UCLA needs to beat USC after a tough loss to Arizona

It all comes down to this game. Saturday at the Rose Bowl has finally arrived. The USC Trojans vs. the UCLA Bruins. With a win, the Trojans are in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game (CCG) in Las Vegas. The Trojans also have a shot at the college football playoffs. If the Bruins win, they are still alive for a berth in the Pac-12 CCG.

Both teams have been on a path to a conference championship showdown since the beginning of the 2022 season. The Trojans, with a record of 9-1, started the season off with a 6-0 record before losing in the last minute to the Utah Utes, 43-42 in Salt Lake City. The Bruins, with a record of 8-2, also started of 6-0 before a loss at Oregon. The Bruins entered Saturday night against the Arizona Wildcats with an 8-1 record and left with a record of 8-2.

The Wildcats came into the Rose Bowl with a 3-6 record and a high-powered offense. The oddsmakers had the Bruins favored by 20 points. The Bruins were unable to slow down the Wildcat offense. The UCLA offense, which was averaging 40.8 points per game and had scored at least 30 points in every game, was held to 28 points by the Wildcats, who won 34-28.

The Bruins lost this contest due to missed opportunities. A late first half drive ended at the Wildcats 20-yard line on a fumble by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Bruins took the second half kickoff and got as far as the Wildcats 21-yard line, where Nicholas Barr-Mira missed a field goal. Trailing 34-28 late in the game, the Bruins drove to the Wildcat 29-yard line, but four straight incomplete passes ended the drive and the game. Thompson-Robinson missed a wide-open Jake Bobo in the end zone to end the game.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly pointed to the obvious shortcomings that cost the Bruins the game. "We moved the ball really well," Kelly said. "But we've got to convert and score when we get down in the red zone. Not scoring there at the end of the first half there hurt us. You'd have like to get something there, and then you get the ball at the beginning of the second half. We just have to tie this thing up."

Kelly was asked if the Bruins overlooked the Wildcats. "I don't look at it that way," Kelly said. "I look at it that we didn't make enough plays to win a football game. We don't get into the narrative of inspired or not inspired, of who is ranked or isn't ranked. Everybody is really good. We knew this football team is really good and we talked about it all week long. I think that you've got to come play every single game in this league."

That would seem to be an important point. The Wildcats have a good football team. In a 45-37 loss to the Trojans two weeks earlier, the Wildcats had 543 yards in offense. Wildcat quarterback Jayden de Laura, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards against the Bruins, was the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last season at Washington State. He transferred from WSU to Arizona in the offseason. Against the Bruins, de Laura threw for two touchdowns and ran for another touchdown.

Arizona wide receiver Jacob Cowing, a transfer from Texas-El Paso, was one of the most sought-after transfers in the nation. Cowing was first team all-conference in Conference USA. He is currently sixth in the nation in receptions per game and 12th in the nation in receiving yardage per game. Against UCLA, Cowing had nine receptions for 118 yards.

According to the 247sports.com football recruiting rankings for 2022, Arizona had 7 of the top 40 recruits in California. Tetairoa McMillan, the top ranked wide receiver in the California in 2022, had a 17-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the game winner. In that 2022 California recruiting class, the Wildcats added the #2 and #4 ranked running backs in the state and the top ranked tight end in the state.

For Wildcat head coach Jedd Fisch, who was an interim head coach for two games with the Bruins in 2017, the win over the 9th ranked Bruins was huge. "That was a big win for the program," Fisch said. "That was a big win for Arizona football. It meant a lot to our team today. It meant a lot to our Southern California players. I think we have 26 of them. It meant a lot to our staff. It meant a lot to every player on our team. They're a top-10 team in the country, and we went on the road and won and we're very proud to say that we did that."

The loss cost the Bruins any realistic chance to make the four-team college football playoff, but the Bruins still have a shot at the Pac-12 CCG in Las Vegas. If the Bruins beat USC and Cal in their final two games, and Oregon defeats Utah and Oregon State in their final two games, the Bruins would make the championship game by virtue of head-to-head wins over Utah, Washington and of course, USC.

The USC-UCLA game should be an offensive showcase. The Bruins are ranked 5th in the nation in total offensive yardage with an average of 504 yards per game. The Trojans are ranked 7th in the nation in total offensive yardage at 499.4 yards per game. The Bruins are led by Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet, who is third in the nation in rushing yardage per game at 143.1 yards per game and leads the nation in rushing yardage per carry at 7.53 yards per game.

The Trojans are led by quarterback Caleb Williams, who averages 301 yards per game, with 31 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The Trojans lead the nation in turnover margin, with a +17-turnover margin. They don't beat themselves.

Game time is 5:00 p.m. at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and the game will be televised nationally on Fox. The Bruins are currently ranked 16th in the nation in the college football playoff rankings and the Trojans are ranked 7th in the nation. With a berth in the conference championship game on the line, not to mention the victory bell, this should be a battle to the finish at the Rose Bowl.

To reach Steve Finley or the sports department email: sports@culvercityobserver.com.


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