For the second year running, the Victory Bell and bragging rights in Los Angeles will stay in University Park just off the 10 Freeway, as USC rolled to an easy 36-14 victory over UCLA on a cool Saturday evening in Pasadena.
This is Jim Mora’s second consecutive loss to the red half of Los Angeles after winning his first three matchups. Clay Helton is now 2-0 as head coach of USC against the Bruins.
Saturday proved that the chasm between UCLA and USC is growing bigger and faster than the Metro expansion projects, and similarly to how there’s no rail line that goes to Westwood yet, the Bruins are getting left further and further behind.
Things started brightly for the Bruins. Jordan Lasley only had two catches on the night, but both went for touchdowns. Two minutes in, he took his first catch 56 yards to the house after he got inside leverage on a slant route against his Gardena Serra high school teammate Adoree Jackson. His second touchdown came early in the second quarter, when he hauled in a 7 yard toss from Mike Fafaul after giving Jackson the business again on a comeback and out-muscling him to haul it in.
Lasley’s second score put the Bruins ahead 14-7, and it would be the last time UCLA got close to scoring.
From there on out, it was demolition by the USC offense and strangulation by the USC defense.
USC dominated every facet of the game, running nearly double the amount of plays on offense (99) as the Bruins did (52) for nearly twice as many yards (502 to 266). The Bruins defense somehow kept USC to just 5 yards a play, but they were on the field for a staggering 43 minutes and 47 seconds out of a possible 60 minutes.
USC’s profligacy in and around the red zone and settling for field goals made the score line a lot more bearable than what it should have been.
Sam Darnold and the USC offense were nearly flawless. Time after time, Darnold’s mobility and ability to escape the pass rush allowed him to extend plays and scramble for extra yards. USC was excellent on third down, converting 12 of 21 opportunities, most of which came on backbreaking plays for the UCLA defense after it forced third and long. The Trojans also converted both of their 4th down opportunities.
Darnold’s only mistake was throwing an interception to Fabian Moreau, which was returned to the Trojan 9 yard line and set up Lasley’s second touchdown in the second quarter.
USC’s running game, which had been mostly overlooked during the team’s now 7 game winning streak with all of the attention on Darnold, dominated as well. Ronald Jones led the way and finished with 121 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns, the second of which went for 60 yards on a 3rd down and 1. As a team, the Trojans ran for 260 yards at 4.5 yards a carry.
The Trojan offensive line mauled the Bruins’ defensive front, which had been stout for the majority of the year. In defense of the defensive line, it’s hard to line up for play after play after play for three quarters of the game when your offense is being blanked time and time and time again.
On the other side of the ball, the UCLA offense did nothing of repute outside of Jordan Lasley. I’m really not being too facetious when saying that. After going up 14-7, UCLA went 3 and out four times and 5 and out two times and punted on all but 2 of its remaining possessions.
One of the two exceptions was a kneel down to end the first half. The other was a failed 4th down conversion.
Oh, and USC also blocked a JJ Molson field goal attempt in the first quarter when the score was still tied at 7.
After the first quarter, in which the Bruins gained 125 yards, the managed 141 for the remaining three quarters. After rushing for 47 in the first quarter, UCLA ended the game with 55 rushing yards after gaining 8 over the next three quarters.
That’s 24 feet in 45 minutes.
Losses to USC sting a little extra, but this one was downright painful given how disappointing this season has been. The dread of watching USC rise from its slumber is compounded by the swift demise Jim Mora’s program is currently undergoing.
The reaction from all parts of the Bruin fan base ranged from anger to sheepishness. A sampling:
Having to watch ANOTHER UCLA game after this one is just cruel and unusual punishment— David Woods (@daviddavidwoods) November 20, 2016
Oh well. We all deep down kind of expected this. OBVIOUSLY it hurts, but we all knew this would likely happen.— UCLA Nation (@UCLA_Nation) November 20, 2016
2016 needs to die.— Mike Regalado (@TheBigDisco) November 20, 2016
Former receiving great Jordan Payton summed it up succinctly:
Embarrassing.— Jordan Payton (@JordanPayton) November 20, 2016
Not all was lost, though. Tight end Caleb Wilson did dish out a sick burn to a USC fan trying to talk trash post game:
@CWilson__12 lol how'd that move across town work out for u??— Bangkok Buck (@tokyotrojan) November 20, 2016
Received a full ride scholarship, saved my parents $80,000 a semester. I think it worked out pretty well. https://t.co/FqCzZHa2wG— Caleb Wilson (@CWilson__12) November 20, 2016
For context, Wilson transferred to Westwood from University Park after his dad, who was on the Trojans coaching staff, took another job.
Remember, these are kids, ages 18-22, playing football and making money for universities while not getting paid, and we are adults who care too much and try to make fun of said kids for living their lives as best they can.
The 2016 season is mercifully almost over.
UCLA will take on Cal in Berkeley on Saturday in the battle for the state bronze medal between two 4-7 teams. No matter the result, even if UCLA ends up in a bowl game at 5-7 and wins that, this will be the worst UCLA season in the Jim Mora era by far. UCLA is 3-10 in its last 13 games against Power 5 schools dating back to last season, and it’s a stunning and demoralizing regression.
It feels like Jim Mora and company missed their shot to take control of Los Angeles while USC was down.
To be completely honest, I am too exasperated to think about the staff and personnel changes that Jim Mora will have to make starting next Sunday. You can make reasonable arguments for an entire overhaul of the offensive staff, as well as seriously question why the offensive line talent is so thin and the person in charge of coaching said talent is still on staff even after being tagged with an NCAA show-cause penalty.
There is so much that went wrong this season, and the inevitable hot seat talk that accompanies any disappointing season in college football is exhausting during the season. Let’s just let the team finish out the year and get one more win for the seniors against a rival.
After all, we only get 12 Saturdays of college football a year, maybe 13 or 14 if we’re lucky, and spending all of the time during those Saturdays talking about everything other than the football is frankly not that much fun. Bad football is still football.
I will end with this: I think it’s pretty foolish to think the UCLA administration will fire Jim Mora after this year. A 15 million dollar buyout, 4 consecutive winning seasons prior to this and 3 wins over USC carry a lot of weight with the decision makers in the Morgan Center. The administration also let the two previous football coaches and the last basketball coach hang around for at least a season longer than they all should have been allowed to do.
Those are not especially good reasons, nor is my listing of them a defense of the decision, but they are the reasons that will be cited. I would be shocked if Jim Mora is not the head coach of the UCLA going into 2017.
I would also be shocked if he didn’t overhaul his staff, especially on offense, in a huge way. If he doesn’t, it borders on insanity and doing the same thing over and over again, and he runs the risk of wasting Josh Rosen’s time in Westwood for good and falling further behind the team across town and the rest of the Pac-12.