PASADENA, CA – For the first part of their Pac-12 Conference slugfest against USC, the UCLA Bruins looked like they were going to hand the Trojans a resounding thumping of a defeat. When running back Brittain Brown scored on a 15-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, the Bruins were flowing, offensively and defensively.
It’s too bad that Brown’s scoring run didn’t come late in the fourth quarter because at least it would have prevented the Trojans from any hopes of a comeback. Unfortunately for the Bruins, that is not the case. Brown’s touchdown at the 12:28 mark of the third quarter, gave UCLA a 28-10 lead.
It turned out to be not enough cushion for the Bruins to hold on to defeat their city rivals. The bottom line is the Trojans made more things happen than the host Bruins.
“At the end of the day, we’re the players out there, so we’ve got to make the plays,” UCLA safety Quinten Lake said.
Coming into the game, UCLA had played five games. During those five games, the Bruins had outscored every single opponent in the fourth quarter. Until they played USC. After looking dominant and being in control of the first half, the Bruins surrendered 20 points in the fourth quarter to USC to fall to the Trojans, 43-38, at Spieker Field at the Rose Bowl.
“Anytime you lose, it’s hard, especially when you lose a close game,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said after the game. “So, I don’t think that you quantify it, that you lost this way or that way. I think that it’s difficult and it hurts. It hurts because they put so much into it. That’s what we’d talked about in the locker room, that it really hurts. If you don’t work very hard and it’s not that important to you, if you go out and lose, then it wasn’t that big a deal. But this group, they’ve got an unbelievable work ethic and camaraderie and commitment to each other. When you lose as a group like we lost tonight, it hurts.”
USC coach Clay Helton liked the fact that his team didn’t give a look of closing down the shop after being outplayed in the first half.
“I wanted to start off by thanking a bunch of great kids for being the definition of fight on,” Helton said. “The entire second half, I never saw one kid quit the fight, and just down the stretch just make play after play after play. Great college football game.”
UCLA lost this contest because they could not figure out a way to bottle up USC quarterback Kedon Slovis. After the Trojans drew a blank in the first quarter, Slovis finished the game completing 30 of 47 passes for 344 yards and five touchdowns against the Bruins.
“I think that Kedon Slovis is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation,” said Kelly. “I don’t think anybody thought that we’d come in here and shut them out. But it was kind of a heavyweight fight and you are just trading blows. They hit one and we hit one, and then we hit one, and then they hit one. We had a shot at the end. We had the ball at the end.”
The Bruins wasted a magnificent offensive display by the Bruins. UCLA totaled 549 yards, 105 more yards than what the Trojans (444 yards) gained on offense. No one can say that UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson didn’t take his best shot at beating the Trojans. Thompson-Robinson passed for 364 yards and four touchdowns. He also added another 58 yards rushing to his game totals.
In the end, Thompson-Robinson’s herculean efforts were not enough to overcome the Trojans’ comeback.
“This isn’t a normal game and this isn’t a normal loss so this one hurts, but the good thing is we get to go back on Monday and we’ve got one more game, so we can put this one to rest after watching film and move onto next week,” Thompson-Robinson said.
With the win, USC walks away with the Victory Bell. And now the Trojans, ranked No. 15 in the nation, will face Washington in the Pac-12 Conference Championship game. The Trojans earned that opportunity by putting a wrench in the Bruins’ offense in the final quarter.
While their offense scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, the Trojans held the Bruins to just three points in the period. UCLA scored 35 of its 38 points through the first three quarters. USC safety Talanoa Hufanga said the Trojans made the necessary adjustments they had to make.
“We just had to come in and make adjustments,” Hufanga said. “Our coaches preach, ‘No excuses, just adjustments, come out here and make plays.’ We had a rough first half and we have to give credit to a great UCLA offense that comes out here and does a lot of different things. We kind of call it an exotic thing because they line up with all of these different formations.”
“I give a lot of credit to them because they had a great first half, but we had to come out in the second half to make adjustments and make these key simple fixes so that it could help us win this game, and ultimately just give our offense a chance,” Hufanga added. “When you put the ball in the hands of guys like number 9 and 2 and 8, great things will happen.”
With last-second comeback wins against Arizona State and Arizona, the Trojans were used to overcoming deficits this season. Those games helped the Trojans to stay calm and on course the entire game, Slovis said.
“I feel like at this point, we’ve gone through situations like these so many times, I feel like everyone kind of has their cool, and so the experience from those other games, it really helps,” Slovis said. “This was probably one of the most difficult situations we’ve had time-wise, but none of the guys seemed fazed of that, so it definitely helps when you’ve been in that type of pressure and situation.”