For UCLA redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, it started with a promise of 60 points, sideline taunts and post-play shoulder checks. Then came the turnovers — four of them — the last of which ensured the Victory Bell will be receiving a new, cardinal coat of paint.
No. 7 USC came from behind to top No. 16 UCLA 48-45 Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Trailing by as many as 14 points, the Trojans found the end zone on four of their final five drives to take the Crosstown Showdown and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
“There’s going to be a lot of momentum swings, and you have to be able to ride the wave,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley said after the game. “Honestly, too many examples to list of that. Just both sides of the ball kind of battling back when we weren’t at our best.”
After a scoreless first quarter that saw a failed fourth-down conversion, a missed field goal and an interception, the USC offense finally broke through on the ground in the second frame.
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams got USC on the board with a 6-yard scamper less than four minutes into the second quarter. It was the Trojans’ first successful trip inside the UCLA 30-yard line after coming up empty on their first two.
Williams’ backfield partner, senior running back Austin Jones, received the bulk of the carries stepping in for the injured Travis Dye, churning for a game-high 120 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. His first score came on an eight-yard dive with 1:42 to play in the first half, sparking a 24-point run by the Trojan offense only stained by a UCLA field goal.
That run culminated with Jones’ second touchdown, a two-yard plunge midway through the third quarter that put USC ahead by 10 points — the Trojans never trailed again.
“There’s not one person in that locker room surprised about the way he plays,” Riley said of Jones. “He was huge … He’s another great example of the unselfishness of this team.”
Williams finished the night with 503 total yards and three touchdowns — two through the air and one on the ground. His first touchdown toss of the night didn’t come until the 8:50 mark in the third quarter, a 35-yard connection with junior wide receiver Jordan Addison to put USC ahead 27-24 — its first lead of the night.
In his second game back from injury, Addison racked up a game-high 178 receiving yards on 11 catches — more than double all other receivers on the night.
“After [Addison] scored I said, ‘Welcome back. Glad to have you,’” Williams said. “We’ve got guys that have stepped up in other big games … It’s awesome having these guys out here.”
On the other side, Thompson-Robinson finished the night with 309 passing yards — the only Bruin to eclipse the 300 mark against USC four times — to go along with 81 yards with his feet. UCLA’s signal caller tallied six total touchdowns, matching his mark from a season ago, but it’s his mistakes that will define his performance in the 2022 edition.
Trailing for the first time all night, the UCLA offense managed just two yards before Thompson-Robinson coughed the ball up on a sack from senior defensive lineman Tyrone Taleni. Sophomore defensive back Latrell McCutchin corralled it at the UCLA 9-yard line, and the Trojans went ahead 34-24 two plays later on Jones’ second touchdown of the night.
That fumble was Thompson-Robinson’s third giveaway of the night, and it gifted the Trojans with the lead they never relinquished. That fate was sealed with the redshirt senior’s fourth turnover — an interception from sophomore edge Korey Foreman with 1:26 left to play.
“It was really cool for him,” Riley said of Foreman’s interception. “You just never know when it’s going to be your moment, and he was ready. He dropped back and made a great play on the ball.”
Foreman’s takeaway sends USC back to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second time in the last three seasons. The triumph at the Rose Bowl also clinches the Trojans’ first 10-win season since 2016, a campaign that ended with a victory at the very same venue.
With No. 5 Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina earlier today, USC likely controls its own destiny to make its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff with two games left to play. The first of those last two hurdles will be the Trojans’ regular season finale against No. 18 Notre Dame at the Coliseum Nov. 26.