A rivalry that was so one sided for so long has been turned completely around, as UCLA beat USC (38-20) for a third consecutive season, making their path towards winning the Pac-12 South and going on to play for the conference title a little bit easier, getting rid of the Trojans along the way.
UCLA aren’t going to be come the city’s team, even after three years of dominance against a slumping USC, losing for the 4th time this season and falling to 6-3 in conference play, losing to Arizona State and Utah as well in what has proved to be their close and most costly defeat. But they need to beat Stanford, just Stanford, at home, controlling their own destiny, only needing to win in order to face Oregon for a second time this season, hoping it goes a bit better this time.
Brett Hundley did throw an interception, but he also threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another. In any case, he did better than Kessler who was hounded by the pass rush all game long. Kessler threw one touchdown pass and one interception, getting only 62 yards of run support while UCLA, led by Paul Perkins, gained 135 yards on the ground.
The Bruins did an excellent job on Cody Kessler, who was sacked or put under duress on 22 of his 41 dropbacks, more than double the pressure (24% of his dropbacks) he’s used to seeing this season. He was sacked six times, tying his career high, also coming in a game against UCLA (2013). He averaged only 1.4 yards per play with the offensive line crumbling around him, with USC getting only 34 yards out of those 22 plays.
Kessler struggled connecting with his favorite receiver, Nelson Agholor, who caught only three passes for 24 yards despite being targeted nine times. Going into the game, the duo were the best among the Power five conferences, with Kessler completing 78.8% of his throws to Agholor. Another thing that fell apart was USC’s secondary and its tackling, with UCLA receivers gaining 265 yards after the catch. They gained at least 10 yards after the reception on 11 occasions, the most USC have allowed over the last four seasons. The Trojans were ranked second in the Pac-12 going into the game, allowing only 2.9 yards after the catch.
It’ll be another season for USC of playing in a lesser bowl, something the Pete Carroll years have made them forget about. This wasn’t a bad season under Steve Sarkisian and they don’t seem to be going through the free fall Notre Dame are, their rivals on the final week, but they blew it in big games this season when they could have done a bit more to stay in the picture of winning the division and playing Oregon for the conference title.
UCLA looked like possible favorites in the Pac-12 when this season began but two consecutive losses mid-October took them out of the running, or at least that’s what it looked like. They’ve bounced back in the right kind of way, while losses around them, especially Arizona State dropping a big one at Oregon State paved them the way back to the top spot. They can still lose to Stanford which will make this win over USC meaningless, although it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.