UCLA coach Chip Kelly treats every game the same. They are all important to win. Every loss is equally significant. He does not get into the rah-rah of rivalry games. He coaches them all the same way. But if you are on the UCLA campus or are a fan in any capacity, Saturday’s 34-27 win over USC at the Rose Bowl feels bright enough to put a pep in your step for many months. Admit it, you are going to be wearing your UCLA gear around town with your chest out a little more this holiday season.
UCLA has been looking for signs of progress, signs of hope this season. Kelley says he coaches in the micro, not the macro. What they have been getting through last week is drive-killing mistakes and inconsistency. What they got Saturday was one of the two most complete games they have played all season. A team that kills itself with penalties? How about two penalties for just 15 yards. A team that can’t take care of the ball? How about one turnover, while forcing two.
Maturity? How about grad transfer quarterback Wilton Speight playing the game of his season, statistics aside. Or running back Joshua Kelley. UCLA hasn’t had a running game for three years, but they have shown signs this season. Signs? How about an anvil. Kelley’s 289 yards (on 40 carries to go with two touchdowns), is the most ever for a UCLA running back against USC. It is also the third highest rushing total in school history behind Maurice Jones-Drew and current running backs coach Deshaun Foster, (both against Washington).
And here is one for the books. The defense, yes, the defense, came up big at the end of the game shutting down USC on the final drive. Like every rivalry game should, this one had a little bit of everything.
USC took a 3-0 lead three minutes into the first quarter with Michael Brown’s career long 46-yard field goal.
UCLA answered with an eight play, 75-yard drive that ended with Speight hitting Theo Howard with a stunningly perfect over-the-shoulder 33-yard throw in the back of the end zone for a 7-3 lead. It was Speight who kept the drive alive on third and eight from his own 27 when he evaded the rush from USC’s Jonathon Lockett and heaved up a jump ball that Caleb Wilson went up to get for a 29-yard completion.
A couple of possessions later, the Bruins put up a six-play, 76-yard drive, punctuated by a 61-yard Kelley run. Speight ran it in the final four yards when none of his receivers were open and UCLA had a 14-3 first quarter lead.
USC’s next drive was what they did the entire first half. It was less a sustained drive than it was a handful of positive plays punctuated by one or two big yardage plays. The Trojans ran six plays for a total of 24 yards, including a 10-yard holding penalty on UCLA. The Bruins stuffed freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels on third and one at the USC 48, forcing a punt. But SC caught the Bruins napping on special teams. Up-man Eric Krommenhoek took the snap and picked up eight yards for the first down. On the next play, Daniels found Amon-Ra St. Brown behind defensive back Quentin Lake for a 44-yard USC touchdown. The Trojans closed the gap to 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Whatever momentum UCLA had with its 11-point lead was completely gone at the beginning of the second quarter. Punter Stefan Flintoft took too long executing his kick from his own five-yard line and it was blocked by Isaiah Langley and run for a touchdown by Devon Williams to give USC a 17-14 lead.
UCLA would punt again, but the defense stepped up. They had sacked Daniels once in the first quarter but for much of the game, he had all day in the pocket. Here, they put pressure on him at his own five. He looked for Michael Pittman downfield. Pittman was the go-to guy, as they were picking on Nate Meadors and Elijah Gates. But Daniels, under pressure, floated the pass and Meadors intercepted it at the UCLA 45.
From there it was back to what was working. Five rushes for Kelley, a 22-yard completion to Howard, who was beating Iman Marshall for the second year in a row, and a one-yard touchdown run for Kelley and the see-saw game was back in favor of UCLA at 21-17.
The see would saw back. USC had it’s typical first half effort again. Four plays for 22 yards until Daniels found Velus Jones in the flat at the UCLA 40. He broke a tackle and outran the secondary the rest of the way for the touchdown. USC took a 24-21 lead into the half.
They would add a third quarter field goal, 22 yards from Brown, to boost the lead to 27-21. No one could imagine at the time that it would be their only points in the entire second half.
In the fourth quarter UCLA went back to its bread and butter of the day. Heck, Kelley threw some peanut butter and jam on the bread while he was at it. After a USC punt, the Bruins had to start at their own three. But a couple of Speight completions and three Kelley runs gave them some room to work with. Well, enough room for Kelley at least. On first and 10 at the UCLA 45, the left side of the offensive line opened up a massive hole for Kelley who then out ran the rest of the USC defense for 55 yards and a touchdown, giving the Bruins a 28-27 lead.
The first play of the next series, the Bruins defense came up with one of the only handful of times they pressured Daniels, and it resulted in another interception. This time it was Darnay Holmes on the receiving end of the disastrous heave from Daniels at the UCLA 45. The play calling would get a little uncharacteristally conservative for Kelly. Some runs pushing to the short side of the field picked up minimal yards. USC helped with a holding penalty. In all, nine plays later the Bruins would turn it into a 19-yard J.J. Molson field goal and a 31-27 lead.
The Bruins defense held USC to three and out for a net loss of four yards on the ensuing series. UCLA took over around midfield after the punt. That allowed the Bruins to really go “Un-Chip,” by running the offense and burning clock. Five very conservative rushing plays gained 21 yards and led to a 48-yard Molson field goal for the 34-27 lead.
The Trojans took over at their 28 with 2:30 left on the clock and two time outs available. It was a lot of time for the UCLA defense to have to play, having given up big chunks on individual plays throughout the day.
Facing no discernible pass rush, USC moved it quickly to the UCLA 42 in just three plays. On third and a yard, Daniels scrambled and slid for what looked like a first down. But a quarterback is deemed down where he starts his slide, so after an official’s review, it was determined Daniels was short and it forced a fourth down. USC would pick up the first on the next play, but the clock was running, and the offense was out of sorts.
Daniels went to Jones in the end zone, but it was incomplete. He threw one away to avoid the rare pass rush. There was a six-yard completion to St. Brown, which forced them to use their final timeout. On fourth down he looked for St. Brown in the flat, but the pass was broken up by Krys Barnes to secure the win for UCLA. All Speight had to do was take a knee and enjoy the hero’s reception.
Statistically, Speight was only 13 of 22 for 166 yards and a touchdown, but he commanded the offense. He had one interception, a ball that never should have been thrown into double coverage in the back of the end zone. But the offense was mostly mistake-free in rolling up 479 yards. His counterpart, Daniels, has been heavily criticized this season. He finished a highly respectable 20 of 34 for 337 yards with two touchdowns. But those two interceptions turned into 10 UCLA points. While UCLA had only the two penalties, USC lacked discipline, committing nine penalties for 63 yards.
While the UCLA defense got little pressure on Daniels, and he had a big yardage day, they shut down USC’s rushing game, giving up only 112 yards and turning the Trojans into a one-dimensional offense. Meanwhile USC’s defense could not keep track of Kelley and his seven-yards-per-carry average on the day.
USC is 5-6 and hosts undefeated Notre Dame at home next week. The Irish are playing for a playoff spot while Clay Helton, if USC social media sites are to be believed, is coaching not only to become bowl eligible, but for his job.
The Bruins are 3-8 and host Stanford, who got an unexpected week off. The Cal game was postponed due to poor air quality because of the Northern California fires. The Bruins have lost 10 straight to Stanford. UCLA isn’t going anywhere after that game and Chip Kelley knows momentum does not carry over from one season to another. The process does not work like that. But for fans it does. And it starts when you beat USC. Guys like Norman Dow, John Barnes, and Eric McNeal are UCLA legends for nothing more than what they did against USC. Joshua Kelley cemented that legacy for himself Saturday no matter what else he does going forward. “Beating USC is not a matter of life and death. It is more important than that.”-Red Sanders.