USC-UCLA: Two programs headed in opposite directions

USC clinches Pac-12 Conference South Division title with a 28-23 win against city rival UCLA and will play in conference championship

USC running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans' 28-23 win against the UCLA Bruins on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

LOS ANGELES-For the USC Trojans, they will fight on. A Pac-12 Conference Championship Game date and a high-profile bowl destination awaits them. For the UCLA Bruins, what started as a promising season have evaporated into rebuild mode for the football program. The Trojans are back in the national conversation as one of the top teams in college football.

The Bruins are on the opposite end of that stick. UCLA must go back to the drawing board and figure out what steps forward it needs to take to be more competitive with the big boys of college football. Being mediocre won’t cut it anymore. That step forward for UCLA include finding a new head coach.

The unofficial end of the line for the Jim Mora era at UCLA came late Saturday as the USC Trojans were putting the finishing touches on a 28-23 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The annual crosstown rivalry between the two schools turned out to be a much better contest than what some people had predicted.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen (3) passed for 421 yards and three touchdowns against USC on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

For Mora, who has since been dismissed from his head coaching duties of the Bruins, the defeat to the Trojans appeared to be the final straw that broke the camel’s back. The 2017 season started so well for Mora and the Bruins with a sensational 45-44 win in the Rose Bowl against Texas A&M. It has been a rocky road since that opening day victory for the Bruins.

With one game remaining on their schedule against the Cal Bears, the Bruins will have to carry on without their coach of six seasons. That will be challenging enough with the draining and emotional defeat to the Trojans, and now the subsequent departure of Mora. That is neither here or there with the Trojans.

It was a couple of years back that USC was trying to sort through its own drama surrounding head coaches and a stuck-in-road football program. Current USC head coach Clay Helton has played a significant role the last couple of seasons in getting the Trojans back up to speed as a high nationally-ranked team.

USC defensive back Marvell Tell III (7) makes a dash for it after picking off UCLA quarterbak Josh Rosen in the Trojans’ 28-23 win on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

The Trojans were already on the uptick when Helton took over the head coaching reins from Steve Sarkisian. Helton, however, has USC playing at the level of football proud alumni have seen in the past: a great leader under center, dominant physicality on both sides of ball and a belief that the Trojans are as good as any team in the country.

That’s not the case with UCLA. Under Mora, the Bruins recorded a ho-hum 13-13 record against ranked opponents. Road games have been a virtual knock out blow for the Bruins. Including its defeat to USC, UCLA went 18-17 in games played away from the Rose Bowl under Mora. UCLA recorded an 0-6 mark in road games this season.

The Bruins had ample opportunities against the Trojans to register that coveted road win. USC, getting solid performances from quarterback Sam Darnold (17 of 28 for 264 yards; 1 INT) and running back Ronald Jones II (28 carries, 122 yards 2TDs), rebuffed UCLA’s upset-minded playbook.

Going for it: The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins battled each other tough on Saturday, Nov. 18,2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

But it was no walk in the park for the Trojans. With the two teams combining to score 21 points in the opening quarter, the contest felt like it was going to be one of those wild, high-scoring offensive shootouts, where the team with the ball last would win.

Both defenses took care of that notion as USC and UCLA failed to put a single point on the board in the second quarter. The Trojans and Bruins basically traded touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, which resulted in the final score. In a rarity this season, Darnold got outperformed by his counterpart.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, a reportedly highly sought-after commodity by the NFL should he decide to forego his last season, put on an aerial display against USC, passing for 421 yards and three touchdowns. But there is one pass attempt out of the 52 he threw on the evening that he wishes he could have back.

With USC’s defense on its heels and the Bruins in the redzone on one particular drive, Rosen attempted a pass into the endzone. The Trojans got an early gift-wrapped present in the form of an interception by Marvell Tell III to shut down that potential scoring opportunity Rosen and Bruins thought they had. That play might as well have been the barometer in the way the season has gone for both teams.