Turnovers haunt UCLA: Four takeaways from loss to USC

Caleb Williams climbed a red ladder in the south end zone of the Rose Bowl and raised a sword in the air while the Trojan Marching Band serenaded the traveling Trojans with USC’s ubiquitous fight song.

This is not how Dorian Thompson-Robinson imagined his career at the Rose Bowl would end.

Williams defeated Thompson-Robinson 48-45 in a rivalry shootout as No. 7 USC (10-1, 8-1 Pac-12) secured his berth in the Pac-12 title game and the No. 16 Bruins eliminated from the championship fight. As USC’s first-year rebuild continues at warp speed under Lincoln Riley, UCLA (9-3, 5-3) is still trying to reach the summit after a five-year climb with Chip Kelly.

“We fell short and it’s difficult when you talk to them after a game to put it into words,” said coach Chip Kelly. “That you can play with the effort you played with tonight but that wasn’t good enough. Sometimes it’s a very hard lesson for all of us.”

Here are four takeaways from the loss of UCLA:

Williams torches Bruins

Caleb Williams runs with the ball for USC.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams works his way into the end zone for a touchdown against UCLA in the first half of the annual crosstown rivalry game being played at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s defense was already undermanned without cornerback Devin Kirkwood and defensive coordinator Bill McGovern. Then the Bruins had to face a Heisman quarterback.

Kelly called Williams “the best quarterback I’ve ever seen in my college career.” The USC sophomore torched the Bruins for 470 yards and two touchdowns on 32 of 43 passes with 33 rushing yards and two points on the ground. UCLA sacked Williams twice, including a big tackle from Laiatu Latu that gave UCLA one last chance at 2:27, but he wobbled out of numerous other attempts and created big plays by completing passes on the run.

“He does a great job at lengthening plays, he’s extremely athletic, he’s about as accurate as you can throw the football,” Kelly said. “So I think it’s that combination: he’s his rare double threat guy who can hit you with both his legs and his arm, sometimes guys are more of a runner but he throws as good as anyone I have have seen.”

USC rushed for 649 yards, the most for a UCLA opponent since Washington State’s 720 yards in 2019, which is the modern record against the Bruins. The Trojans averaged eight yards per game, a season-high allowed by the UCLA defense.

Turnovers trump touchdowns

Korey Foreman cheers with other USC players.

USC linebacker Korey Foreman (left) celebrates after intercepting a pass from UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and sealing the Trojans’ victory in the annual Crosstown Rivalry game being played at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Thompson-Robinson set two other school records in the shootout, passed Brett Hundley for the five-year career total penalty with 11,953, and ranked first in total touchdowns with 110 after six points. But even after four passing touchdowns and two more on the ground, Thompson-Robinson was dogged by his four turnovers, including three interceptions and the game-winning choice for Korey Foreman.

“I feel disappointment, a lot of it in myself,” said Thompson-Robinson, who finished for 309 yards and four touchdown passes on 23 of 38 passes. “You can’t have three at the quarterback position [interceptions] and winning the game, that’s just not acceptable.”

Thompson-Robinson, who came into the game with just four interceptions this year, noted he didn’t get “enough juice” on the ball in his first two interceptions. He taped his hand after a physical run in the first half. He said he unfortunately didn’t complete his progression on the crucial last interception when USC put eight players into cover.

The mistakes played directly into USC’s defensive strength as the Trojans lead the country in the revenue gap. In four starts against USC, Thompson-Robinson has thrown eight interceptions, turned the ball a total of nine times, and won just once.

senior farewell

Michael Ezeike runs with the ball for UCLA.

UCLA tight end Michael Ezeike carries the ball into the end zone after scoring a catch against USC in the second half of the annual Crosstown rivalry game being played at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA honored 27 seniors before the game, many of whom helped lay the foundation for Kelly’s tenure, which began in 2018. While transfers have dominated college football in recent seasons, including key imports like UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet and Jake Bobo, members of Kelly’s first draft class, played for the Bruins in their last few home games. Wide receiver Kazmeir Allen led UCLA with five catches, 72 yards and a touchdown. Blaylock had 11 tackles. Tight end Michael Ezeike had three touchdowns in four catches.

“After tonight [we] recognized that this is a special group of seniors that will be talked about for a long time here at UCLA,” said Thompson-Robinson. “I can’t wait to get back out there last week and play for sure one last time.”

Thompson-Robinson exited the tunnel for one last look at the Rose Bowl field following his post-game interview, and two UCLA fans still lingered in the upper concourse. They yelled at the quarterback, who turned and raised his hands in a heart shape.

vacation plans

Chip Kelly and other UCLA players on the sidelines.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly on the sidelines during the first half of the annual crosstown rivalry game against USC played at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The loss not only knocked UCLA out of the championship fight, but will knock the Bruins down in the Pac-12 pecking order for bowl games. The conference has six main bowl affiliations, beginning with the Rose Bowl, which is reserved for the conference champion. If the champion is invited to the college football playoff, the second team plays in the Rose Bowl.

After that, San Antonio’s Alamo Bowl will be decided first, followed by the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Sun Bowl and the LA Bowl. If UCLA, which finishes the regular season against California on Friday, finishes as the third-place team, it’s possible the Holiday Bowl will skip the Bruins, who were forced to abruptly cancel last year’s game due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the team just hours ago announced before kick-off.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-11-20/four-takeaways-ucla-usc-football Turnovers haunt UCLA: Four takeaways from loss to USC

Emma Bowman

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