UCLA Gets Its Signature Win

UCLA Gets Its Signature Win
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UCLA gets its signature win of the season with a 62-33 blowout win over USC at the LA Coliseum. It was the most significant win of Chip Kelly’s four years at UCLA. And while he made have had bigger games statistically, it was one of the best performances of Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s career. He was the most commanding after some tough early mistakes. It was the most points scored by a UCLA team in the 91-year history of the Crosstown Showdown.

The win puts UCLA at 7-4 overall and ups the ante of their bowl games options, likely moving to at least the Las Vegas Bowl.

Rough Start, Premium Finishes

Thompson-Robinson gave no indication early on of what was to come. He started the game 0-2 passing with two interceptions. From that point on, he was 16 of 20 for 349 yards and four touchdowns. It was also a signature game for Kazmeir Allen who has a 100-yard kick return that came at a time when USC was creeping back into the game late in the third quarter.

The early interceptions did not hurt UCLA , as the Trojans managed only a 29 yard field goal from Alex Stadthouse out of the two turnovers.

After a sideline penalty on Kelly, Thompson-Robinson found his stroke. He found tight end Greg Dulcich over the middle for 37 yards. A few plays later he found Allen open 20 yards over the middle for what turned into a 37-yard touchdown play. The drive covered 94 yards. Th ensuing kickoff was from deeper in their own territory as Kelly got flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty.

Dart Tries To Keep Up

USC freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart moved the Trojans 63 yards in 10 plays. Running back Vavae Malepeai got the last 7 yards breaking UCLA arm tackles along the way. Dart, who split time with senior Kedon Slovis last week, had to go the distance in his first ever UCLA game, as Slovis was out with a leg injury. He wound up putting up 325 yards and a touchdown on the day.

Thompson-Robinson answered with a 23-yard completion to Kyle Philips. The drive covered 58 yards and was helped by two USC penalties.

The UCLA lead expanded immediately in the second quarter. USC was moving a safety up to the line repeatedly to help with the run defense. That allowed Allen to get behind the secondary on a post pattern and Thompson-Robinson found him for a 58-yard touchdown. The drive was 60 yards in only two plays and took all of :43. It made the UCLA lead 21-10.

Huge Day For Charbonnet

The lead kept growing. On the Bruins next drive, Zach Charbonnet picked up 40 yards on a couple of carries to the USC 29. Charbonnet had to go most of the way at running back in the absence of Brittain Brown who was injured and did not suit up.  He came through with a career-high 167 yards on 28 carries. He also crossed the thousand-yard mark for the season.

Putting A Signature On The Day

Thompson-Robinson went all the way to his third progression and found Michael Ezeike in the flat. The tight end took it all the way down to the USC three yard line. Thompson-Robinson ran a quarterback keeper to left for the touchdown. And then he kept running. To the seats behind the back left corner of the end zone. There was a young boy with hat and pen waiting for a signature and Thompson-Robinson obliged. He was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

After the game, Kelly said, “I didn’t see it so I can’t really say anything about it. A lot of crazy things happen in sports.”

Thompson-Robinson said he was swept up in the moment. “It was definitely spur of the moment. I was surprised I scored. I thought he was going to hit me hard enough for me to go out of bounds. When you see a kid handing you a hat and a pen, it’s just second nature,” he said. The kid happened to be wearing a USC shirt and was yelling for all of the USC players after the game to toss their gloves or shoes his way. “I was going to tell him he’s got to change his colors,” Thompson-Robinson said.

USC got on the board one more time in the first half with a Malepeai three-yard touchdown run to cut the UCLA lead to 28-17.  After the slow start, the Bruins went into the half averaging a little more than 10 yards per play.

UCLA Pulls Away

On the first drive of the second half, UCLA pounded the ball with Charbonnet getting 33 yards on three carries. That forced USC to bring a safety up again in run support and Thompson-Robinson made the Trojans pay. He connected with Philips on a slant to the left side for nine yards and the receiver picked up another 15 after the catch. Then on third and seven, the same two hooked up on an underneath slant pattern with no defender behind Philips to keep him out of the end zone. The Bruins were feeling all the momentum with an 18-point lead at 35-17.

USC answered with a 22-yard field goal from Stadthouse, but trading field goals for touchdowns was getting them buried quickly.

The Trojans finally added another touchdown near the end of the third quarter. Nicholas Barr-Mira missed a field goal for the fifth game in a row. USC took over on their own 28 yard line, and Dart only needed two plays to convert. A 28-yard pass to Gary Bryant, Jr. and another to the same receiver for 44 yards closed the gap for USC. The two-point conversion failed, but USC was back in it at 35-26.

Allen Puts It Away

That ended quickly. Allen took the ensuing kick-off 100 yards for the touchdown. He had been close in previous games. After the game he said he remembered when a diving Fresno State player stopped him from scoring on a kickoff return. “I couldn’t let that happen this time,” he said. The score was now 42-26 UCLA and USC was pressing.

Dart threw into two-deep coverage near the front of the end one and Cam Johnson cut in front of Trojans receiver Tahj Washington for the interception. Charbonnet finished the drive with a four yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion failed, but at 48-26, the Bruins were on their way to the most convincing win of the season.

The capper was the final touchdown of the game. Ethan Fernea, the former walk-on; the sixth-year senior who broke his wrist in September and though he would be out for the year, came in at running back. With a cast on the hand, he took a hand-off designed to go to the middle. It was clogged up so he cut to the left and outran the USC defensive backs for a 25-yard touchdown for the 62-33 final. “He’s given everything to this football program,” Kelly said after the game. “Everything you want in a Bruin student-athlete is Ethan.”

Looking Ahead, But Not Too Far

Kelly said after the game he talked to the team prior to kickoff about not flinching. “We knew we were going to get their best shot.” He credited the win, after Thompson-Robinson’s poor start to the team being resilient. “I think that was on display tonight with this group,” he said.

UCLA Gets Its Signature Win
UCLA linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath celebrates at the Coliseum after UCLA’s 62-33 blowout win over crosstown rival USC.

The Bruins host Cal next week in the regular season finale. The worst they can finish is 7-5 going into a bowl game. The Cal game will go a long way in determining which bowl they get. But Kelly was asked after the game about his own status. He is weeks away from heading into year five of a five-year contract with no buyouts or financial guarantees for the last year. If UCLA is going to bring him back, he will need a contract extension in order to functionally recruit going forward. His response to the topic was predictable Kelly. “I’m not in charge of that.”

As much as Kelly tries to focus on one day of practice, these will be pretty heady days ahead for UCLA. The Bruins have the game against Cal. If a decision is to be made on Kelly’s tenure, it needs to be sooner rather than later for the purposes of the extension. There is a bowl game in the near future. And then there is the return of the Victory Bell to Westwood for it to be repainted UCLA blue. When will that happen? Bruins defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight said he expects it back, “ASAP.”

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