It turns out that having “a good Wednesday,” does not matter so much when your opponent has a great Saturday.
USC Lights Up UCLA, 52-35
A UCLA season that felt like it had some momentum a couple of weeks ago was pushed back into futility Saturday after a 52-35 whooping at the hands of USC at the LA Coliseum. USC fans have clearly given up on the Clay Helton era based on the barely half-full stadium Saturday. But with the Trojans at 8-4 and a bowl game coming up, UCLA would give anything right now to be that “low.” UCLA is now 4-7 and will play out its season at home against Cal. They will finish with a losing record for the fourth consecutive year. That is the first time that has happened since 1924. As for the Trojans, they went a long way in making it very hard to fire Helton.
It was after the Colorado win at home that the Bruins moved to 4-5, but had a three-game win streak and the possibility of winning the Pac 12 South. Then came the predictable beat down in Salt Lake City. That was followed by the defense getting rung up by USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. With no discernible pass rush by the UCLA front line, and with no viable blitz from UCLA, Slovis had his pick of wide-open receivers all afternoon.
Slovis finished the game 515 yards passing, breaking Matt Barkley’s seven-year old single game record. USC had no real rushing attack for most of the game. They had 39 yards on the ground in the first half, and finished with 128 with much of that coming on three plays. They didn’t need it. UCLA’s defensive backs had no ability to stay with USC’s talented corps of receivers. It was Michael Pittman who got the attention during game week analysis. But it was Drake London who led the receivers with 142 on eight catches. Pittman had 13 receptions for 104 yards.
The first quarter was all-too familiar for UCLA fans. The Bruins scored on their first drive and then the offense went flat for a long stretch. Maybe that’s the reason head coach Chip Kelly doesn’t believe in momentum. There have been too many times this season when his team can’t maintain any during a game.
USC answered with a 31-yard field goal by Chase McGrath to make it 7-3. But on the drive the Bruins defense was already showing signs of repeat problems. Missed one-on-one tackles on a 24-yard end around by Amon-Ra St. Brown and on a 22-yard completion to Tyler Vaughns were foretelling of the kind of day it would turn into.
After Thompson-Robinson threw an interception where he was baited into the poor throw, Slovis connected with London for 46 yards. Running back Vavae Malepeai ran it in from one yard out and the Trojans had the 10-7 lead.
The Bruins answered at the beginning of the second quarter after 23 yards of rushing from Kazmeir Allen on three plays, Thompson-Robinson faked a hand-off to Josh Kelley up the middle and bootlegged to the left side for three yards and touchdown. The Bruins were back on top 14-10. That would be their last lead of the game and it was still early in the second quarter.
Slovis completed four consecutive passes for 44 yards to get USC down to the UCLA four-yard line. From there he hit Pittman for the touchdown and the 24-14 halftime lead.
USC pulled away in the third quarter. Slovis connected with a wide open London for 32 yards to the UCLA one-yard line. As Bruins defensive back Jay Shaw was trying to cover ground, he actually knocked London into the end zone for the USC touchdown. The Trojans were up 31-14. An 8-yard Malepeai touchdown run made it 38-14 still with 8:20 left in the quarter.
The Bruins did have some answers. But when you are down 24 points, trading touchdowns is never going to work. Thompson-Robinson hit tight end Devin Asiasi for 53 yards in the middle of the field in a hole in the zone defense. The drive only took two minutes and made the score 38-21.
Thompson-Robinson completed three straight passing plays for 44 yards and added a 17-yard keeper. On third and goal from the USC seven, he connected with Chase Cota who bulled his way into the end zone, going around an attempted block by receiver Kyle Philips. It was all of a sudden only a 10-point USC lead at 38-28. The drive took eight plays and only burned another two minutes But when your defense has no ability to stop the other team….no ability….the effort is fruitless.
On a “routine” third and two, Vaughns got behind the UCLA defensive secondary and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass to make the USC lead 45-28.
The Bruins had trouble tracking the USC receivers all day. Kelly had warned during the week that the offense was more than just Pittman, and that bore out Saturday. The UCLA defensive backs were over matched all day.
The Bruins got their last touchdown of the day on a one-yard Kelley run. SC got its final score on a two-yard from Carr.
What stands out the most is that UCLA had 540 yards of offense and 35 points. And lost. Thompson-Robinson, even with his mistakes that he makes most weeks, was 26 of 44 for 367 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 93 yards of rushing. And UCLA lost. The Bruins out-rushed USC 157-128. And lost.
UCLA’s defense has now given up 101 points and 1,180 yards of offense in just two weeks. The momentum they had after beating three lesser opponents felt good but was clearly a mirage as they could not compete defensively against upper tier offenses.
Kelly was asked after the game what he thought of the defense’s performance, but in particular the job of the coaching staff on that side of the ball. “I think our staff’s done a good job considering what we had to work with. It’s not an excuse. We have to win games. That’s what the bottom line is.” With regards to this game in particular Kelly referenced playing part of the game without linebacker Krys Barnes, (the leading tackler in the game when he went down in the third quarter), and linebacker Lokeni Toailoa who also left the game in the second half and was very hobbled leaving the field after the game. And of course Kelly brought up “youth.”
Both of those are tough arguments to make after this game. A defense that starts four seniors and a three year starting defensive back got abused by a true freshman quarterback, a freshman leading the game in receiving yards, (London had 142 yards), followed by a sophomore receiver, (St. Brown had 128 yards), and an offensive line that starts two sophomore and a freshman. By week 11 of the season youth has been left behind on any team. In terms of the staff doing its job, it is hard come away after watching that game and say the schemes on that side of that ball gave UCLA its best chance to succeed. USC’s running game was never going to be the primary threat. It was always going to be about the passing game, and yet UCLA had little success in stopping it.
Kelly spent some one-on-one time with Thompson-Robinson after the game. Thompson-Robinson took the loss on his shoulders.
Sorry Bruin nation.
— DTR (@DoriansTweets) November 24, 2019
The sophomore has been wildly inconsistent this season and made some of his routine mistakes Saturday. But statistically there was no questioning his effort. Kelly walked up the ramp to the locker room with his arm around his quarterback. “I was just checking to make sure he was ok. I thought he battled today. He was a true warrior. He’s such a competitor. He is trying to win every snap when he is out there.” If only he could also play defense.