BERKELEY -- USC knew Stanford was looming, across the bay in Palo Alto and on the schedule next week at the Coliseum.
But the Trojans did not let their minds wander.
On Saturday, surging USC routed California, 62-28, at Memorial Stadium with an electrifying display on offense and special teams.
Nelson Agholor’s breakaway speed was in full effect. Javorius Allen showed his performance a week ago was no fluke. And Josh Shaw continued to demonstrate a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
No wonder USC interim Coach Ed Orgeron wore a knowing grin.
“We have some great athletes on this team,” he said, “who can score at any time.”
Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns. Shaw nabbed another that was blocked and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Trojans an NCAA record-tying three punt returns for scores.
Allen rushed for two touchdowns and turned a short pass into another score.
The plays helped USC improve to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. The victory qualified the Trojans for an automatic bowl berth and could help Orgeron’s bid to turn his job into a full-time gig. He has a record of 4-1 as the interim coach.
Mainly, however, it set up USC for a Stanford team that is expected to be ranked in the top five after last Thursday’s victory over Oregon.
“It’s perfect timing going into such a huge game,” Shaw said. “You can’t ask for [anything] better.”
Nothing topped — or could stop — Agholor.
Certainly not a Cal team that fell to 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the Pac-12.
The sophomore receiver from Florida returned first-half punts 75 and 93 yards for touchdowns. He also caught four passes and amassed 215 all-purpose yards.
As usual, the humble Agholor deflected praise to coaches and teammates.
“Punt returns are not done by one person,” he said. “One guy is not going to juke out 11 people.”
Fellow Floridian Allen pretty much did just that en route to scoring three touchdowns for the second consecutive game.
Once buried on the depth chart, Allen has emerged as a long-distance threat as a runner and receiver.
He scored on a 43-yard run, a 57-yard pass play and a 79-yard run.
“I’m trusting my speed,” he said, “and just running with it.”
Agholor and Allen allowed offensive coordinator Clay Helton to take the onus off receiver Marqise Lee, who played sparingly in an effort to make sure his injured left knee is at full strength against Stanford.
“I got a couple plays,” Lee said afterward on the field, before adding with a laugh, “Actually, I didn’t get any because Nelson handled it on special teams.”
There was a time, briefly, when Cal made it a game.
Agholor’s first return, a touchdown reception by tailback Silas Redd and Allen’s first scoring run gave the Trojans a 21-0 first-quarter lead.
The Golden Bears pulled to within 21-14 on freshman quarterback Jared Goff’s touchdown passes to receiver Kenny Lawler and Darius Powe early in the second quarter.
But Allen’s catch-and-run touchdown expanded the lead, setting the stage for another big play by USC’s special teams.
Soma Vainuku blocked a low punt, sending the ball shooting high up into the air. Shaw camped beneath it at Cal’s 14-yard line.
“I was waiting on it forever,” he said.
Shaw caught the ball, got a block from Demetrius Wright and ran into the end zone. Agholor’s second touchdown three minutes later paved the way for reserves to play most of the second half.
Now comes Stanford, which has defeated USC four years in a row.
The Trojans believe they are ready.
“It’s going to be a showdown,” quarterback Cody Kessler said, “and it’s going to be exciting.”
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