USC Trojans rally past Arizona 38-30 for 3rd straight win
LOS ANGELES (AP) JuJu Smith-Schuster had a plate and a screw surgically installed in the palm of his broken right hand only five days earlier, so Southern California's star receiver had to make eight catches for 138 yards using ''all fingers,'' he said with a grin.
Although the Trojans are all hanging onto the chance for a memorable season by their fingertips, a gritty comeback win over Arizona improved their grip.
Ronald Jones II caught a touchdown pass and rushed for 177 yards, including a 74-yard scoring run late in USC's third straight victory, 38-30 over the slumping Wildcats on Saturday night.
Cody Kessler passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) improved to 3-1 under interim coach Clay Helton and stayed in the race for the Pac-12 South title, but only after rallying from an early 14-point deficit.
''I love how this team is,'' Helton said. ''They just rise up. They stay extremely poised.''
Justin Davis rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns during USC's 472-yard offensive performance. Smith-Schuster caught a 72-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, highlighting a tenacious effort despite his excruciatingly painful hand.
''Once the doctor said I could start getting treatment, I was in the training room all day,'' Smith-Schuster said. ''The only thing I was thinking about was my teammates. I was (thinking), `How amazing would be it be for a kid to come back in (five) days and to have people think it was amazing?' I was in a lot of pain. Other than that, it was like, let's go. Let's play.''
Smith-Schuster's teammates used his tenacity as a rallying point during the week and again after falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter. Jones broke LenDale White's 2003 single-game record for yards rushing by a USC freshman, and Davis scored twice in the fourth quarter as the Trojans formally clinched bowl eligibility despite a season filled with turmoil.
''This team, no matter what happens, no matter what's coming, they keep fighting back,'' Kessler said. ''We know how to handle adversity.''
Nate Phillips, David Richards and Cayleb Jones caught touchdown passes from Anu Solomon for the Wildcats (5-5, 2-5), who have lost three straight and five of seven. The defending Pac-12 South champions were officially eliminated from contention for a repeat.
''We put our hearts into it,'' Solomon said. ''We don't want to lose again, and that's all. We just want to get over this depression, this funk that we're in, but just got to keep working.''
Solomon passed for 352 yards, and Johnny Jackson joined Phillips and Richards with at least 86 yards receiving apiece. Arizona still couldn't keep up with USC largely because its defense foundered again.
After giving up 1,099 yards and 94 points in the previous two games, the Wildcats yielded 462 yards and all 38 points to USC during the final three quarters.
''We made a few plays and got a little bit of pressure on an experienced quarterback, but we've got to maintain it for four quarters,'' Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. ''We can't let the guy run 72 yards when we know he is going to run it. We tackle like it's flag football or something. That wasn't good.''
After two weeks of miserable performances and off-the-field uncertainty about Rodriguez's future, Arizona improbably got off to an excellent start on the first chilly autumn night of the season at the Coliseum.
Phillips caught a 9-yard TD pass in the first quarter, and Richards had a 3-yard scoring grab on the opening snap of the second. Arizona's defense held USC to 12 first-quarter yards and even recovered a fumble.
A two-play sequence in the second quarter changed everything. John Plattenburg picked off a poorly thrown pass by Solomon at the Trojans 6 to kill another likely scoring drive, and Kessler then hit Smith-Schuster down the middle for an untouched score on the next snap.
After Arizona turned the ball over on downs at midfield in the third quarter, Davis' scoring run put the Trojans ahead. Casey Skowron's third field goal trimmed USC's lead to 24-23 with 10:05 to play, but Jones burst through Arizona's defense for the longest TD run of the freshman's career.
Davis rushed for his second score with 2:36 to play. Cayleb Jones caught a TD pass with 10 seconds left, but Arizona's onside kick went out of bounds.