LOS ANGELES (AP) When Khalil Tate and Arizona’s offense erased their entire 22-point deficit with four touchdowns in roughly 11 minutes, Ronald Jones II and Sam Darnold knew they had to answer the Wildcats’ big-play quarterback with a few memorable moments of their own.
Southern California’s offensive stars got it done in a victory that put the Trojans in charge of the Pac-12 South.
Jones rushed for 194 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 17 USC overcame Tate’s big second-half rally for a 49-35 victory over 23rd-ranked Arizona on Saturday night.
Darnold passed for 311 yards and two TDs for the Trojans (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12), who led 28-6 midway through the third quarter before Tate finally got the Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) rolling. Arizona evened it at 35 on Zach Green’s TD run and a 2-point conversion with 8:23 remaining.
But Jones ran wild in the fourth quarter, racking up 96 yards while scoring the tiebreaking touchdown with 5:37 to play and adding another score with 3:09 left as the Trojans pulled away.
”We knew we had to win this game,” said Jones, who also had a 98-yard TD run erased by a penalty. ”We want a championship bad, and we’re going to do anything we have to.”
USC is alone atop the Pac-12 South after its 15th consecutive victory at the Coliseum. One victory in the Trojans’ final two games against Colorado and UCLA will put them in the conference title game next month.
Tate, an Inglewood native and high school classmate of several Trojans, rushed for 161 yards and passed for 146 yards and two TDs. After being bottled up in the first half, he rushed for a 32-yard TD and threw a 30-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
”We got a little momentum going, and our guys made some tremendous plays in the second half,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. ”It’ll hurt for 24 hours, but we’ll come back with a better plan.”
Tate was sacked five times, and he threw two fourth-quarter interceptions to USC’s Ajene Harris and John Houston as the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak ended.
”I wasn’t sharp on my reads,” Tate said. ”I was off on a lot of my coverages. … We didn’t make a lot of adjustments (in the second half). We just saw some tendencies in their defense that we needed to exploit.”
Jalen Greene returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter for the Trojans. Tyler Vaughns and Steven Mitchell caught TD passes for USC, and Aca’Cedric Ware rushed for 122 yards and another score.
Arizona: The charmed October is over, but the Wildcats played another exciting, high-scoring game. This loss won’t do much to dampen the optimism around a program that appeared to be at a crossroads one month ago.
USC: The Trojans have been criticized all season long for not meeting this program’s annual sky-high expectations, but they could wrap up the Pac-12 South title next week. If they earn a spot in the conference title game, they’ll play it coming off a bye week, since USC doesn’t play on Thanksgiving weekend. The Trojans’ first conference title since 2008 has never been closer.
Darnold went 20 of 26 and improved to 11-0 at the Coliseum as a starter, but only after throwing his 11th interception of the season in the end zone to kill a 97-yard drive in the first quarter. Darnold called the interception ”one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made on the football field.”
Jones broke a 52-yard run during the Trojans’ final TD drive and became the first USC tailback with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons since LenDale White in 2004 and 2005.
Arizona: The Wildcats’ first week as a ranked team since 2015 ended with a loss, but they’ll be right on the bubble.
USC: The Trojans should be back in the top 15, and they’ll remain the second highest-ranked Pac-12 team behind Washington. The Trojans and Huskies don’t face each other in the regular season, but they might have a date in Santa Clara next month.
Arizona: Hosts Oregon State on Saturday in the Wildcats’ home finale.
USC: At Colorado on Saturday for the final road game of the regular season.
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