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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Bruins celebrate an 8-4 season and Trojans celebrate the hiring of Lincoln Riley


December 2, 2021

Jevone Moore

USC's new head football coach, Lincoln Riley.

In a cold, late November matchup of two rivals, the UCLA Bruins easily defeated the California Golden Bears, 42-14, behind the passing and running of star quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and a tough, determined defense. Thompson-Robinson, in perhaps his final game at the Rose Bowl, completed 19 of 28 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 102 yards rushing.

The Cal Bears offense, which exploded for 41 points and 636 yards in their trouncing of Stanford two weeks ago, was held to 14 points and 217 yards in offense by the stingy Bruin defense. The Bruins held Cal quarterback Chase Garbers to 125 yards through the air, picked off two of his passes and sacked him four times.

Bruin running back Zach Charbonnet rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown. For the season, Charbonnet has rushed for 1,137 yards, 2nd best in the Pac-12 conference, and has 13 rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver Kyle Phillips had two touchdown receptions in the game, giving him a conference leading ten touchdown receptions in eleven games.

They victory moved the Bruins to 8-4 for the season and is the first winning season at UCLA for head coach Chip Kelly. The Bruins are 8-0 in games where they have rushed for over 200 yards, so running the ball is the formula for success for the Bruins in 2021. The Bruins led the Pac-12 in scoring this season with an average of 36.5 points per game. The wins are the most for a Bruin football team since 2015.

This has been a successful season for the Bruins. The beat SEC power LSU in a big nonconference victory in the Rose Bowl. They swept their California rivals Stanford, USC, and Cal, the first sweep of these three teams since 1998. They had a winning record at home and on the road. They are going to a bowl game for the first time since 2017. They even got the ESPN College GameDay telecast from the Westwood campus, along with a nationally televised day game on ABC against Oregon at the Rose Bowl.

For the California Golden Bears, this has not been a good season. The loss dropped them to 4-7 for the season. Cal will officially miss a bowl game for the eighth time in 12 years. For the second straight season, the Golden Bears were pummeled at the Rose Bowl by the Bruins. Last season, the Bruins crushed the Golden Bears 34-10, in a Sunday morning game in front of zero fans. Cal will wind up their season next Saturday Night at home against the USC Trojans.

Speaking of the Trojans, while the Bruins were celebrating Saturday Night, the Trojans were celebrating Sunday Night with the announcement of the hiring of Oklahoma Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley to lead the Trojan football team. Riley, who is just 38 years old, led the Sooners to a 55-10 record, winning four Big 12 Conference championships in five seasons, and making the college football playoffs three times.

Riley is considered one of the best offensive minds in football at any level, pro or college. He has produced two Heisman trophy winners in his five seasons at Oklahoma. Quarterback Baker Mayfield won the trophy as the best player in college football in 2017 and quarterback Kyler Murray won the trophy in 2018. Both were first overall picks in the NFL draft, Mayfield in 2018 and Murray in 2019.

Riley and his staff did an excellent job of recruiting at Oklahoma, especially out west. USC, since the firing of head coach Clay Helton in September, has seen their recruiting fall off significantly. Of the top ten football recruits in California in the 2022 Class, none of them are committed to USC, even though nine of the ten are from Southern California.

That has begun to change already. Running back Raleek Brown from Santa Ana Mater Dei, is the top ranked running back in California. He was committed to Oklahoma but told ESPN yesterday that Riley's decision to come to USC, "Changes everything." The top ranked California football player in the 2023 recruiting class, quarterback Malachi Nelson, decommitted from Oklahoma yesterday.

There is expected to be more recruiting movement in California in the next few days and there have been players decommitting from the Sooners around the country who may be interested in USC as well. This could be seen as bad for UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12, but this is actually good for the conference. A strong USC football program will help in TV contract negotiations, just as a strong UCLA basketball program helps with television and revenue to the Pac-12.

The addition of Riley to guide the USC football program will force the other teams to get better, starting with the Bruins. Defensively, the Bruins were better this season, but there is still a need for better talent and schemes. The Washington Huskies struggled offensively this season and have decided to hire Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer as their new head coach. Fresno State averaged 33.6 points per game this past season in guiding the team to a 9-3 record, including a 40-37 win over the Bruins.

The Bruins will be going to a bowl game this season, either the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday, December 30th against a Big Ten Conference foe or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Tuesday, December 28th against an Atlantic Coast Conference team. For Thompson-Robinson, who played his high school football in Las Vegas, the decision on bowl games is an easy one.

"Most definitely. I'm speaking it into existence," he said, "I can't wait to go home." Because of the extra year of eligibility granted to all athletes due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Thompson-Robinson will need to decide if he is coming back for another season. When asked, Thompson-Robinson said, "Who knows. I have to go back and talk with my family. Obviously, Coach Kelly. I'm just happy we got this moment, and I'm going to take tonight to enjoy it with my teammates.''

Kelly was asked by another reporter about a contract extension at his press conference after the game, but tersely responded with, "I don't need to discuss my contract with you. I'm good. I've always been good. I have an agent; he takes care of things and that's the way it works. What's your contract?" That got a laugh and is probably a good sign that Kelly will be signing a contract extension in the near future with the Bruins, a future that looks bright after an 8-4 season.


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