Takeaways from USC’s victory over UCLA
Exactly 367 days ago, USC suffered its worst defeat to UCLA in rivalry game history, a stunning 62-33 loss at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was the second of four games the Trojans would lose in a row to close the season.
A week after that loss to the Bruins, Lincoln Riley was named head coach. A year later, USC is in a position many could not have imagined — a spot clinched in the Pac-12 Championship game.
“If you would have told me at the end of last season that I’d be here now with this group of guys and be able to go play for a championship I’d call you a dead liar,” said redshirt junior wide receiver Kyle Ford.
Well, it’s come true for the Trojans. A year after going 4-8, No. 5 USC is 10-1 and in its first conference championship game in a full season since 2017. All it took was a wild 48-45 victory against No. 17 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Here are four takeaways from the game.
Potential career-altering play from Korey Foreman
The Trojans announced sophomore edge Korey Foreman’s commitment to USC in 2021 with a billboard near the 110 freeway. It was a bold move but warranted for someone who is the third-highest player to ever commit to USC, according to 247 Sports. Since then, Foreman’s Trojan career has been up and down.
He had 2.5 sacks last season and has none this year. He even played no snaps against Oregon State in September, even though he was fully healthy. Riley mentioned last month, however, that Foreman was on the cusp of making an impact on the field.
Almost exactly one month after that quote, Foreman made the biggest play of the game Saturday, intercepting UCLA’s redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to seal USC’s victory.
“I can’t thank this team enough because they put me in that situation,” Foreman said. “I thank everybody for allowing me to just, man, I’m blessed to be in the position I am right now.”
Before the interception, Foreman was pacing back and forth on the sidelines saying to himself a play had to be made “right here, right now.”
It’s a moment that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said they were waiting for, one that could serve as a catalyst for the former No. 1 recruit. Unleashing Foreman’s potential in the final month of the season can make a huge difference for the Trojans.
He shared a moment on the field with Riley too, proving the head coach’s comments true from a month ago.
“Excited for Korey. He’s worked hard behind the scenes and a great example of don’t worry about any outside expectations or what other people think, it doesn’t matter, you just keep working, improving and good things happen,” Riley said. “And he’s done a great job of that.”
Caleb Williams has his Heisman moment
With three more weeks remaining until Heisman voting is due, sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams might have had his moment.
He threw for a career-high 472 yards on a season-high 74.4% completion rate for 2 touchdowns in the air and one on the ground. Time and time again he made key plays to keep USC alive. Nine receivers had a reception too, a testament to the quarterback’s ability to spread the wealth.
He did, however, throw his third interception of the season. But it was just a thorn in a seemingly flawless game at the Rose Bowl, as Williams’ play propelled the Trojans to victory.
“He’s been one of the best players in the country this year,” Riley said. “He’s played really well.”
After his spectacular game, Williams is now the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman award.
And it wasn’t just what he was doing on the field that made an impact. On the sidelines, Williams was staying loose, dancing in moments of crisis, something that kept the team comfortable with their backs against the wall.
His leadership was on full display Saturday night.
“He’s a competitor. He’s so confident in himself but it doesn’t come off in a cocky way and I think he really knows how to rally the guys and make everyone comfortable,” redshirt senior center Brett Neilon said. “He just believes in this team and he believes in himself.”
Williams’ 503 total yards were also the most anyone has ever had in 92 meetings between the crosstown rivals.
Austin Jones fills in nicely for Travis Dye
After a season-ending injury for redshirt senior running back Travis Dye, it became evident the running back room would look completely different.
Senior running back Austin Jones stepped in as the no. 1 back leading the team in carries with 11 on Saturday. He racked up a season-high of 120 yards rushing and 57 yards receiving. Jones provided a reliant attack on the ground with consistency carrying the ball.
Even though he fell down in the depth chart as the season progressed, the veteran running back stayed ready, making the most of his opportunity when it counted.
“He was huge, but like exactly what we expected him to be, exactly what he has been,” Riley said. “There’s not one person in that locker room surprised about the way he plays.”
Defense limits UCLA’s rushing attack
Going into Saturday night, Bruins senior running back Zach Charbonnet ran for over 100 yards in seven of UCLA’s eight games. USC allows over 140 rushing yards per game, making the case that Charbonnet would easily continue that streak.
He didn’t though, running for just 95 yards on 5 yards per carry — his lowest total of the season. UCLA as a whole typically averages the sixth most rushing yards per game at 238. But, the Bruins ran for 204 yards, their lowest total since playing Oregon.
Grinch joked the key to stopping Charbonnet was one word: “Tuli [Tuipoluto].”
“Trying to move him around and try to have an impact. And so it kind of hit a few times and [we] kind of stuck with that,” Grinch said. “So that was critical.”
A defense that was struggling to stop the run did exactly that for the most part, a potential confidence booster going into the final weeks of the season. It won’t get easier down the stretch with Notre Dame and potentially Oregon, Utah or Washington in the conference championship game.