Culver City Observer -

By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

USC wins classic showdown against UCLA in Pasadena

 

November 24, 2022



In a game that lived up to the hype, the USC Trojans held on for a 48-45 win over the UCLA Bruins last

Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Trojans win clinches a berth in the Pac-12

Championship Game in Las Vegas on Friday night, December 2 nd . The loss eliminated the Bruins from the

conference championship game.

The win improved the Trojans record to 10-1 for the season. USC also moved up in the AP Football

Poll to No. 5 in the nation. The loss dropped the Bruins to 8-3 for the season and their ranking in the AP

Poll fell to No. 17 in the nation. The attendance for the game was 70,865, a season high for the Bruins at

the Rose Bowl and the most at a UCLA game since 2016 against USC, which drew 71,137 fans.

From the start, this much anticipated match lived up to the hype. Legendary boxing ring announcer

Michael Buffer walked onto the field, grabbed the microphone, and shouted his iconic catchphrase,

“Let’s get ready to rumble.” A four-helicopter flyover was also part of the pre-game ceremonies.

USC failed to score on their first three possessions of the game, with one drive ending on downs at

the UCLA 21-yard line. A second drive ending on a missed 32-yard field goal attempt by Denis Lynch, and

the third drive ending on a rare interception by USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

The Bruins used a touchdown drive of 80 yards, which culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Williams interception to set up another a 30-yard

touchdown pass to tight end Michael Ezeike to take a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

But that margin would not hold up against a USC team that leads the nation in turnover margin and

against a top quarterback like Williams. The Trojans scored 17 points on their next three offensive

possessions to cut the UCLA lead to 21-17 with 1:42 left in the first half. The Bruins had an opportunity

to score before the end of the first half and keep control of the football for the remainder of the first

half.

But an errant throw by Thompson-Robinson was intercepted by defensive back Mekhi Blackmon,

giving the Trojans the ball at the UCLA 35-yard line. The Trojan drive stalled at the Bruins 16-yard line

and a 33-yard field goal attempt by Lynch was no good, leaving the score at 21-17. But once again,

Thompson-Robinson threw an interception, this time to linebacker Shane Lee, giving the ball to the

Trojans at the Bruins 47-yard line with six seconds left.

Williams completed a 15-yard pass to Mario Williams, putting the Trojans at the Bruins 32-yard line

with just one second remaining, setting up a 49-yard field goal attempt by Lynch. The kick was no good,

but UCLA head coach had called a timeout to freeze Lynch, which meant the kick did not count. The next

effort by Lynch was good, cutting the Bruins lead to 21-20.

Those three points turned out to be important in the end. Kelly admitted as much after the game.

“Yeah, that was my decision and my decision only,” Kelly said. “They had rushed out on the field, and I

didn’t think the kid, you know, he had missed one earlier. You are just trying to see if you can rattle him

a little bit, and it didn’t work. So, it was a bad call by me. It ended up being a three-point game, so it was

really important.”

It was important because in the second half, Williams really got going. The Trojans scored

touchdowns on their first four offensive possessions, to give the Trojans 48-38 lead. Williams threw for

two second half touchdowns and for the game threw for 470 yards, a career high. Williams has the look

of a future NFL first round draft pick. Kelly certainly agrees.

“He’s really accurate,” Kelly said. “He has a great pocket presence. He keeps so many plays alive, to

just extend plays. He does a great job of extending plays. He is extremely athletic. He’s as accurate as

you can be, throwing the football. I think it’s that combination, that rare dual-threat guy that can beat

you with his legs and his arm. Sometimes guys are more of a runner, but he throws it as well as anybody

I have seen. Good player.”

Down 48-38, the Bruins went on an 8 play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead to 48-45 on a Thompson-

Robinson to Ezeike touchdown pass, the third touchdown reception of the night for Ezeike. After a sack

by Bruin’s linebacker Laiatu Latu, the Bruins got the ball back at their own 11-yard line with 2:15 left in

the game and two timeouts. The Bruins needed 89 yards to win the game.

“We were in our two-minute offense, which has been very good for us, and I think we were moving

the ball,” Kelly said. “We obviously started deep in our own territory, but we got out to get a little bit of

breathing room and then got to a third-and-6. We tried to get a flood route into the boundary, and it

looked like a defensive end dropped into coverage. He showed up underneath that route, good play by

them.”

The third-and-six play (actually third-and-five) was from the Bruin 43-yard line with 1:26 left in the

game. The Bruins needed another 25-30 yards to get into field goal range. That opportunity would not

come as defensive end Korey Foreman dropped back into coverage and intercepted Thompson-

Robinson’s throw. The Trojans ran the clock out from that point.

If the Trojans beat Notre Dame this Saturday in the Coliseum and defeat their opponent in the Pac-12

championship game, they have a good shot at making the four-team College playoff, which would give

them an opportunity at winning the national championship. As an extra incentive for the Trojans, the

national championship game is being played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Monday, January 9 th , 2023.

USC head coach Lincoln Riley, in his first year as the Trojans head coach, has exceeded expectations

for his first season. The former Oklahoma Sooner head coach was brought in to restore USC football

glory, but no one expected it this soon. Recruiting went well for Riley, but by utilizing the transfer portal

Riley was able to bring in players like Williams from Oklahoma and wide receiver Jordan Addison from

Pittsburgh. Addison won the Biletnikoff Award in 2021 as the top wide receiver in college football.

USC football looks like they are building a powerhouse. Kelly was asked if UCLA could compete for

championships on an annual basis. “It depends on how the recruiting goes for you and what you have to

be able to lure kids to come to your school,” Kelly said. That was an answer that would probably not be

satisfactory to Bruin fans.

The Bruins have done a good job of recruiting players through the transfer portal, but not so good

through the regular recruiting process. The talent needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball and

the coaching on the defensive side of the ball needs to improve as well. Oregon State is averaging 18.2

points per game on defense in conference play, including holding USC to just 17 points in a 17-14 loss

earlier this season. UCLA has allowed 32.1 points per game in conference play.

Washington State leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense through all games, allowing 19.8 points per

game, including holding Wisconsin to 14 points in an 17-14 upset victory on the road. Neither Oregon

State nor Washington State recruit at the level of UCLA but that has not prevented these schools from

putting together top Pac-12 defenses. Coach Kelly is one of the best offensive coaches in the country,

but he needs to improve the defense, especially with a school like USC in the same conference.

The Bruins will travel to Berkeley this Friday, November 25 th , to take on the Cal Bears. The Bears are 4-7

on the season and coming off a 27-20 win over their rival, Stanford. The game will be televised by Fox

and will begin at 1:30 pm.

The Bears are led on offense by true freshman running back Jadyn Ott from Norco high school. Ott

has rushed for 842 yards this season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has eight rushing touchdowns.

He also has 38 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdown receptions. Cal is always tough at home, so

this should be a good game between the two rivals.

 

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