Game 551: USC outlasts crosstown rival UCLA for cherished Victory Bell, 28-23
Los Angeles – The No. 12 Trojans of Southern Cal defeated crosstown rival UCLA, 28-23, in a game for nothing much more than for pride for their 47th victory in the 85th “official” meeting of this rivalry in our Game 551 (two Trojan wins were vacated in 2004 and 2005). For that and for the Victory Bell Trophy that the Bruins have not enjoyed the pleasure of taking home over the last 19 years. The Trojans (10-2,8-1) move on as the PAC 12 South champs on December 2 while Bruins (5-6, 3-5) still need one more victory for bowl eligibility. Bruin QB Josh Rosen out-passed USC counterpart Sam Darnold 451 yards to 264 yards, but SC’s ground game outgaining the UCLAns and Darnold’s ability to move his team when they needed inspiration the most made the difference in the final outcome. Neither QB played exceptionally well today as both are considered top prospects for April’s pro draft. Neither team really impressed, but it turned out to be a somewhat competitive game.
Glad to finally add this great rivalry to our history
For Collegefootballfan.com, Game 551 lived up to our expectations for our first experience in person attending a game at the LA Memorial Coliseum, the 140th venue at which we’ve attended a college football game. Traveler the Trojan Horse, “Fight on!”, home jerseys on both teams, the Olympic torch at the venerable Coliseum, and the USC Song Girls made the long flights across the country and back worthwhile. Although I do have to say I appreciated my seat atop the UCLA student section because I found I preferred the UCLA cheerleaders over the famed USC Songstresses. Also staying with my Boonton (NJ) HS classmate and Emmy Award Winner Jim Lewis and his beautiful wife Judy and their son Danny, and meeting up with my niece Emily and her boyfriend Tommy at “LA Live!” made the trip enjoyable and memorable as well.
The two teams played as equals through much of this game statistically in time of possession, turnovers, and total yards. However, effective deception put the Trojans in the early lead. UCLA punted from its 24. Stefan Flintoft’s punt sailed down to the right sideline. All but one SC player moved to field the ball to the left sideline and the Bruins took the bait. Trojan Mike Pittman fielded the punt on the right almost stepping out where only two Bruin defenders including the punter tracked the ball. Two blockers took them out and Pittman cruised 72 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Never saw anything like it. UCLA responded more conventionally. Rosen completed a pass 40 yards to Jordan Lasley (10 catches for 204 yards, three TDs) to get to SC’s 28. At the SC 13, the two hooked up again on the left side of the end zone to tie it up, 7-7. USC TB Ronald Jones II returned the ensuing kickoff out to the 44. He finished off the drive with a two-yard TD run to give SC a 14-7 lead heading into the second period.
The second period of game 551 went scoreless, but not without either side having chances to score. The Bruins came up short on a 47-yard FG. Bruin DB Jadeel Wadood picked off a Sam Darnold pass near the end zone and started UCLA from the six after a 15-yard penalty. UCLA’s subsequent drive resulted in a sack and a fumble by Rosen recovered by ILB John Houston JR to put SC on its 40. The Trojans used up all their time-outs and Darnold picked up nine yards to the Bruin 14-yard line as time expired to end the half with neither team changing the scoreboard.
Worth the trip for CFF.com
I couldn’t come up with any tailgate plans for this game though I contacted friends with LA connections, but my niece Emily suggested that she could meet me for lunch at the Yard House at LA Live! for lunch and beers. The place was packed with more LA King fans than college football fans for a 1 pm face off when we got there. It worked out great though driving down from Jim and Judy’s in Burbank to LA Live which is near the Staples Center and other sporting attractions. The Coliseum is located a little over two miles just south of there on a straight shot down Figueroa. I considered taking the convenient Metro North bus line, but the walk was flat, straight, and safe and I needed the exercise besides after my long flights traveled and the two-and-a-half hour drive in the LA traffic congestion the day before from John Wayne Airport to Burbank. Once down in the Exposition area near USC’s campus, I walked among the USC throngs priming for the rivalry. Despite facing a crosstown foe, they significantly outnumbered the Bruin fans interspersed throughout. I wandered about looking for ticket deals, but found none worthwhile.
I got a real ticket, took a trip into the soon to be refurbished stadium, found no beer, settled on lemonade after my walk, and went to my seat in row 69 where my legs dangled in the walkway around the stadium to soak in the atmosphere and traditions as kickoff neared at 5 pm PST. I moved down one row eventually since people constantly walked in front of row 69 blocking my view and ruining my much appreciated sight line. Wearing my dark blue 119 jersey commemorating “seeing ‘em all” for Game 551, I was glad to find myself appropriately seated atop the UCLA student seats where I could cheer along for the upset I wanted. Even better, I got a great sight line, especially through my binoculars, above the very fine UCLA cheerleading squad. I got a lot of great photo ops as you will see here.
Troy maintains the upper hand
UCLA received the second half kick and drove until S Marvell Tell III picked off Rosen in the end zone and returned the ball out to the 27. Rosen (32 for 52, 421 yards, three TDS) out-passed Darnold, but he could not finish off key drives in the end zone as could his rival to get his team a leg up in this game. USC sacked him on consecutive plays during his next possession forcing the Bruins to punt from their 15. The Trojans started at the 44, and Darnold’s eventual two-yard run put Troy up, 21-7. The Bruins heeded their wake-up call. Rosen led the powder-blue clad visitors 79 yards to pay dirt with an 11-yard scoring pass to Lasley for their second TD drawing back to within seven.
The Bruins started Q4 within striking distance, and forced the Trojans to punt at their 48. Their next drive starting from their 14 for six fizzled at the Trojan nine resulting in a 26-yard FG by JJ Molson (from Canada appropriately). Unlike Rosen, Darnold knew how to spark a sense of urgency into his teammates when they needed to score. He led Troy on a 90-yard TD drive as TB Ronald Jones II (122 yards on 28 carries, two TDs ) broke over from the two for a 28-17 lead with 5:19 left. UCLA fans hoped to see Rosen show leadership now to bring his team back to upset the Trojans with their eyes possibly focused ahead to their date for a PAC-12 championship. However, USC HC Clay Helton seemed to have his team well prepared to face this bitter rival in a game for nothing more than pride. Having a week off before the PAC-12 Championship probably helped his cause.
With a 15-yard penalty setting the Bruins back to the 39 after a good kickoff return, Rosen led his team to within five with a 27-yard pass to Lasley for their third score though the air. A pass attempt into the end zone for two failed. The Bruins would need another TD to pull off the upset. Recovering the onsides attempt, SC started from their 49 with 2:36 remaining. The Bruins would have to get a three and out at best with only two time-outs left. After using both, SC converted a first on a third and one. Game over, closer than most expected despite a classic rivalry, 28-23.
Collegefootballfan.com was greatly satisfied in having the opportunity to add this historic, traditional rivalry as our game 551 to our list of other such rivalries attended over the 39 years of this great and unique adventure. It was good timing on our part also as this will be the last game to be played by the Trojans before refurbishing the LA Memorial Coliseum will take place starting in early 2018 to modernize the venerable facility for the 2019 season. USC vs. Notre Dame is on our wish list, so maybe we’ll do it here.
USC will play the winner of the North Division to be determined next week for the PAC 12 championship on December 2. They have a long shot chance to make the CFP ranked now at No. 11. Former HC Tom Mora’s UCLA team hosts the Cal Bears next week still trying to get the sixth win for bowl eligibility. Mora was fired on Sunday. OC Jedd Fisch takes over for him. The Bruins continue to slip in this most local of rivalries having lost 15 of the past 19 encounters with the Trojans. CFF.com heads to College Park, Maryland to tailgate and to see the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-2) on the road against the Maryland Terps (4-7,2-6). We hoped this game would be a celebration of the Lions winning the Big Ten East, but it should still be a great tailgate.
Points After Traveling
My flight got delayed on Sunday that would have missed my connection to Chicago. I ended up taking a red-eye flight to get home late Monday morning. Luckily, I had taken a vacation day. Through all the agony of traveling, I looked forward to posting these pictures below of Game 551.