Tied 14-14 with 11:07 left in the second quarter, USC had themselves a real fighter's chance against UCLA. At least it felt that way until UCLA exhibited its dominance over the second-fiddle USC Trojans.
Both teams exchanged sloppy turnovers and the Crosstown Showdown finally settled into a watchable, entertaining and competitive football game for Los Angeles supremacy. What transpired, kickstarted by Cody Kessler's fourth interception of the season, was downright embarrassing as USC lost its third straight game to UCLA.
While USC won the battle for field position and time of possession, the UCLA Bruins dominated in between the trenches and in the explosive play category, torching Justin Wilcox's defense for 461 yards of total offense. Led by a strong effort from Brett Hundley, completing 22-of-31 passes for 326 yards right through the SC defense.
It was a simple approach, to be honest. UCLA picked apart the Trojans on the perimeter, mixing in short bubble screen passes and swing routes for 10-plus yard plays with ease. Devin Fuller (5 for 63), Mossi Johnson (5 for 60) and Jordan Payton (3 for 31) made their presence felt, but it was the big plays from Thomas Duarte, Devin Lucien and Eldridge Massington that capped the scoring barrage for Noel Mazzone's offense.
Hundley did not have to do that much, mostly due to an impressive pass protection that gave him plenty of time to pick apart the USC secondary. Undermanned as it was, and the return of senior corner Josh Shaw was very limited and inconsequential on the final impact, The Trojans looked overmatched from the very start.
USC made some adjustments, shifting Josh Shaw in on Jordan Payton and bringing safety help over the top for Adoree' Jackson. But that wasn't enough, not nearly enough, especially in the second half. UCLA got the football to start the half, leading 24-17, and went right down the field for a quick strike (a nine-play, 84-yard drive to be exact). If that wasn't enough, the Trojans then punted the ball back on three plays, forced by another UCLA sack up the middle, and the Bruins responded with an 11-play drive, prompted by a Leonard Williams' penalty, to put the game out of reach.
Ughh gosh darn't, that game really hurts. You'd think USC would come out of the second half, backs against the wall, with some spark on the offensive side of the ball. What ensued was a mad dash chasing Cody Kessler. The Trojan quarterback was punished with relentless pressure and air-tight coverage.
USC finished with 104 yards rushing but that was hardly the full picture of the maligned running game. USC averaged just over two yards per carry through three quarters, which made any success rather mute. UCLA continued to pound the rock, finishing hte night with 43 carries, slicing through the defense for a four-yard average from Paul Perkins.
On the bright side, Buck Allen finished with over 100 yards of total offense for the 10th time this season. USC won a fourth quarter, mostly by default, and the penalties were few and far between in the first half. That said, the Trojans were outplayed, out-coached and not prepared to win an elimination game in the loaded Pac-12.