USC is not a great football team this season. Neither is UCLA. Despite that fact, the two crosstown rivals still managed to stage a pretty entertaining game on Saturday afternoon as the Bruins took home the Victory Bell following a wild 34-27 win at the Rose Bowl.
The breakout star in the battle for Los Angeles was undoubtedly Joshua Kelley, a redshirt junior tailback for the powder blues who grew up rooting for UCLA as a kid in nearby Lancaster. He nearly single-handedly carried the team’s offense on the day, rushing for two touchdowns on a remarkable 40 carries for 289 yards — the second most the Trojans’ defense has ever given up.
His performance took plenty of pressure off the Bruins throwing the ball, as Wilton Speight got the start at quarterback and had a solid (166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) if unspectacular game. The Michigan transfer did, however, do a good job of moving the chains on third down against his new rival and added 22 yards rushing with a score to showcase his (limited) mobility.
Although there were six lead changes and several crazy special teams plays early on, it was another disappointing second half performance for the USC offense as they failed to score a touchdown after the break for the second straight week. True freshman J.T. Daniels got a rude introduction to the series against UCLA on the final scoreboard but played well enough as his team’s only consistent source of offense. He wound up throwing for a career high 337 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed a pair of interceptions, including an awful one in the fourth quarter with nobody even close to the throw that may very well have sealed the team’s fate. Tailback Vavae Malepeai did wind up with 77 yards on the ground but it was otherwise tough sledding outside of a few early scoring drives for the cardinal and gold.
The result, UCLA’s first win in the series since 2014, is surely the biggest victory yet in the young tenure for Chip Kelly in Westwood and quite the encouraging sign for the blue and gold faithful after a rocky season highlighted by up-and-down play. The Bruins have dealt with a ton of injuries and were pretty limited in terms of scholarship numbers on Saturday but still managed to take the fight to their rivals — and then some — to come out on top.
The flip side is that USC is very much in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2011 (and really is more like 2000 given that the team was on NCAA sanctions at the time) with Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum next weekend looking to cap off a 12-0 season with a trip to the College Football Playoff. It may also secure the fate of embattled head coach Clay Helton, who is certainly feeling a ton of heat from fans and boosters amid the dismal season in downtown Los Angeles.