The conventional wisdom before the game was that the Trogan pass defense was vulnerable, while the Bruin run defense was our weak point. But any fan of this team knows that the more something makes sense, the less likely we are to do it. What could we really expect out of this game? A win? Not so certain for the first time in the the Mora era. There was also the notion that Mora's teams tend to follow 'big' wins with unimpressive performances. A habit that has often led to losses.
That being said, Bruin fans had reason to be optimistic after the win in Utah. We had managed to cut out the drive killing penalties, and our defense had toughened up and stopped the Utes run game. And yet, it being Rivalry Week, you could take nothing for granted, and any honest Bruin knew it was going to be a tough fight in South Central.
Game began with a little chippiness on the part of the Troylets during the kickoff return. They then went nowhere, amassing -1 yard on 3 downs before punting it away. The Bruins then came out and returned the favor, going 3 yards on 3 plays before punting it 40 yards. Trogan ball. The Troylets started the drive with 5 straight runs, looking to exploit our run defense. They would manage an efficient 60 yards on 11 mostly run plays, before being stopped on the 12 and forced to punt. A little more chippiness on the part of the troylets on the kick off coverage; Bruins start on the 35 thanks to the face mask penalty on the Trogans. Bruins promptly cross the 50 but got stuffed on a 3rd and 1. Mora called for the punt, and Mengel kicked a beaut, putting the Troylets on the 2 yard line. They would put up 7 yards on 3 plays before punting the ball. Bruin ball. The drive began with a 11 yard Rosen pass to Fuller. After 33 yards on 5 plays, the Bruins failed to convert a pass to the end zone making it 4th and 1. Mora kept the offense on the field and handed it off to Paul Perkins. A 19 yard run later, the Bruins were on the board. Score: 7 - 3 Bruins. Trogans got the ball back on the 14 and would only manage 4 yards on 3 plays before forced to punt by a stiff Bruin defense. UCLA got the ball back on the 41 and promptly handed it off to Nate Starks. Three straight run plays and 8 yards later, we were back in punt formation. Southern Cal began their next possession on the 15. Two snaps later the quarter came to an end. Score: 7 -3 Bruins.
Trogans picked up where they left off with a 7 yard run for a 1st down. They followed that with a 34 yard bomb to Smith-Schuster. 3 plays later they were going for it on 4th and 1 on the 3 yard line. A 2 yard run later, they were at 1st and Goal. A Cody Kessler keep later, the Trogans scored again. 85 yards on 10 plays. The Bruins got the ball on the 24, and naturally handed it off to Perkins but he got stuffed. Rosen then found Thomas Duarte for 27 yards. The refs would manage to screw up the down and distance at one point. When the smoke had cleared, Rosen found Duarte in the endzone for a 19 yard TD. 76 yards on 8 plays. Score: 14 - 10 Bruins. The Troylets returned the ball to the 20 yard line. They then moved the ball efficiently going 76 yards on 15 plays including converting a 4th and 1. Ultimately the Bruin defense held and the Trogans were forced to kick a field goal. Score 14 - 13 Bruins. The Bruins began on the 23 then everything fell apart. We managed -14 yards on 3 plays after a Rosen sack. Then, on the punt we gave up a 42 yard Adoree Jackson return for a TD. /Awesome. We got the ball back on the 26 and got back to work. But perhaps still thinking of that punt return, we could only manage 3 yards on 3 plays before punting the ball right back. The Trogans began on the 32 and the offense took the field once more. The Bruins defense played with a purpose, however, and held the Trogans to 14 yards on 4 plays before punting once more. Running out of time, the Bruin's offense took the field once more but did not show the urgency needed to get the ball into field goal range, going 44 yards on 3 plays before time ran out on the 1st half. Score 20 - 14 Trogans.
The Bruins started the 2nd half by returning the ball to the 35 yard line. The offense came out and sputtered right away going only 6 yards on 3 plays before punting again. The Trogans began on their 16. The Bruin's defense rose to the occasion and held the Trojies to 5 yards on 3 plays and almost sacked Kessler. The Troylets would punt and give us the ball on the 22. UCLA's offense got back to work and moved the ball efficiently enough to force the Troylets to fake an injury to give them time to catch their breath. I would not work, the Bruins would cap off a 78 yard drive on 11 plays with a Perkins 1 yard run for a Touchdown. Score: 21-20 Bruins. Troylets began their next drive by kneeling on a touchback in the endzone. The Trogan's offense came back out and served Kessler up for a couple big hits, ultimately going -8 yards on 3 plays before punting. Momentum was clearly on our side. But, on the next Bruin possession, our pass protection broke down and Rosen fumbled as he was hit by Claude Pelon who would scoop the ball up and take it to the house for a TD. Score: 26 - 21 Trogans. The Bruins' offense came back out looking for redemption, and managed only 33 yards on 5 lays before Rosen threw an interception that was returned to the USC 48 yard line. The Trogan offense came back out, and battled for every one of 52 yards on 8 plays including the final 20 yard stretched out TD catch. Score: 33 - 21 Trogans. The Bruin offense came back out and Perkins got things started with a 31 yard run to the 45. UCLA would go 57 ards on 6 plays before being stopped. Kaimi was brought out or a 47 yard FG which went left. And that ended the 3rd quarter. Score 33-21 Trogans.
The Trogan offense came back out and managed only 4 yards on 3 plays before punting. The UCLA offense came back out and managed -6 yards on 3 plays including an illegal forward lateral that ended the possession. The Troylet's offense took the field once more and moved methodically, going 68 yards on 11 plays and chewing up 6:46. The Bruins' offense came back out and was moving the ball well before Josh Rosen's 3rd turnover ended the drive. 32 yards on 3 plays. Ball was intercepted by Iman Marshall then fumbled, then recovered. The Trogan's offense took the field in high spirits with intent to run out the clock. It was not long before the Trogans called for the victory formation and run out the clock.
As gut wrenching as this game was to watch, the truth is we played well enough to win. Three plays in particular killed us: the Punt return for a TD, the fumble scoop for a TD, and the INT that ultimately set up their 3rd quarter touchdown. Two of those were gifts from the football gods. And, it's hard to win when you give up 13 points. (They would attempt a 2 point conversion and fail.) Outside of those miscues, the defense played well and at times was our only hope for winning this game.
The game was realistically lost in the 3rd quarter. After the two gimmes, our offense began to play uncharacteristically which led to further miscues like the Rosen attempt to avoid a sack by lateraling it as he went down. That possession was already ended, but the penalty did not help with field position. Later Josh made a bad read and threw it behind Payton which resulted in yet another interception. This was a result of 'trying to hard' and that's what happens when you play from behind.
Congratulations to the USC Trojans. They took care of the ball and made the most out of our mistakes. That's a winning combination in any contest.