LOS ANGELES — The USC Trojans entered the game with a chance to finish the year strong but had a poor start against the UCLA Bruins and could never recover. Despite it being Caleb Williams’ birthday, the Heisman Trophy winner lost in his last game at the Coliseum in what could be his last game as a Trojan.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
With a sluggish beginning, USC couldn’t respond
The first half was not pretty, despite Williams celebrating his birthday on the field. The offense only managed to score seven points, and had one interception and one fumble.
The rivalry between the two Los Angeles football teams had generated excitement throughout the city. However, both teams have not performed up to their expected standards early in the season. After recovering from an injury, UCLA QB Ethan Garbers returned as the starter against USC. He looked sharp on offense, completing 9 out of 16 passes for 81 yards and one touchdown. Bruins RB T.J Harden was on fire in the first half at the Coliseum, scoring a touchdown in the first quarter to give UCLA a 7-0 lead.
USC was held scoreless in the first quarter for the second time this season. The other time was against Arizona at the Coliseum.
Both sides of the Trojans’ team seemed off, allowing the Bruins to take an early 14-0 lead. The birthday kid played a great game, completing 20 out of 28 throws for 269 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the first half. However, It’s hard to deny that he’s been one of the most electrifying players in college football.
Brenden Rice, the wide receiver for USC, was the star player in the first half of the game, making six catches and scoring one touchdown for 74 yards. This put the Trojans on the scoreboard with a score of 14-7. Rice has been performing exceptionally well throughout the season for the Trojans, and his father, Jerry Rice, was also present at the game to witness his outstanding performance.
The Trojans’ offense converted only three out of seven third-down attempts and failed to convert their only fourth-down try. Today’s coaching staff’s performance was insufficient to keep the Trojans competitive. Looking at the players, they seemed like they needed to prepare to face an aggressive defense and couldn’t run the ball effectively throughout the game.
The USC defense could not contain the UCLA offense in the third quarter, allowing 17 points after holding them scoreless in the second quarter. Bruins running back T.J. Harden had a career night, rushing for 144 yards and scoring one 58-yard touchdown in their win over the Trojans. Garbers completed 18 out of 31 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns.
USC lost to the Bruins 38-20, bringing their record to 7-5 with a conference record of 5-4. Meanwhile, UCLA improved their record to 7-4 with a conference record of 4-4 in the Pac-12. USC had won 18 out of the last 25 games against UCLA, including 10 of the previous 13 games played at the Coliseum. The Trojans scored 20 points in the game, matching their season low from their game against Notre Dame. This was also the lowest number of points they had scored against UCLA since their 38-20 loss in 2014.
In the fourth quarter, Austin Jones scored a 7-yard rushing touchdown, which was only the third rushing touchdown allowed by UCLA this season. USC had a rough time on the ground, with only three rushing yards on 22 attempts, making it the least number of yards by the Trojans in a game since their -5 yards rushing against Texas in 2018. Furthermore, the loss to UCLA marks USC’s third consecutive home loss since 2021.
What needs to change for this USC program?
After taking over the USC program last season, Lincoln Riley faced the challenge of turning around a historically unsuccessful team. Despite losing two challenging games to Utah, the Trojans attained an impressive 11-1 record last season. Caleb Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy last year, surprised many by returning to play for USC instead of heading to the NFL, which is uncommon for Heisman winners. This decision was a testament to his unique character and dedication to the team.
Coach Riley was displeased after the game as UCLA scored 38 points at the Coliseum.
“Very, very disappointing.” said Riley. “I’m gonna fight my ass off in every single way to make sure this thing gets to where it needs to be.”
The Trojans had a solid start to the season, winning their first six games. However, they faced tougher competition and struggled, losing five of their next six games. Their only victory during that stretch came in a last-second win against Cal. While the team had various issues, the defense was remarkably inconsistent, leading to head coach Riley firing his friend, Alex Grinch, though it was late in the season. After the game, Riley was asked about USC’s performance in the season’s final six games.
“I clearly haven’t done a good enough job in the second half of the season getting us ready to go.”
After USC’s loss to Washington, Grinch was fired and replaced by two interim defensive coaches. Although the defense improved slightly in the following games, . USC expected an immediate improvement, but it did not materialize. In the game against Washington, USC’s defense allowed 52 points, which led to Grinch’s firing. In the subsequent games, Oregon put 36 points on USC, and UCLA scored 38 points in their victory over USC on Saturday.
Soon, there will be a new defensive coordinator. Jamil Muhammad was asked about what the new coach should do to improve the team’s defense.
“You’ll have to ask him.” said Muhammad.
Riley discussed potential program changes after a disappointing season.
“The reality is, there’s gonna be things to fix and like i’ve said a few times, you go change three plays this year, and we’ve probably won three more games.”
The Trojans struggled to keep possession of the ball, committing three turnovers in the game. This is only the second game this season where they have had more than one turnover. As Coach Riley discussed their close calls this season, he took full responsibility for his team’s performance.
The end for Caleb Williams as Trojan?
Caleb Williams celebrated his 22nd birthday today as he took the field for what could be his last game in a USC uniform. Williams had an impressive performance, finishing with 384 passing yards – the second most in a game this season, with his highest being 403 at Colorado. He has accumulated 3,633 passing yards this season, putting him in sixth place on USC’s list of single-season passing leaders. Last season, he set the USC single-season record with 4,537 yards. Williams has a combined total of 8,170 yards in his first two seasons at USC, which ranks him 7th on USC’s career passing leaders list. As of today’s game, he is the FBS leader in touchdowns with 40, and he added one more touchdown to his tally on Saturday.
It was pretty intriguing to see what happened after the game when a spokesperson for USC announced that Caleb Williams had chosen not to speak to the media following the team’s loss to UCLA. The USC program should have intervened and made Williams speak, especially considering this might have been his last game.
Williams has been the leading figure of this program for the past two seasons. However, we have had to deal with Williams’ reluctance to participate in post-game press conferences this year. Approximately a month ago, USC did not make any players available to the media after a game, a break from their tradition of doing so for over two decades.
After the game, Coach Riley shared his thoughts on what Williams has meant to USC since Williams was available for comments.
“He’s done a lot, like a lot of these guys have here. And he came here and took a chance on this place and took a chance on being a part of restarting this program, and getting it going.”
Many people anticipate that he will leave for the NFL after the season, but I believe he may decide to stay for another year, especially after the way the season ended. Most players need to join the NFL to change their lives, but Williams has already experienced a life-changing event by being with USC for the past two seasons. I have spent time around Williams for the last few months since the season began, and I have never sensed that he is sure he will enter the NFL Draft.
Riley reiterated his thoughts on Williams’ finishing record for this season, stating that he believes it will be 7-5.
“He’s obviously been a really good player for us, a really good leader for us- like a lot of guys have in that locker room. He’s a special player, a special competitor and obviously we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Riley’s team has experienced both highs and lows during this season. However, he is not ready to end this chapter yet as there’s still one game left to play. Unfortunately, he’s uncertain about the availability of some players for the bowl game.
“I don’t know that i want to sum it up. We have one more game left with these guys. I’m disappointed in today. We’ll sum it up when it’s all over.”
Over the course of the past six games, the USC team has experienced a significant setback, losing five games and winning only one. This losing streak has taken a toll on the players, leading to emotional exhaustion and frustration. Despite these challenges, Coach Riley has expressed optimism and a belief that the team has the potential to bounce back and improve in the future.