USC Trojans outlast UCLA Bruins: Score, stats, game recap

AP RECAP: Sam Darnold passed for 264 yards and ran for a score and No. 12 Southern California persevered for its third consecutive victory over crosstown rival UCLA, 28-23 on Saturday night.

Ronald Jones II rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Pittman Jr. returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown on a spectacular trick play in the first quarter of the regular-season finale for the Pac-12 South champion Trojans (10-2, 8-1).

Josh Rosen passed for 421 yards and hit Jordan Lasley for three touchdowns in the first - and probably only - collegiate meeting between Los Angeles' star quarterbacks.

Rosen found Lasley for a 27-yard score with 2:43 to play for UCLA (5-6, 3-5), but his 2-point conversion pass was too high for Lasley.

USC recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock with gutsy carries by Jones, setting off a celebration on the Coliseum field. USC retained the Victory Bell in the final home game for the Trojans' seniors - and possibly for their NFL-caliber underclassmen including Darnold and Jones.

Even after wrapping up a spot in the conference title game with a win at Colorado last week, USC finished strong in the crosstown showdown with its 16th consecutive victory at the Coliseum, including every game with Clay Helton as its head coach and Darnold as the starting quarterback.

Darnold and Rosen left their high schools on opposite sides of the LA area three seasons ago, but hadn't yet played against each other due to Darnold's redshirt year in 2015 and Rosen's shoulder injury in 2016. With dozens of NFL scouts and executives in the Coliseum, Darnold and Rosen both looked sharp - but Darnold's receivers and running game came up bigger.

While both passers showed off their NFL-coveted skills on a cool night at the Coliseum, Darnold's offense came up with just enough big plays to keep the Bruins out of reach.

Although the Bruins never led, UCLA put on a strong performance in its rivalry game after an up-and-down season under coach Jim Mora, who won his first three editions of this matchup before losing the past three.

Less than six minutes in, the Trojans pulled off a remarkable special-teams trick for their first touchdown. When UCLA's Stefan Flintoft angled a long punt toward the USC sideline, the Trojans ran back toward the center of the field to block for Ajene Harris, who pretended to catch an invisible ball while Pittman scampered down the far sideline, eluded a tackle and scored.

UCLA answered smartly with an 80-yard touchdown drive including a 41-yard catch and an 11-yard TD grab by Lasley, but Jones' 2-yard TD run moments later put the Trojans back on top.

After both teams committed turnovers deep in their opponents' territory during 29 scoreless minutes, Darnold finally finished a drive late in the third with a 2-yard keeper. Rosen responded immediately with a 79-yard drive capped by another TD pass to Lasley.

But USC mounted a 90-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter, with Jones' second TD run capping it.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCLA: UCLA is unbeaten at the Rose Bowl this season, but went 0-6 on the road, even after performing fairly well against the Trojans. The season comes down to next week's visit from California (5-6, 2-6), with the winner of the UC rivalry game gaining bowl eligibility.

USC: The Trojans showed tenacity and resilience, finishing the regular season strong instead of taking the night off. The defense will be pleased by another encouraging performance heading to the league title game against Washington State or Stanford.

UP NEXT

UCLA: Host California on Friday.

USC: After a week off, the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, California, on Dec. 1.

***

Get the complete box score and in-game stats above, TV channel and live stream info for USC vs. UCLA below:

What: UCLA Bruins (5-5, 3-4) at No. 11 USC Trojans (9-2, 7-1)

When: 5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 18

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

TV: ABC

Live stream: Watch ESPN and the ESPN app

Line: USC -16

Over/under: 71.5

Series history: This is 85th meeting between the Trojans and Bruins, with USC holding a 46-31-7 advantage. 

Previous meeting: USC beat UCLA last year, 36-14, and is going for its third straight win in the series. 

Did you know? USC, which wraps up its regular-season schedule against rival UCLA, clinched up the Pac-12 South title last week with a win over Colorado. The Trojans have a bye next week before the conference title game on Friday, Dec. 1. 

***

AP PREVIEW: The word rivalry when applied to college football might invoke thoughts of hostility, but Saturday's matchup between UCLA and No. 11 USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum takes on a sort of mutual admiration.

In its 88th year, the crosstown showdown features two of the most lauded quarterbacks in the nation, USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen. Both are products of nearby high schools, signing to their respective schools in 2015. Both are widely considered potential first-round picks in next spring's NFL draft.

Their proximity over the years fosters a familiarity within their rival programs that manifests as respect.

"Being a quarterback coach by trade, it's been very unique to watch him grow up and become such a special player," USC coach Clay Helton said. "I think I've watched his Arizona State game last week about a half-dozen times, because he performed magnificently."

The Arizona State game to which Helton referred marked Rosen's return from a one-game layoff because of injury. The quarterback led UCLA (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) to a 44-37 win, critical to keeping the Bruins' bowl-game aspirations alive, with 381 yards passing and a touchdown, with another score rushing.

The UCLA offense is one of the best in FBS via the pass with a healthy Rosen in the lineup.

From the junior leagues in south coastal Los Angeles, to leading a high-powered attack in the Pac-12, Helton has seen Rosen come a long way.

"I've been (at USC) 8 years now, and I've had the opportunity to watch Josh grow up," Helton said. "He actually was on my son (Reid Helton)'s Pop Warner team when he was in seventh grade. To be able to see him grow into the man he's become and the player he's become has been fun."

Not far down the freeway in the Orange County community of San Clemente, Darnold received a litany of scholarship offers from programs across the country -- including UCLA.

UCLA football and San Clemente High School share strong bonds. Nick Pasquale, a former San Clemente standout, died in 2013 while a member of the UCLA team. The Live Like Nick Foundation raises scholarship money in Nick's name, and his legacy lives on through that mantra -- a mantra Darnold wears on his wrist with a bracelet.

"It doesn't surprise me that Nick impacted Sam, because he impacted many, many, many people," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "And it doesn't surprise me, just knowing the character of Sam Darnold I've come to know in our brief interactions, and just reading about him or hearing him speak."

Darnold has his own admirer and someone he's impacted in Cade Spinello, an 11-year-old from Mission Viejo, Calif., who signed a letter of intent with UCLA in 2016 while battling a brain tumor. Spinello is a fixture at Bruins home games, but is also a fan of Darnold.

"Sam's one heck of a good kid. I'm glad (Spinello) is a fan of Sam's," Mora said. "He's picking the right models."

While there is no doubt respect between the programs -- a byproduct of the two campuses being separated by just 10 miles, according to Helton -- both aim to win Saturday in pursuit of different goals.

USC (9-2, 7-1) clinched the Pac-12 South division title with a 38-24 win last week at Colorado, but the Trojans still have an outside chance of factoring into the College Football Playoff race.

They have come on strong since losing at Notre Dame on Oct. 21, winning three straight over a span in which running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 552 yards. Conversely, UCLA comes in with the worst rushing defense in the nation, surrendering 302.3 yards per game on the ground.

Arizona State racked up 294 yards rushing in UCLA's win last week, but the Bruins' ability to stuff the Sun Devils in the red zone proved critical.

"Our guys played really well in the red zone," UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said in his post-game press conference. "We held them to field goals, which in the end was obviously the turning point in this game."

USC has not been great offensively in the red zone, converting opportunities into touchdowns only 57.8 percent of the time to rank No. 82 in FBS. The Bruins will need to be able to exploit this weakness to spring an upset, as well as effectively attack the Trojans with the pass on the other end.

Rosen's return to the lineup makes that possible, particularly with UCLA also getting wide receiver Jordan Lasley back from suspension last week. Lasley caught for 162 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State.

"We've lost a lot of yards with (tight end) Caleb Wilson being out and Darren Andrews being out. Darren had 10 touchdown catches," Mora said. "Having Jordan back in there gives us a playmaker when we've lost a couple."

Turnovers could also factor into UCLA's upset hopes. Darnold has been prone to giveaways, particularly early in the season when he threw nine of his 11 interceptions, but a clean sheet at Colorado continued the quarterback's recent trend of more careful ball control.

"Whenever I can play a really clean game, it's always nice," Darnold said in his postgame press conference. "I'm sure that the defense loves it too, being able to know that there's not going to be a quick turnaround, and that they won't have to sit down on the bench and then get right back up."