No. 5 USC Trojans rely on their defense in 30-20 win over Cal

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — With Sam Darnold and Southern California’s usually potent offense struggling to finish drives, the defense kept getting the ball in good positions for the Trojans.

Fifth-ranked USC forced four of its six turnovers in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown run by Stephen Carr and a TD pass by Darnold, and the Trojans won their 13th straight game by pulling away late for a 30-20 victory over California on Saturday.

“We preach it all the time,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “Turnovers are something we made a big emphasis on in the offseason. As much as we can, get our offense the ball back. The best place for us is on the sideline, so the more we can be over there the better.”

Jack Jones intercepted two passes, Josh Fatu and Christian Rector each forced fumbles on sacks and Chris Hawkins and Ykili Ross added picks to give USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) its 14th straight win in the series 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 before USC took over on the defensive end after Chase McGrath’s third field goal put the Trojans up 16-13.

“We came in at halftime, took a deep breath, made some changes and said, ‘Hey, let’s elevate our level of play,’” coach Clay Helton said. “I thought everybody, the whole team, elevated our play in the second half.”

Fatu knocked the ball out of Ross 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.

“It’s hard to win when you keep giving the other team the ball,” Bowers said.

Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns but also had an interception as Cal’s defense forced him out of the pocket numerous times.

“I felt a little bit of pressure,” Darnold said. “I think it’s mostly our fault for not connecting on some of those deep balls and taking advantage of those opportunities when they come our way.”