BERKELEY, Calif. -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers, and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game by pulling away late for a 30-20 victory over California on Saturday.
"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."
USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight 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.
Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans 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."
It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.
Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles. He turned the ball over on four straight drives in the fourth quarter.
"It was a tough second half for him," coach Justin Wilcox said. "Ross will bounce back. Ross is a tough guy, plays with guts. He'll learn from that and grow from it. I'm not worried about Ross."
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season. But there were some issues with two first-half turnovers in Cal territory and a failed fourth-down run in the third quarter that prevented USC from pulling away earlier.
CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.
A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.
CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.
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