Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are elite quarterbacks and could be playing in the NFL next season.
Last Saturday night at the Coliseum, UCLA’s Rosen had the superior numbers, but USC’s Darnold made the plays when they mattered, helping the Trojans to a 28-23 Pacific 12 Conference victory before 82,407 in the 87th meeting between these crosstown rivals.
USC (10-2 and 8-1 in conference), ranked No. 11 nationally, was a 16-point favorite, but needed a two-yard run by junior tailback Ronald Jones II that made it 28-17 with 5:19 left and capped a 90-yard march.
“I’m so proud of these guys,’’ said USC Head Coach Clay Helton, whose team piled up 421 total net yards to 501 yards for UCLA. “They’ve played 12 straight games and this week we get our first bye.’’
For UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora Jr., his six-year stint in Westwood came to an end on Sunday after going 46-30 and 28-25 in conference play.
USC secured the Pac 12 South Division title the previous week with a 38-24 win over host Colorado and will meet either Washington State or Stanford for the conference championship on December 1 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Rosen (32 of 52 for 421 yards with an interception) responded with a 27-yard strike to junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley (career and game-high 204 yards on 10 receptions) as 2:43 remained, but Rosen’s two-point pass failed.
UCLA (5-6 and 3-5 in conference) tried an onside kick, but USC recovered and drained the final few minutes.
The first score was delivered by sophomore wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (seven yards on one catch), who returned a punt 72 yards with 9:12 showing in the first quarter.
Junior cornerback Ajene Harris, the regular returner, raised his hand as though signaling for a fair catch, which fooled UCLA and gave Pittman clear sailing.
Rosen, a junior, drove the Bruins 80 yards and drilled Lasley with an 11-yard laser that evened it at 7-7 and 6:48 left in the opening period.
When Jones (game-high 126 yards on 28 carries) punched the ball in from two yards and 4:08 left in the same stanza, the Trojans moved in front 14-7.
With 5:32 on the clock in the third quarter, USC’s advantage became 21-7 on a one-yard scamper from Darnold (10 yards on five rushes) after Rosen, who also had a fumble, was sacked on consecutive plays.
Darnold, a red-shirt sophomore, finished with 264 yards through the air and hit 17 of 28 with one pick.
Rosen’s nine-yard toss to Lasley with 2:57 left in the third period shaved USC’s lead to 21-14.
Sophomore J.J. Molson’s 26-yard field goal with 10:19 left in the fourth period lowered it to 21-17.
Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.