Ronald Jones just needed an opportunity to show he was still the running back that became Southern California's most prolific freshman rusher a season ago.
With starter Justin Davis sidelined because of injury and the Pac-12's worst run defense trying to stop him, coach Clay Helton knew that the sophomore was "ready to explode."
Jones rushed for a career-high 223 yards, Sam Darnold threw five touchdowns passes and USC downed California 45-24 on Thursday night.
Darnold threw for 231 yards, with Darreus Rogers making six catches for a career-high 97 yards, as the Trojans rolled up a season-high 629 yards of total offense. Aca'Cedric Warecontributed a career-high 130 yards rushing to USC's total of 398, the fourth time this season the Golden Bears have allowed more than 300 yards on the ground.
"We looked like a tired, beat-up football team and we were," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said.
USC (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12) scored on three of its first four possessions, with Darnold finding Rogers, Jones andDeontay Burnett for touchdowns. Rogers added a second touchdown catch with 28 seconds left, but two fumbles by Darnold allowed Cal (4-4, 2-3) to maintain a modicum of hope despite allowing 451 yards on 46 plays in the first half.
Defensive tackle James Looney returned a fumble to the USC 22, where Tre Watson took a screen pass into the end zone. Webb, the Texas Tech transfer, found his rhythm on Cal's next drive, with throws of 23 and 32 yards to set up Matt Anderson's field goal.
Webb threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, throwing a ball up for grabs that was intercepted by safety Marvell Tell in the first quarter. Webb also rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter that cut USC's lead to 28-17 before Jones had a 37-yard touchdown run and Daniel Imatorbhebhe caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Darnold.
Melquise Stovall, a freshman who originally committed to attend USC as a recruit, had nine receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Cal's best chance to take the lead came on its fourth play from scrimmage, but freshman Demetris Robertsondropped a potential 64-yard touchdown that hit him in the hands. After Webb quick kicked on fourth-and-1 from the Cal 45, Jones ripped off a 61-yard run on the next play and the Cal defense was on its heels for the rest of the half.
"I think we were prepared when we got here," Webb said. "It's on us. That's how it should be. It's a player's game."
Jones had 149 yards on eight first-half carries.
USC cornerback Adoree Jackson set a new school record for career kick return yardage, breaking the previous mark of 1,723 yards held by Curtis Conway.
Jackson had 56 yards on two kick returns, giving him 1,779 yards in his three seasons at USC. The electric Jackson also had two spectacular punt returns, though one was called back because of a holding penalty.
Cal: The Bears have now lost 13 in a row to the Trojans since handing Pete Carroll's 2003 national championship team its only loss in triple overtime that season. Cal was always going to have trouble defending Darnold and USC's plethora of skill players, and that task was even tougher with a short week to prepare and mounting injuries. But with three home games left, Cal has a good chance at becoming bowl eligible if it can maintain its strong play in Strawberry Canyon.
USC: The Trojans are white-hot, with Darnold leading the way. The freshman quarterback has now thrown 16 touchdown passes in leading USC to four consecutive wins, playing with a fearlessness and fire that the team was missing at the start of the season, though his ball security must improve. They need help to win the Pac-12 South, but the Trojans are more than capable of turning the conference race upside down when they travels to No. 4 Washington on Nov. 12.
Cal: The Bears host the Huskies on Nov. 5, a potential trap game for Washington while completing its only back-to-back road games this season.
USC: The Trojans host faltering Oregon on Nov. 5, seeking their first five-game winning streak since interim coach Ed Orgeron won five straight in 2013.