RJII, JuJu and Big 'D' fuel a bunch of firsts

Trojans come from behind to catch Arizona's Wildcats 38-30 and do it with the run game and by stopping the run.

They played so bad in places that all it did was make the Ronald Jones II and Juju Smith-Schuster-led comeback that much sweeter.

And that's all USC's Trojans were thinking about after Saturday's 38-30 Homecoming win in front of 76,309 fans at the Coliseum not sure what exactly they were watching.

Were they watching the USC team that gained 12 yards in the first quarter against one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12? Or were they pulling for the team that gained 224 yards in the second quarter -- and 460 in the final three?

"That's on me," interim coach Clay Helton said as he struggled to get the play calling right on this night. "We'll get better next week."

But they did get better enough here to do some things USC hasn't done in a long time -- and one thing that had never been done before.

Not even "Marcus Allen or O.J. Simpson," Jones wondered as he described his surprise that the freshman they call the Texas Tesla for his acceleration, had broken USC's freshman rushing record -- and not by a little.

By a lot. LenDale White had 140 yards in 2003 for the most ever by a freshman. Then along came Ronald. His 74-yard TD run with 9:24 left on a play that saw him refuse to be stopped as he displayed his "horse kick" tackle escape move that made it 31-23 USC. And fueled a couple of comebacks.

For the first time since 2012 at Utah, USC managed to come back from a 14-0 deficit. And for the first time since Ohio State in 2009, USC entered the fourth quarter trailing, by 20-17 on this night, only to emerge victorious.

Pete Carroll was the coach then. But in the five years when Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were nominally in charge, it never happened. Not once. No comebacks. Slow starts were often killers.

But thanks to Ronald, and his 9.3 yard average on 19 carries and Justin Davis with his two fourth-quarter touchdowns (from nine and 16 yards out) and 85 yards on 16 carries (a 5.3 average), the Trojans ran the ball in for all three final period scores.

And for the fourth time this season, all four under Helton, USC had a time of possession edge after losing that stat all five games under Sark. It's not a coincidence.

Of Jones, Helton said: "His legs explode on contact, especially through that first level. And then in the second level, just watch out. It's hard to catch him."

It was for Zach Banner, one of the blockers at right tackle creating the crease for Jones to squeeze through. "I was 40 yards behind him," said the 6-foot-9, 360-pound Banner, who has been pleading for USC to run the ball more and run it right at people and see if they can stop the Trojans.

Although Helton admitted that the thing he was most proud of from his freshman tailback "was him catching the ball in the flat and scoring a touchdown" that tied it up at 17-17 in the third. "He's become a more complete player by the day," Helton said.

Although barely -- on that play. He wasn't looking for the ball and didn't expect Cody Kessler to fire it off to him with the ball at the Arizona 5. And Cody knew that. But the way the numbers came up on the Arizona defense, that was going to be the play.

So Cody threw it at Ronald's midsection and he turned just in time to grab it and scamper in for an easy score. "Maybe I can get off the Juggs machine for a couple of weeks," he said with a laugh, knowing that's not going to happen.

But if we're going to talk pass-catching here, we have to talk JuJu and what he was able to do after having a plate and screw surgically implanted in his right hand Monday and getting back to play Saturday, to play in serious pain, JuJu said.

"I was in a lot of pain, a lot of pain," JuJu said as Helton lauded him by saying "I've never been associated with more of a warrior than No. 9 -- for him to do what he did and commit himself to his team."

But it didn't matter, the right hand in a soft cast, as he started out catching the first ball thrown his way by extending his left hand and went on from there to catch eight in all for 138 yards including the second 70-plus yard home run of the night for the Trojans -- a 72-yard second quarter connection with Cody that made it 14-10 and got the Trojans -- and the crowd -- back into this one.

"I didn't care about the pain," JuJu said. He cared "about my brothers who were working hard in practice." The pain, he said, "was just a mindset."

But JuJu knew what really got USC back into this one. "I want to thank Antwaun [Woods] and the defense. We started slow on offense and our defense made plays . . . Antwaun, I appreciate you man."

That's "one of the great story lines" in this game, Helton said, "to take the premier running team and hold them to 60 yards on 32 carries," well, that "is just amazing to me."

"They were confident in their defensive line," Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon said of the fall off from the 265 yards the Wildcats had been averaging. "We just didn't execute."

And when they had to, after not doing so for much of the night, USC did. And they're still alive, winning them one at a time to improve to 6-3, (4-2 in the Pac-12) with three games to go.

"That's our goal," Jones said, "to get into the Pac-12 championship game and get to the Rose Bowl."

It's not all in their hands, of course, Utah must lose. But it's not out of their hands, either.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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