UCLA Can’t Get It Done Against USC
Last Saturday, UCLA welcomed their crosstown rival to the Rose Bowl for a much-anticipated victory bell matchup. For two teams that spent most of the season looking like the cream of the crop of the Pac-12, this was a matchup that would determine who was truly the best. A Pac-12 Championship berth–and an eventual Rose Bowl Game berth–were both on the line. The stage was set with a packed Rose Bowl, strobe lights going off, and a primetime 8 PM kickoff with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt on the call. The excitement was palpable.
The game absolutely lived up to the billing. It was a wild shootout with explosive offenses going back and forth. But in the end, turnovers and an inability to stop the USC offense doomed UCLA.
For the first half, things went relatively well for UCLA. They held leads of 14-0 and 21-10 before going to the half up 21-20. However, with two missed field goals and a turnover on downs, USC very well could have had the lead. The Bruins also could have done more with the USC mistakes, as they punted twice and DTR had two interceptions.
In the second half, USC stopped making mistakes and got their offense into gear. After UCLA kicked a field goal on the opening drive of the second half, USC scored a touchdown to go up 27-24, their first lead of the day. UCLA would not lead again for the rest of the game.
On the next possession, DTR had a costly fumble that would lead to another USC touchdown to go up 34-24. That’s when you could feel it starting to slip away. UCLA tried to catch up as best they could, but they could not stop the Trojans’ offense. UCLA and USC traded touchdowns on each of their next three possessions until it was 48-45 USC late in the fourth quarter. USC was able to bleed off four minutes of clock before punting it back to UCLA to give them one last chance to take the lead.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The QB and leader of this team who has been so good for the Bruins all year made a fatal mistake. DTR drove the Bruins from his own 11 to his own 43 before throwing an interception that effectively ended the game. DTR was looking to the crosser, but he took an extra hitch, stared it down, and didn’t account for the defender sitting in front of the receiver, who read DTR like a book. It was simply a poor decision, no way around it.
It’s hard to put too much blame on DTR in this game. He took a bunch of hits all day, was clearly hurting, and battled to make some phenomenal plays just like he has all season. He ultimately brought the Bruins within a score late with an opportunity to win. Having said that, he had four turnovers on the day. Three interceptions (one of which ended the game) and a fumble. That’s too many.
More alarming was the play of the Bruins defense, which could not do anything to stop the USC offense. Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison were pretty much unstoppable. The Bruins got close to no pressure on Williams.
The defense has been a problem for Kelly for almost his entire coaching career, and it continues to be to this day. While the defense looked like it may have been improving early in the season, it regressed as of late. Maybe George McGovern being out due to illness had something to do with it, but regardless, you can’t keep bleeding yards and points like this in these big games. You have to be able to make stops.
With the loss, UCLA now has three losses on the year. They won’t be in the Pac-12 Championship, nor will they be in the Rose Bowl Game. They can, however, get to 10 wins if they are able to beat Cal and win their bowl game.
USC, on the other hand, now has a clear path to the Pac-12 Championship and to the College Football Playoff. If you’re a Bruins fan, that doesn’t feel good.
It’s been a great year for UCLA, and this was a great game. But at the end of the day, they weren’t able to get it done in the biggest game of the year. And that stings.