SANTA CLARA — Sam Darnold threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns and engineered a back-breaking 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter to lead No. 11 Southern California to a 31-28 victory over No. 14 Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.
Darnold threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns to stake the Trojans (11-2, No. 10 CFP) to the lead. He then delivered one of the biggest plays of the game when he stepped up to avoid pressure in the end zone before connecting on a 54-yard pass to Pittman to spark the key touchdown drive in the fourth.
Ronald Jones finished that drive with an 8-yard run that made it 31-21 to cap a productive night where he ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns to give USC its first win in a Pac-12 championship game.
The long drive came after USC stuffed Stanford (9-4, No. 12) at the goal line to preserve the lead. With Bryce Love nursing an injured ankle on the sideline, Cameron Scarlett was stopped on successive runs from inside the 2, including a fourth-down try from the 1 that was stopped by Uchenna Nwosu.
Darnold sealed the game with a 15-yard pass to Josh Falo on fourth-and-2 to let USC run out the clock.
The win gives USC a season sweep against Stanford and will likely send the Trojans to the Fiesta Bowl. USC still holds out hope for a spot in the four-team playoff if there are several upsets in other conference title games on Saturday but the chances appear to be remote.
STANFORD: Love ran for 125 yards and had his FBS-record 12th run of at least 50 yards that set up K.J. Costello's 11-yard TD pass to Kaden Smith that cut USC's lead to 24-21 late in the third quarter. Costello added a 28-yard TD pass to Smith with 2:09 remaining but wasn't nearly consistent enough to keep pace with Darnold. Costello finished 10 for 22 for 192 yards.
USC: The Trojans had a balanced offensive performance with Pittman catching seven passes for 146 yards and Jones doing solid work on the ground. The defense came up with the big stop at the goal line. But it probably won't be enough to overcome the earlier losses at Washington State and Notre Dame to lift the Trojans into the playoff even if they get help Saturday.
Both teams will get their bowl bids on Sunday with USC likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford expected to go to the Holiday Bowl.
Chip Kelly’s return to gainful employment (and no, television work is never actually gainful) is being hailed by the raging college punditocracy as a great acquisition for UCLA.
And 49er fans are gnawing their arms off in response.
Then again, there have always been two Chip Kellys – the one who owned college football with his frenetic offensive style, and the one who had to see if he could reinvent pro football by force of will.
That’s how he failed in Philadelphia. And then he failed in San Francisco by finding out that having no talent and working for people who don’t trust you while paying you trumps every clever idea in the playbook.
But his reputation among the collegiate types never deteriorated. He’d consolidated the gains made by predecessor Mike Bellotti and made Oregon a national power. Being a tyrant in Pennsylvania didn’t work, and neither did rowing a boat without a boat in California.
So he cooled his heels on the Eagles’ and Niners’ combined dimes until an opportunity to reinvent himself on his own terms came – and UCLA’s persistent underachievement relative to its self-image matched his desire to get back to what he knew and did best.
It’s as though he never coached in the NFL at all, which one suspects is just fine by everyone.
Kelly learned in Philadelphia that a paid workforce has the power of pushback. He learned in Philadelphia and San Francisco that a general manager with a drawer full of knives and a penchant for political scheming and ass-covering is the death of any sport.
But he must also know that no place reliant on the money of others to thrive is without politics or ass-coverers. The benefit that he got in Oregon was that there was only one of those – Phil Knight, Keeper Of The Swoosh.
UCLA has nobody of that wealth, but it has lots of people with opinions who give just enough money to expect those opinions to be heeded. Today, they are all-in on Kelly because it makes the Bruins’ football program a national talker, and in late November, when only a few teams are doing meaningful things competitively, talking is the currency of the realm.
Put another way, nobody talked about Chip Kelly in such glowing terms when he came to San Francisco because the failure in Philly was too fresh. At Westwood, his pro career is almost irrelevant because Los Angeles has only been an NFL town for two years, practically speaking. At Westwood, he is the man who perfected Eugene, and in the world of college football he is the man who reordered the world they care about.
In sum, for UCLA administrators and fans, Chip Kelly is the same guy he was the day he left Oregon. Philadelphia was a brief interlude and San Francisco essentially never happened at all.
If only all our histories worked that neatly.
BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.
USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.
Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.
It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.
Josh Fatu knocked the ball out of Bowers' hand and Uchenna Nwosu recovered the fumble at the 3. Carr ran it in two plays later from the 2 to make it 23-13.
Ykili Ross then intercepted Bowers' pass on the next possession, setting up Darnold's 4-yard TD pass to Deontay Burnett that put away the game.
Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.
CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.
A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.
CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.