The Pac-12 showdown between the No. 7 USC Trojans and the No. 16 UCLA Bruins was in full effect on Saturday, with both teams entering in the top-25 rankings for the first time since 2014. After a turnover-infested game, USC extended the all-time series record to 50-33-7 putting an exclamation mark on their regular season and delivering a statement to the playoff committee.
With zero undefeated teams left in the Pac-12, Chip Kelly and Lincoln Riley entered this contest with a lot riding on the line, and the Trojans walked away winners clinching a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Let’s dive into the winners and losers of this long-time rivalry from USC’s 48-45 victory over the Bruins.
Winner: Caleb Williams’ pocket patience led to elite performance
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams made the Bruins’ defense look silly, passing for 282 yards and rushing for two touchdowns in the first half alone. Williams could stand in the pocket for several seconds throughout the night before throwing a dart downfield to his receivers. The USC offensive line protected the sophomore, allowing him to wait in the pocket and look for open receivers downfield on most drives.
- Caleb Williams stats vs UCLA: 470 pass yards, 10.9 ypa, 2-1 TD-INT, 32 rush yards, 1 TD
His ability to stay calm under pressure and his first-class vision, allowed him to also find openings and attack on the ground. On the night, Williams finished with a career-high 470 passing yards and rebounded from a first-quarter interception with a stellar 74% completion rate, three total touchdowns and over 500 total yards of offense.
Williams showed us his field vision, completing passes to nine of his teammates. Jordan Addison was his favorite target on the night (11 completions for 178 yards) and one touchdown, including a 48-yard run and catch.
Loser: UCLA Bruins’ turnovers prove costly
the football but that all changed just before halftime. The Bruins had a 21-17 lead over the Trojans standing on the UCLA 39 with one minute and 15 seconds left until halftime. They had excellent field position with an opportunity to put points on the board before heading into the locker room —instead — they made things interesting.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson stepped back into the pocket and threw the ball right into Mekhi Blackmon’s hands for an interception. The Trojans then stormed downfield, missing a field goal, giving the ball back to UCLA for one more opportunity before halftime. DTR and the Bruins stood on the UCLA 47 with 14 seconds left on the clock — deja vu — Thompson-Robinson stepped back and threw another interception.
Following halftime, the Bruins were able to kick a field goal on their first drive to gain a 24-20 lead in the third quarter. USC quickly responded with a touchdown, giving the defense momentum when they stepped back onto the field to face DTR and the UCLA offense. The Bruins’ offensive line quickly broke down, allowing a defender to sack Thompson-Robinson forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Trojans. USC capitalized and scored a touchdown on their next two snaps.
During his most crucial drive of the season, Thompson-Robinson threw his third interception of the night with 1:26 left in the game, allowing the Trojans to go into victory formation.
Winner: Austin Jones, USC Trojans rushing game
Following the season-ending injury to Travis Dye against Colorado, leaving big shoes to fill for Austin Jones. The senior running back stepped up in a big way for the Trojans, keeping drives alive and gaining crucial yards to put the offense in scoring position.
Jones ended the night with 120 yards and two touchdowns in 21 attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. He was also the third most prolific receiver, earning 57 yards in four receptions. This season, Jones has rushed for 335 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Williams was the second-best rusher, adding 32 yards and one touchdown. At the end of the night, USC’s rushing offense earned 178 yards and four touchdowns. Without the ability to gain yards on the ground and keep drives alive, this contest would’ve looked a lot different.
Loser: Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the fourth quarter
When the Bruins’ defense forced the Trojans to punt the ball with 2:27 left on the clock, USC fans were biting their nails knowing that Thompson-Robinson took the field with two timeouts and plenty of time for a comeback. The drive started out shaky, with an incomplete pass and a pass for no gain. He then completed a pass for 27 yards but that would be his last completion of the night.
Thompson-Robinson had already thrown two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and he just needed to get his offense into field goal position to stay alive. He snapped the ball, needing just five yards to keep the drive going but threw the ball right into Korey Foreman’s hands for his third interception, killing UCLA’s chance in the Pac-12 title hunt.
DTR turned over the ball four times against the Trojans, including three interceptions and one fumble. Although the Bruins’ offense and defense were able to come back from the first three turnovers, the fourth-quarter turnover was a costly mistake in their season.