By Greg Beacham
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ronald Jones II ran 37 yards for the tiebreaking touchdown with 6:57 to play, and No. 4 Southern California rallied from a second-half deficit for a 49-31 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday.
Jones rushed for 159 yards and three scores, while freshman Stephen Carr added 69 yards rushing and two TDs in an auspicious debut for the Trojans, who scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Marvell Tell returned an interception 37 yards for a TD with 3:13 to play as USC won its 10th consecutive game despite major trouble from the defending MAC champion Broncos on a brutal 99-degree day at the Coliseum.
Jon Wassink passed for 67 yards, caught a touchdown pass and rushed for another score in coach Tim Lester’s debut for his alma mater. Even after losing coach P.J. Fleck, quarterback Zach Terrell and star receiver Corey Davis, the Broncos’ 15 returning starters came back strong after winning 13 games and reaching the Cotton Bowl during the best season in school history.
Sam Darnold passed for 289 yards and rushed for a score for the Trojans, but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time during USC’s winning streak, which included his record-setting performance in last season’s Rose Bowl. Deontay Burnett caught seven passes for 142 yards.
After Carr’s first TD run put the Trojans ahead midway through the fourth, Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a tying touchdown with 7:54 to play. USC then gained 79 yards on two big plays, with Deontay Burnett making a 42-yard catch before the speedy Jones’ third TD run.
Wassink went 11 for 22, but made several big plays in his first career start as the replacement for Terrell, the Broncos’ career passing leader.
Wassink hadn’t played a competitive game since his 2014 high school state final, but he caught the back end of a double pass and took it 27 yards in front of USC’s stunned fans to take a lead shortly after halftime.
HOT ONE: The Coliseum was 98 degrees at kickoff, and it didn’t cool off much. The temperature was the highest for a USC home game since 1998, when it was 99 for the Trojans’ opener against Purdue. The weather had a big effect on the Coliseum crowd of 61,125 — the smallest for a USC opener since 2001.
SITTING OUT: USC middle linebacker Cameron Smith had to sit out the first half after being ejected for targeting during the Rose Bowl. The defense appeared to miss him while struggling to stop Western Michigan’s running game. He returned at halftime and finished with six tackles.
Western Michigan: The Broncos visit Michigan State.
USC: Stanford and its vaunted running game visit the Coliseum.
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