Sanctions, injuries and depth are not suitable excuses. USC Football lost to UCLA by the largest margin since Richard Nixon was president. UCLA head coach Jim Mora has moved to 2-0 against USC. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron dropped to 0-2 against USC’s rivals— and USC is 0-4 against rivals in the past two seasons.
It was UCLA’s first victory in the Coliseum since 1997— nearly a month before the movie “Titanic” hit theaters. The victory also started their first win streak since their eight straight beginning in 1991. It also snapped USC’s “No Loss November.” Trojan fans can take solace in that it was just the third Bruin win in 15 years.
From beginning to end, special teams play looked suspect. On the very first kickoff, UCLA managed to get out to their own 38-yard line. Overall, the Trojans allowed an average of 43.3 yards on kickoff returns. Meanwhile, their own kickoff returns averaged 18.5 yards— much worse than a touchback. This forced the USC offense to drive the length of the field while UCLA had about half a field to cover. Perhaps better kickoff return yardage would have reduced the six times the Trojans needed to punt. Those punts tended to be short, averaging a meager 33.5 yards, again, giving the Bruins decent field position.
It is no surprise why Ed Orgeron will reopen the punting competition.
The offense had about two good drives, with only one other drive that looked promising. Allowing six sacks stalled too many drives— including allowing Cassius Marsh to sack Cody Kessler, then switch sides to sack Kessler again on back-to-back plays. Part of the reason can be chalked up to losing three year starter, captain, and center Marcus Martin (knee injury). This was further intensified by the loss of Aundrey Walker (broken ankle). However, their replacements, as even Kessler noted, were experienced seniors, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz.
Tight ends brought in to block did not do very well. USC even got away with some holding no calls. Receivers had some key drops on third down.
USC only managed to get past the 50-yard line three times. Two of those drives ended with touchdowns— USC’s only points of the night. The last ended with a inexplicable and costly fourth quarter fumble by Javorius Allen right when entering the red zone with plenty of room to run. Before that, Allen had been one of the few positives in a night full of negatives.
USC fumbled again in the fourth quarter when Anthony Barr stripped the ball just two possessions later, all but sealing the Trojans’ loss.
Almost everything seemed to go wrong, putting their defense in a bad position.
The Trojans started out well enough on defense, forcing two three-and-outs. It pretty much ended there, though. The Trojans were unable to force any turnovers to make up for the mistakes. The two fumbles were more UCLA’s own fault than the doing of the Trojans and both were recovered quickly by the Bruins. The vaunted USC defensive line only managed to sack Brett Hundley twice.
The defense as a whole had trouble with repeated swing passes and quarterback draws. They sprinkled it with option plays on the ground and made sure to get the ball out quick on pass plays. They could not contain Hundley despite the simple gameplan. For whatever reason, USC seems to be unable to figure out running quarterbacks. Perhaps they were too aggressive with the pass rush.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour also had trouble defending the pass. There were also a lot of missed tackles that ended up as big plays for the Bruins.
Since USC was outplayed in every phase of the game, even when the score indicated the game was close, it did not feel that way.
Being a rivalry, interesting extracurricular activities happened between the game.
The video of Marcus Allen on the HD display saying “Football is a nasty, physical game” must have been interpreted the wrong way by UCLA right tackle Caleb Benenoch. He landed a punch on J.R. Tavai, earning his team a penalty and himself an ejection. That was not even the first one of the season. Defensive end, Cassius Marsh, got himself ejected against Cal. Later on, UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams got flagged for hitting Kevon Seymour but remained in the game. So much for having class.
Or how about UCLA players stabbing the midfield with their flags after the win? After making a big deal of the Trojan drum major stabbing midfield, they go and pull something like that? The Trojans have done this at every stadium they have played in for decades, including their own. It’s a tradition that UCLA sought to end— yet they do something that was purposely and intentionally disrespectful on the Coliseum field. Double standards reign supreme.
These events had little adverse effect on the Trojans during the game, though, and should not be used as ammunition for excuses.
Long after most of the Coliseum emptied, a particularly large group of Trojan fans remained huddled in the student section singing along to “Tusk” with the Spirit of Troy Marching Band for as long as they could. They did this, perhaps, as a cathartic activity. If that was not enough, they can look forward to the bowl game.
Every team always comes ready to play the Trojans, so the players and fans have no time to mope.
As Orgeron said in the post-game press conference, “Regardless of the situation, we’re Trojans and we fight.”