Miscues resurface in USC football’s blowout loss to UCLA

The Trojans’ poor second-quarter defense gave the Bruins a lead they never relinquished.

A photo of USC safety Calen Bullock chasing after UCLA wide receiver Kyle Philips during the Nov. 20 football game

USC may have had an extra week to prepare for rival UCLA, but the same issues that plagued the Trojans through their first nine games defined Saturday’s crosstown duel. The Bruins emerged with a 62-33 victory, their first at the Coliseum since 2013.

UCLA’s 62 points were the most it has ever scored in the near-century-long rivalry.

Consider this pivotal sequence: UCLA led 14-10 midway through the second quarter, and USC had a chance to keep pace. But sophomore receiver Gary Bryant Jr. dropped a pass on third down, forcing a punt, and in the blink of an eye, UCLA redshirt junior running back Kazmeir Allen was taking a pass 58 yards to the house. These familiar miscues — dropped passes and explosive plays — made it 21-10, and the Bruins continued to pile it on.

UCLA totaled 609 yards of offense on 9.2 yards per play. The Bruins’ dynamic rushing attack loomed as the biggest threat entering the game, but USC’s secondary also faltered, giving up 349 yards to the Pac-12′s seventh-ranked passer in senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

“You name it,” Williams said when asked to identify USC’s defensive issues. “UCLA did a couple of things that maybe on film didn’t show up but at the same time, that’s what you have to expect out of a team coached by coach [Chip] Kelly. They’ll show some things schematically that are always different, especially when they play us, but at the same time there were way too many busted coverages.”

USC’s defensive performance made it difficult for its offense to keep pace. It didn’t help that USC was unable to capitalize on two early interceptions by Thompson-Robinson. Quarterback Jaxson Dart, who took over full starting responsibilities after junior Kedon Slovis suffered a leg injury, put together some solid drives to keep USC within striking distance, but the freshman also threw two picks, including one right at the goal line in the third quarter.

A bright spot for USC was Bryant, who despite his costly drop had nine catches for 161 yards and a touchdown. The Trojans have lacked a go-to target since junior Drake London broke his ankle Oct. 30 against Arizona, and Bryant showed the potential to fill that role.

The Trojans had the opportunity to make it a one-score game near the end of the third quarter, but a failed two-point conversion attempt and a subsequent 100-yard kickoff return by UCLA gave the Bruins a 16-point lead.

After that point, the game was never closer than two scores, marking USC’s fourth blowout loss at home this year.

USC’s veteran players expressed their exasperation with the trajectory of the season.

“It’s frustrating for us,” redshirt senior center Brett Neilon said. “We want to win and have a different outcome. And it’s especially frustrating because I feel like we can do it and we have the pieces and the talent to do it, but we just don’t. So it kind of feels like banging your head against the wall and not getting a different result.”

“Guys [are] not being accountable to one another, not playing with pride for this team, getting down and not being able to pick themselves back up,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa said. “It’s not the brand of football we want to play. It’s not the brand of football that is played here … It’s going to take some time to get it right, but once it’s right, we gotta get this place back to what it was.”

Now sitting at 4-6, USC must win both of its remaining games against BYU and Cal to be bowl-eligible. The Trojans host No. 14 BYU next Saturday and will look to be the first Pac-12 team to hand the Cougars a loss this season.

But the players are concerned with more than bowl eligibility. Figueroa stressed the importance of the remaining games for recruiting and retaining players and improving team culture.

“Knowing that these games are so vital to what this program is going to be in the near future is what’s going to drive me,” he said. “I hope it’s what’s going to drive other people in that locker room.”