UCLA’s all-around win over USC a statement for both teams
On one side, you had a football team in the midst of a trying season, attempting to bounce back from a brutal loss while trying to get a glaring shine off its head coach’s head.
And on the other, you had UCLA.
The Bruins and Trojans entered the game in the midst of a Spider-Man meme, pointing at each other, thought bubble above their heads, each reading, “How did we get here?”
It can be summed up thusly: Poor coaching decisions, poor hiring decisions, poor recruiting in key spots.
Only on Saturday, it was USC whose warts were revealed, and the Bruins whose loyalties were.
A cursory look at the stat sheet might make it appear this game was closer than it really was.
USC out-gained UCLA 387-354 and the Bruins won a close first-down battle, 19-17.
But anyone who watched even a second of the game saw UCLA flash its might and USC wilt under the disappointment of a sad season.
The Bruins dominated the all-important first third of both halves.
After stuffing USC for a loss on third down on its opening drive, UCLA stuffed the Trojans again on fourth down to gain possession. Then T.J. Harden ran it in from a yard out to give the Bruins a 7-0 lead.
UCLA would lead 14-0 before USC scored 10 straight points to close out the half. But then the Bruins opened the second half on a roll, as well, going 65 yards in 15 plays capped off by an Ethan Garbers-to-Harden 7-yard touchdown connection. UCLA’s Alex Johnson had a scoop-and-score fumble recovery touchdown to put the Bruins up 28-10. They eventually went up 38-13.
The Bruins played perhaps their best game of the season in 2 categories that had plagued them at times prior: third down and red zone offense. UCLA converted 13-of-20 on third down and went 5-for-6 in red zone scoring opportunities.
Coming into the game, the Bruins were converting just 64% of red zone opportunities, dead last of all 133 FBS teams. The last two weeks, in losses to Arizona and Arizona State, UCLA’s 8 red zone trips netted it only 17 points.
Once again, we learn that the USC defense is the perfect elixir to what ails you.
It’s not fair to say USC players were worried about Lincoln Riley’s job on Saturday, but they were concerned about his reputation.
College football is a perception game, and the talk about the Trojans these days is entirely bad. To go from 6-0 to the indignity of 7-5 is a slap in the face.
It’s also a stark statistical figure. The Trojans are now 7-7 in the last 14 games after starting 11-1 under Riley.
Meanwhile, across town — and across sidelines for the day — Chip Kelly appeared as happy as a clam, perpetually unbothered.
His players looked like they were trying to save his job, even if he says his security never came up this week.
“Not an issue for me,” he said about his fate. “I’ve never been governed by the fear of what other people say. And the lessons that this game has taught me — and I love this game — is that there’s gonna be highs and there’s gonna be lows, and you gotta lean into the lows and you gotta embrace ‘em and then you just gotta go to work. But the rest of the stuff is just, that’s never bothered me.
“Josh (Rebholz) came over the other day and said, ‘Hey, there’s a report about this’ and Martin (Jarmond) told me it was inaccurate, and inappropriate. I said, ‘All right, let’s go back to work.’ I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I don’t read that stuff, I’ve never seen that stuff — I talk about being the most prepared and the least distracted. Then, why would I let something distract me? And if that’s the case, then I’m a fool ‘cause I’m not doing what I tell our players to do. So, didn’t bother this team one bit and you could see by the performance today. Didn’t bother the team, didn’t bother that. I never talked to the team about it, I never talked to our coaches about it. We’re just fortunate, we’re all blessed that we get to play this sport, and every day that we get to coach it I’m the happiest man in the world.”
In so many ways, this was a statement game.
For UCLA, it was emphatic and resounding support of a head coach on the ropes. It was a chance to salvage a 9-win season, which would help as it prepares for the Big Ten.
And for USC, it was a clear-cut statement that the Trojans are woefully unprepared for what’s coming to them.
They turned the Coliseum into a farce.
And there’s no time to turn it around.