The No. 11 USC Trojans football team (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) concluded their regular season with a 28-23 win over their crosstown-rival the UCLA Bruins (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12). This is the third year in a row that the Victory Bell will stay painted cardinal in USC’s possession.
"Credit to UCLA," head coach Clay Helton said. "I thought that was a hard-fought game, and it was really cool to see those kids and coaches come together out of just pure respect for each other for a really hard-fought game."
USC drew first blood with a 72-yard trick-play punt return. After the Trojans held the Bruins deep into their own zone, the Bruins elected to punt the football. Everyone in the stadium followed the play going towards Ajene Harris. Harris dropped into a stance to receive the ball, but the ball never fell from the sky. The ball landed on the other side of the field in the hands of Michael Pittman Jr. He would take it 72-yards to the house to grant the Trojans the 7-0 lead early into the matchup.
“It’s something we practice each and every year,” Helton said. “Coach Baxter and the punt team had it set up perfectly. All we needed was a good kick and it was executed perfectly and gave us an early spark in the game.”
USC never trailed in the matchup. Trojans’ redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold tallied 264 passing yards and a passing and rushing touchdown. At Darnold’s side, tailback Ronald Jones II earned 122 yards on the ground and put up two touchdowns for the Trojans’ offense. Jones is now just eight yards shy of tying O.J. Simpson as the 5th-best in career rushing yards at USC.
If there is a criticism of this USC team, it would have to be their consistency. It felt as if there was a switch that controlled whether or not the Trojans will play with the intensity and creativity, we saw with plays like the trick-play punt return and Darnold’s rushing touchdown, or the sloppiness of plays like the fourth down interception near the end of the first half. On the other hand, Helton was satisfied with his defense’s performance.
“We are fortunate that we went into the game saying that we had to play our best to win… We saw that against Arizona State that [UCLA’s] offense was hitting on all cylinders,” Helton said. “And I thought our defense did a really great job of bending and not breaking and really creating some huge turnovers.”
One of the biggest battles for USC in their final matchup was their own schedule. The Trojans’ 2017 schedule had their bye week placed in Week 13, which meant they had 12 consecutive games.
“I’ve never played 12 games in a row in my life,” junior linebacker Cameron Smith said. “We battled so much through the season to finish 10-2 is huge for us. It’s a huge accomplishment for our guys and Coach Helton. I couldn’t be [happier] right now.”
The Trojans have a bye week next week but will play in the Pac-12 Championship game on December 1st against most likely either Washington State or Stanford.