USC returns 3 punts for TDs, beats Cal 62-28

BERKELEY, Calif. — As soon as Nelson Agholor raced through the California punt coverage unit for a touchdown the first time Southern California touched the ball, he knew the Trojans would have a shot at another return touchdown.

They got two more, in fact, on a record-tying day by the USC special teams.

Agholor had two of USC’s three punt returns for touchdowns and Javorius Allen scored three times on seven touches to help the Trojans beat California for the 10th straight time, 62-28 on Saturday.

“The best thing about getting that first return is it gave the rest of the guys confidence that they know they could block the same way,” Agholor said. “They knew we were going to return another one. That’s how I felt. We returned one and they were like, ‘Let’s do it again.’ Everybody wants to do it.”

Agholor started the scoring for USC (7-3, 4-2 Pac-12) with a 75-yard return and added a 93-yarder late in the second quarter to help USC win for the fourth time in five games under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

Josh Shaw also returned a blocked punt 14 yards for a score earlier in the second quarter for the Trojans, who tied the record last achieved by Oklahoma against UCLA in 2003 when Antonio Perkins returned three punts for scores.

The Trojans had far too much speed for the Golden Bears (1-9, 0-7) to handle as Allen scored on runs of 43 and 79 yards and a 57-yard screen pass from Cody Kessler to extend USC’s dominance over Cal.

Allen ran for 137 yards on six carries to go with his one long catch, giving him six touchdowns the past two weeks after struggling to get on the field early in the season.

“I know what I’m capable of,” Allen said. “It was just me biding my time and waiting for my chance.”

The Trojans haven’t lost in this series since a triple-overtime defeat in Berkeley in 2003, outscoring the Bears by an average of 20 points in that span and not trailing at any point in a game since 2007.

The Bears failed to give first-year head coach Sonny Dykes a home victory against an FBS opponent in six games. Their only home win came was a 37-30 decision over Portland State of the lower-level FCS on Sept. 7. Cal has not beaten an FBS opponent anywhere since a 31-17 win at Washington State on Oct. 13, 2012.

The 14-game skid against FBS teams is the longest active one in the country and many of those games haven’t even been close. Cal has been outscored by an average of more than 25 points per game in that skid.

“It’s been a long year,” Dykes said. “It has been. We’ll reflect on it when the season is over.”

A coaching change has provided a spark for the Trojans. They have been much improved since Orgeron replaced Lane Kiffin after the Trojans lost 62-41 at Arizona State on Sept. 28 and remain in the running to win the Pac-12 South title.

“I think we’re a lot better. More than anything we came together as a team,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “That’s what you want in November. This is the time where it matters most.”

After Jared Goff threw two of his three TD passes early in the second quarter to get Cal back in the game, USC scored three touchdowns in a span of 3:35 to break the game open.

The surge started after a rare positive play from Cal’s defense when Michael Barton sacked Kessler to put the Trojans in a second-and-18 hole. But Kessler dumped a short pass off to Allen, who did the rest by racing 57 yards for the score to make it 28-14.

The special teams took over from there with Soma Vainuku blocking Cole Leininger’s punt and Josh Shaw catching it at the 14 and running in for the score.

Leininger got his punt off after Cal’s next possession but the Bears had no answer for the speedy Agholor, who maneuvered through the Bears’ coverage unit for the 93-yard score. Agholor joined Mike Garrett as the only USC players with two punt-return touchdowns in a single game. Garrett set his record in 1965 at California.

“It’s just exciting to see some explosive plays out there,” Orgeron said. “That’s part of our football team. That’s what makes us who we are at USC. We have some great athletes on this team who can score at any time.”

Dykes’ 44th birthday got off to a bad start and only got worse after that. The Bears punted three times, committed three personal fouls and allowed three touchdowns to fall behind 21-0 after the first quarter.

“I think most of the time I’ve had bad luck on my birthday,” Dykes said. “I’m not sure why.”

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