By Johnny Curren
After a see-saw first half in the annual crosstown clash between USC and UCLA on Saturday, the Trojans used a late-third-quarter run to seize the momentum of the game and run away with a 40-21 victory – earning a berth in the Pac-12 title game in the process
Trailing 14-13 in the second quarter, Adoree’ Jackson provided the Trojans with a big boost, returning a punt 42 yards for a touchdown to give USC a 20-14 lead at the break.
The Bruins would answer mid-way through the third quarter, however, with tailback Paul Perkins capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive off with a one-yard touchdown to give UCLA a 21-20 advantage.
But a little later in the quarter, the Trojans turned the tide for good, thanks in large part to three crucial takeaways by the USC defense. On a 1st-and-10 from UCLA’s own 41-yard-line, Bruins Quarterback Josh Rosen was stripped by Claude Pelon, with freshman defensive lineman Rasheem Green scooping up the ball and returning it for a 31-yard touchdown, and a 26-21 lead for the Trojans.
Then, on UCLA’s ensuing drive, freshman cornerback Iman Marshall picked off a pass thrown by Rosen, which set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Darreus Rogers, and following the converted PAT, USC led 33-21.
Kessler added a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Taylor McNamara in the fourth quarter, before Marshall secured the victory with his second interception of the game.
Kessler finished the contest 15 of 26 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Davis paced the Trojans with 130 yards rushing on 25 carries, while JuJu Smith-Schuster was the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 85 yards.
With the victory the Trojans are the Pac-12 South Division champions. They will next face Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, set to be held on Saturday, Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.