-9 and knocked Pete Carroll’s team out of the national title race, coach Clay Helton’s Trojans calmly beat their rivals for the 14th time in 18 meetings.
With both teams wearing their home jerseys on a chilly night at the Rose Bowl, USC extended its longest overall winning streak since Carroll’s last conference championship season in 2008.
Helton also improved to 2-0 in the crosstown showdown: He got the permanent job last year two days after the Trojans’ 40-21 victory over the Bruins and Mora, who had won his first three against USC.
USC went through the UCLA defense for 326 yards in the first half, just 30 yards shy of the Bruins’ average yield for entire games this season. The Trojans eventually held the ball for 43:47 and ran 95 plays to UCLA’s 51.
Darnold provided his usual cocktail of brilliance and exciting flaws, throwing two interceptions in the first half amid a series of stunning athletic runs and throws. The redshirt freshman hasn’t lost since his debut start at Utah in September, leading the Trojans back into contention with his freewheeling skills.
But the Bruins held an early 14-7 lead. Lasley took a mid-range pass 56 yards for a score in the opening moments, and he beat Adoree Jackson in 1-on-1 coverage early in the second quarter, right after Fabian Moreau returned Darnold’s first interception inside the USC 10.
USC faced a deficit after the first quarter for the first time since its winning streak began, but Jones fixed that with his second TD run, bursting around the end for a spectacular 60-yard score. Hampton then made his first career TD catch with an exceptional 31-yard grab by the seldom-used sophomore.
UCLA: The Bruins have endured a miserable second half after quarterback Josh Rosen’s season-ending injuries, but the defense has fought in every game. The overmatched offense kept it close early, but a thorough offseason recalibration seems vital.
USC: The Trojans just keep getting more dangerous, even if it might be too late to win the Pac-12 South. Along with Jones’ latest big game, Darnold and Hampton made key plays against a defense that had allowed only eight TD catches all season. And it’s no surprise that Darnold, the unflappable Orange County native, easily handled the road pressure in his first LA rivalry matchup.
Few teams are rolling like the Trojans. USC is likely to remain the nation’s highest-ranked team with three losses, and it could move up a couple of spots after defeats for No. 10 West Virginia and No. 11 Utah.
UCLA: A trip to Berkeley for a rather drab season finale against California.
USC: The famed intersectional rivalry game with Notre Dame at the Coliseum on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.