Agholor, Kessler propel USC past Cal 38-30
LOS ANGELES (AP) Nelson Agholor and Cody Kessler turned the Coliseum into their personal playground in the first half, throwing and catching all over the field while Southern California romped to a big early advantage.
By the time California nearly caught up under a November rain, Agholor and Kessler had built just enough of a lead to keep the Trojans rolling toward a big finish to their season.
Agholor caught a career-high 16 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and Kessler passed for 371 yards and four scores in USC's 38-30 victory over California on Thursday night.
Agholor and Kessler shredded Cal's porous pass defense while USC (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) jumped to an early 31-2 lead before holding on for its fourth win in five games. Although both stars lamented the Trojans' second half, they felt good about their connection heading into season-ending games against UCLA and Notre Dame.
''We got out early and got a comfortable lead, but they're a real good team,'' Kessler said. ''They fought back. Our guys really fought through it and kept working hard.''
Agholor had another spectacular night under the Coliseum lights, becoming the first receiver in USC's storied history to post back-to-back, 200-yard games. The Trojans' lower-key successor to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee had nine catches for 139 yards after the first snap of the second quarter.
''It just means I have a great offensive coordinator, head coach and quarterback to put me in that position,'' Agholor said. ''(Kessler) did an amazing job controlling the game, picking and choosing where to go with the ball.''
George Farmer and Randall Telfer also caught TD passes for the Trojans, who beat their upstate rivals for the 11th straight time.
Agholor had just three catches after halftime, falling one catch short of Woods' school-record 17 receptions.
''We knew he was going to be good,'' Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. ''We knew it wasn't a great matchup. He's a good football player. They did a good job of getting him the ball.''
Jared Goff passed for 279 yards and three touchdowns for the Golden Bears (5-5, 3-5), whose fourth loss in five games prevented them from clinching bowl eligibility. Cal hasn't won at the Coliseum since 2000, and the Bears couldn't overcome their huge early deficit.
Stephen Anderson caught a 29-yard TD pass from Goff with 1:36 to play, but Darreus Rogers easily recovered the onside kick.
''We were so close there at the end,'' Goff said. ''Knowing that we had so many mistakes there early on that could have allowed us to have a chance to beat them there at the end, it's just kind of frustrating. We'll learn from it, move on, and try to be more disciplined next time.''
Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs caught TD passes for the Bears, and Daniel Lasco rushed for a score. Cal still hasn't beaten a team that currently has a winning record this season.
Justin Davis rushed for an early score for USC, while Javorius Allen rushed for just 60 yards, missing his seventh straight 100-yard game on the ground. Allen still had more than 100 total yards from scrimmage for the 13th straight game.
USC also had three touchdowns and a fumble recovery wiped out by penalties on another busy night for Pac-12 officials. This crew threw 25 flags for a combined 276 yards in penalties against both teams, but the Trojans persevered.
''I'm going to refrain from getting a fine,'' USC coach Steve Sarkisian said curtly when asked about the officiating.
The Coliseum was about half-full at kickoff for a rare weekday game in downtown Los Angeles. The tradition-bound portion of USC's alumni base isn't overly fond of television-friendly weekday games, but the venerable arena filled in while the Trojans dismantled Cal in the first half.
A holding penalty wiped out Kessler's 42-yard TD pass to Adoree Jackson early in the second quarter, but Agholor made his second TD catch moments later. Cal finally got Harper's TD catch 9 seconds before halftime, reducing USC's lead to 31-9.
Agholor had a brilliant 78-yard catch-and-run TD wiped out by a holding penalty in the third quarter. USC lost another TD catch to a penalty before Kessler rolled out and hit Telfer for a 15-yard score early in the fourth.