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Jaxson Dart is knocked out of game as USC falls to Cal to close miserable 2021 season

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Southern California tailback Darwin Barlow (22) fumbles the ball as he's hit by California safety Elijah Hicks.
USC tailback Darwin Barlow fumbles the ball as he’s hit by California safety Elijah Hicks during the second quarter Saturday.
(D. Ross Cameron / Associated Press)

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart was knocked out by an apparent concussion in the third quarter and the struggling Trojans could not catch up with Cal.

USC closed out a historically difficult regular season with a 24-14 road loss to the Cal Golden Bears on Saturday night.

The Trojans limped to the finish line with a 4-8 record, managing three wins after head coach Clay Helton was fired.

Interim coach Donte Williams led the Trojans for a final time before handing off to new hire Lincoln Riley, who now must work to get USC back on track.

Lincoln Riley era can’t start soon enough for USC after season-ending loss to Cal

The Lincoln Riley era officially can start at USC. And after a 24-14 loss to California in Berkeley, the new coach’s tenure can’t come soon enough.

If Riley stayed up late for Saturday’s nightcap after his recruiting trips and video calling into “College GameDay” from the backseat of a car, USC’s next coach saw a team in shambles.

The Trojans (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12) tied a season low in scoring and finished the game with third-string quarterback Miller Moss on the field after starter Jaxson Dart was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. The miserable ending seemed painfully fitting for a team that found new ways to confound nearly every week.

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Miller Moss leads his first scoring drive shortly before USC season ends

Third-string quarterback Miller Moss led his first scoring drive.

Moss was steady throughout the drive before finding KD Nixon for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

The extra point trimmed Cal’s lead to 24-14 with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter.

Cal recovered USC’s onside kick attempt and ran out the clock.

Final: Cal 24, USC 14.

Trojans close out the miserable 2021 season with a 4-8 record and a handful of Cal fans hit the field to celebrate the Golden Bears’ (5-7) win over the Trojans.

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Cal scores after USC fumble

Chase Garbers either passed or carried the ball on four key snaps before Christopher Brooks completed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

With the extra point, Cal took a 24-7 lead with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter.

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Miller Moss steps in to lead offense, fumbles

After USC’s defense forced another Cal punt, it was Miller Moss time.

The third-string quarterback helped the Trojans offense steadily move up the field.

However, on third-and-six at the Cal 8-yard line, Moss fumbled and it was recovered by the Golden Bears.

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Cal closes third quarter pinned deep in its territory

Cal is trying to get out of its own red zone, while USC seems set to play the remainder of the regular-season finale with its third-string quarterback leading the offense thanks to an apparent Jaxson Dart head injury.

Dart is out the injury tent, but his helmet is off and it appears concussion protocol is being observed as the third quarter ends.

Cal still leads 17-7.

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Jaxson Dart knocked out, replaced by Miller Moss

Jaxson Dart took a crushing hit, getting sandwiched between two Cal players with 2:20 left in the third quarter. Dart was clearly woozy as he was helped off the field.

Since Kedon Slovis is not dressed for the game, Dart was replaced by Miller Moss.

He completed one pass for eight yards before USC rushed for no gain on fourth-and-two on the Cal 3.

USC appeared to be trying a trick play, snapping to a tailback running to the right side of the line. The snap was a little wobbly and the play was too slow to develop, giving Cal a chance to easily stuff the runner.

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Sack, penalty help USC get another stop

Cal still isn’t having much luck moving the ball.

Tuli Tuipulotu sacked Chase Garbers and Cal was hit with a penalty, forcing another Golden Bears punt.

Cal still leads 17-7 with 7:07 left in the third quarter.

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Cal and USC trade penalties and punts

A penalty thwarted Cal’s opening drive of the third quarter and forced the Golden Bears to punt.

And a penalty thwarted USC’s opening drive of the third quarter and forced the Trojans to punt.

Still 17-7 Cal with 10:22 left in the third quarter.

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USC misses another field goal

After Jaxson Dart nearly tossed an interception while trying to thread the ball into traffic, USC settled for another long field-goal attempt.

Parker Lewis missed a 43-yard field goal wide left with 21 second left in the second quarter.

Cal then took a knee to run out the clock on the first half.

The Golden Bears lead the Trojans 17-7 at halftime.

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Cal recovers USC fumble and scores

USC pushed to respond to Cal’s score, but the Trojans ran into trouble at midfield.

On third-and-two at the Cal 47, Trojans tailback Darwin Barlow fumbled while being tackled. Golden Bear Trey Pastor grabbed the loose ball and ran it back for a 45-yard touchdown.

Cal extended its lead to 17-7 at the 4:06 mark in the second quarter.

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Cal quickly matches USC touchdown

USC didn’t hold its lead for long.

Chase Garbers connected with Jake Tonges for a 39-yard gain and Kekoa Crawford for another 14 yards, bolstering Cal’s scoring drive. Christopher Brooks capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run.

With the extra point, Cal leads USC 10-7 at the 4:51 mark in the second quarter.

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Cal pass interference penalty helps set up USC touchdown pass

USC’s defense forced Cal to punt to open the second quarter, handing the ball back to Jaxson Dart and the offense.

The Trojans seem far from fluid, mixing up chunk plays with near turnovers.

Dart attempted to pass to Joseph Manjack along the sideline on third-and-16 at the USC 40-yard line, but Cal was called for pass interference and the Trojans got a free first down.

On the next play, Dart threaded a pass to Kyle Ford and he pulled it in with mostly open field ahead of him. He rumbled into the end zone and USC hit the extra point to take a 7-3 lead with 9:28 left in the second quarter.

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Trojans follow Golden Bruins’ first score with a punt

Jaxson Dart completed a pass for a gain of 19 yards, but the Trojans couldn’t get another first down and punted trailing 3-0 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.

Korey Foreman delivered a highlight play for the USC defense before the first quarter ending, dropping Cal quarterback Chase Garbers for a five-yard loss.

Cal closed the first quarter facing second-and-15 on the Golden Bears’ 17-yard line.

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Penalty helps set up Cal field goal

USC freshman Maximus Gibbs, who began the season on the offensive line and switched to defense to help bolster the depleted Trojans lineup, jumped offsides as Cal’s Dario Longhetto attempted a 26-yard field goal.

FS1 cameras caught a not-safe-for-work reaction from interim USC coach Donte Williams on the sideline.

Longhetto moved five yards closer and connected on a 21-yard field goal to give Cal a 3-0 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter.

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USC misses field goal on opening drive

USC kicker Parker Lewis missed a 51-yard field goal to close the Trojans’ opening drive.

Quarterback Jaxson Dart and the offense moved the ball 41 yards before the drive stalled and they turned to Lewis for the long field-goal attempt.

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And we’re off, USC receives the opening kickoff

Short-handed USC received the opening kickoff and Jaxson Dart is starting the Trojans’ first drive at their 19-yard line.

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The Trojans’ roster appears as thin as the crowd tonight

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Trojans ‘surprised’ and ‘excited’ by Lincoln Riley but not everyone can be optimistic

USC interim coach Donte Williams, left, speaks with receiver Tahj Washington during a win over Arizona on Oct. 30.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of one era at USC and the thrilling start of another, here was an awkward juxtaposition: As Lincoln Riley, the Trojans’ new coach, and the few assistants he’d already announced made their rounds on the practice field Tuesday night, USC’s current staff remained in their usual roles, coaching out their final few days with little clarity on what lies ahead after Saturday’s season finale at California.

For Donte Williams, these were especially odd circumstances. USC’s interim coach has led the Trojans ever since Clay Helton was fired in September, and through those two months, USC’s administration made it clear it hoped to retain him.

But in Riley’s unexpected arrival, Williams’ status was suddenly less certain, and as he was asked Tuesday about the prospect of joining USC’s next coach on staff, Williams chose to sidestep any such questions. Instead, he attempted to shift the focus from his future to Saturday’s mostly meaningless matchup with Cal.

“I haven’t even asked about that; I do not want to be informed,” Williams said. “All I care about is making sure we handle Cal. Everything for me is about Cal, trust me. That’s where my main focus is, that’s where my focus will stay. I don’t want it to swindle at all in any other direction. All day, I sit in here and watch film on Cal and offense, defense and special teams and make sure we’re fully prepared to play them.”

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‘Is this real?’ Lincoln Riley lands in L.A., vows quick turnaround for USC football

USC football coach Lincoln Riley, left, and USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn share a laugh.
USC football coach Lincoln Riley, left, and USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn share a laugh during a news conference at the Coliseum on Monday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

From his new gilded perch atop the Coliseum, with the city of Los Angeles suddenly at his fingertips, Lincoln Riley surveyed the scene he now presided over in stunned disbelief. Over one shoulder, the Hollywood sign stretched across the distant Santa Monica Mountains. Over the other, downtown skyscrapers sprouted from the sprawling landscape. Close by, trumpets sounded and Song Girls swayed.

It was a surreal picture for a coach who’d spent the vast majority of his life in West Texas and Norman, Okla., building up a championship reputation that would one day bring him much farther west, where his arrival at USC would stun the college football masses.

“Wow,” Riley said from the podium, offering an audible gasp. “Is this real?”

For the Trojans faithful, it was perhaps even harder to believe that one of the top coaches in college football could be standing here at the end of a three-month search and a decade’s walk through the proverbial desert. Few imagined USC could be capable of luring a coach of Riley’s stature, with his three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and his virtually unmatched 55-win resume at Oklahoma.

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Matt Leinart, USC revel in the Lincoln Riley hire: ‘This is the happiest I’ve been’

Mike Bohn had just delivered a rousing salvo to kick off a news conference he knew he was going to win, and the reverberations were still ringing from ramparts of the Coliseum as Matt Leinart slipped quietly into the first row of seats with his wife, Josie, and teenage son, Cole.

This sleeping giant is wide awake. Standing up and fighting on!

That Leinart has a son who stretches well past 6-feet tall was a jarring sight, a sure reminder of just how long the program’s dormancy has extended. When Cole was born in 2006, his young father was fresh off USC’s crushing Rose Bowl loss to Vince Young and Texas, which was the last time the Trojans had played for a national championship. Like any dad, Matt envisioned taking his grown son to his alma mater’s football games and indoctrinating him in the Trojan Way, showing off the culture of excellence that molded him into a Heisman Trophy winner.

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USC to close chaotic football season at Cal before embarking on Lincoln Riley era

USC interim coach Donte Williams watches from the sideline during a loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 23.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

After a coaching search, two starting quarterbacks and countless blown coverages, USC will play its last game of the season Saturday at 8 p.m. against California in Berkeley. Then the Lincoln Riley era can truly begin.

The newly hired head coach said during his introductory news conference he is excited to watch his future team play. Knowing Riley will be tuning in could add intrigue to a game otherwise devoid of buzz.

With identical 4-7 records (3-5 in Pac-12 play) neither the Trojans nor Bears can qualify for a bowl game. It’s USC’s second losing season in three years. Despite getting blown out by UCLA last week, Cal is a four-point home favorite on the FS1 broadcast.

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USC attempts to prepare for Cal finale as Lincoln Riley era unfolds

Southern California wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. (1) sets up for a play
USC wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. sets up for a play during a loss to BYU on Nov. 27.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Players went to practice only to mysteriously return to the John McKay Center. Some assistants, who walked onto the USC’s practice field early, did a similar U-turn. Only a season that has hit almost every roadblock possible could turn a seemingly mundane Wednesday practice into another detour.

An impromptu meeting delayed the start of USC’s practice Wednesday, and Donte Williams didn’t walk up the tunnel toward the practice field until 25 minutes past the scheduled start time. The interim coach wore a serious expression, but once he spotted reporters waiting at the top of the ramp, he flashed a smile.

The Trojans are putting on a brave face amid one final twist to their chaotic season. Saturday’s game at California represents what might be the least consequential game in recent USC history. Neither team has bowl aspirations. Because they were both out of the conference title race when Cal (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) suffered a COVID-19 outbreak in November, the matchup was rescheduled for the day after the Pac-12 title game. Fans might want to show up with sleeping bags for the 8 p.m. kickoff time.

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USC football vs. Cal: Betting odds, lines, start time and how to watch

The hiring of Lincoln Riley has given USC fans a lot to look forward to, as the former Oklahoma coach already did a good bit of recruiting in Southern California before becoming the new head coach of the Trojans.

The end of an era (or maybe an error?) will commence on Saturday when the Trojans take the field one last time in 2021 for a makeup game against the Cal Golden Bears. The Cal program dealt with a massive COVID outbreak in November and this game was moved to Dec. 4. Effort and motivation are big question marks for both teams.

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