6-Points: USC 43, UCLA 38
No fans. No real stakes. And yet, USC and UCLA created a Crosstown Showdown to remember for a rivalry that is only getting hotter as both programs continue to ascend. The Bruins put the Trojans in a 28-10 hole, but for the third time in five games, USC won it on a touchdown drive in the dying seconds. "The entire second half, I never saw one kid let up," head coach Clay Helton said. "And down the stretch, [we] just made play after play after play. Great college football game."
The Play of Plays
In a game that had too many memorable plays to remember, freshman Gary Bryant Jr. delivered the biggest one. The Trojans were down, 38-36, with 52 seconds left and no timeouts when he changed the odds by returning the kickoff 56 yards. "It started with Gary Bryant," Helton said. "We finally got a pitch to hit in the kickoff return game and what a big play that was to get it across the 50." It was only Bryant's third kickoff return of his career.
Once the Trojans took over in UCLA territory, Kedon Slovis went for the kill. On the first play, he audibled to a deep shot to Tyler Vaughns, who made a ridiculous catch over two defenders. And then despite a run being called from the sideline, Slovis checked to the game-winning touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown. "He's got the courage of a damn lion," Helton said about Slovis. The sophomore threw for 344 yards and 5 TDs, and he shared a lighthearted moment with Helton about his heart-stopping call. "I probably gave Coach Helton a bit of a tough time, but it worked out for us," Slovis laughed.
The USC defense was not itself in the first half, sliding off tackles and getting punched in the mouth by the Bruins run game. "We just had to come in and make adjustments," Talanoa Hufanga said. "Our coaches preach, 'No excuses, just adjustments.' Come out here and make plays." And that's exactly what they did in the second half. Hufanga made 17 tackles, the most in a game by a Trojan since Hufanga had 18 tackles against UCLA last year. He also intercepted a pass for the fourth consecutive game and forced a fumble. The Trojans combined for 11 tackles-for-loss, including 2.5 by Drake Jackson and 2 by Hufanga.
For whatever reason, the Trojans came out flat. They fell behind quickly, 14-0, when sophomore WR Drake London delivered the ultimate wake up call, carrying half the UCLA defense into the end zone with him on a 65-yard catch-and-run. Still though, UCLA recovered, and the Bruins had a 28-10 lead when Vaughns flipped the momentum again with a diving 38-yard touchdown grab to cap a drive that featured him throughout. "I felt offensively that we weren't playing terribly, but we didn't have any juice to us," Slovis explained. "The pressure to score kind of got us going a little bit."
With Colorado's loss earlier in the day, the Trojans had already secured the Pac-12 South before kickoff. USC will host Washington on Friday evening (4 p.m. kick) at the Coliseum. No, wait a minute, USC may host Oregon on Friday. The Huskies have the right of way, but if they cannot clear Covid in time, the Pac-12 will turn to the Ducks to take on the Trojans. "We're going to have to prepare for two teams," Helton said. "We'll see who we get and we'll go put the ball down and play."