UCLA football falls to No. 15 USC after last-minute Trojan touchdown
UCLA football lost to crosstown rival No. 15 USC in the final seconds Saturday night. Redshirt sophomore tight end Greg Dulcich (right) – who was in the endzone for the unsuccessful Hail Mary on the last play of the game – finished as the Bruins’ leading receiver with eight receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
|No. 15 USC||43|
By Jared Tay
Dec. 12, 2020 9:13 p.m.
This post was updated Dec. 12 at 9:49 p.m.
The Bruins were 43 seconds away from returning the Victory Bell to Westwood.
But for another year, the Victory Bell will remain cardinal.
After a 56-yard return on the Bruin kickoff in the final minute of the game, Trojan quarterback Kedon Slovis slung a pass toward his receiver Tyler Vaughns. In between two defenders, Vaughns went up to make the catch, and just like that, the Trojans were knocking on the Bruins’ door at their 8-yard line, down by just two points.
On first down and goal, Slovis hit his favorite target, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, in the left corner of the endzone, putting the Trojans up 43-38 over the Bruins.
With less than 30 seconds to go in the game, UCLA football (3-3) was unable to answer with another touchdown, losing to its crosstown rival for the second consecutive year and giving No. 15 USC (5-0) its fifth win of its undefeated season.
“Yeah, you know, this isn’t a normal game and this isn’t a normal loss,” said junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “This one hurts.”
The Bruins were outscored 20-3 in the fourth quarter after they had taken an 11-point lead into the locker room at halftime, and after they had outscored the Trojans 14-13 in the third quarter.
“Any time you lose it’s hard, and then especially when you lose a close game,” said coach Chip Kelly. “I think it’s difficult and it hurts. This group has got an unbelievable work ethic and an unbelievable camaraderie and commitment to each other and when you lose as a group like we lost tonight, it hurts.”
Despite the disparate scoreline in the final 15 minutes, UCLA had taken back the lead with 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter on what would be its second-to-last drive of the game.
Starting from their own 24, and down 36-35, the Bruins drove down the field on the back of big completions to redshirt sophomore tight end Greg Dulcich and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kyle Philips.
The Bruins reached field-goal range with the clock approaching one minute in regulation, and on just his third kick of his collegiate career, redshirt freshman kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira split the uprights to give UCLA a two-point lead. Less than a minute remained.
Until near the eight-minute mark in the fourth quarter, UCLA had led USC after jumping out to a two-touchdown advantage by the second quarter. At just over the halfway point in the final period, however, the Trojans had completed their comeback after Slovis found receiver Drake London for what was his second touchdown of the night.
“Obviously, I think Kedon Slovis is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation,” Kelly said. “I don’t think anybody thought we were going to come in here and shut them out, but it was a heavyweight fight and you’re just trading blows – they hit one and we hit one, we hit one and they hit one.”
As USC was driving in the redzone on that series, UCLA bailed the Trojan’s offense out of a third down and 10 situation after lining up offside. On the very next play, another Bruin lined up offside as Slovis and his offense approached closer to the endzone on back-to-back penalty flags.
In the second half, the Trojans’ ground attack began to take its toll on the Bruin defense, with USC’s lead back Vavae Malepeai racking up 110 yards from scrimmage on the game.
And, after the Trojans were held to 203 yards of total offense in the first half, Slovis went on to toss five touchdowns by the final whistle and 344 yards through the air.
Redshirt junior defensive back Quentin Lake, however, was a bright spot on the Bruins’ defense, logging one of the Bruins’ interceptions on the night – the other was made by junior defensive back Stephan Blaylock late in the third quarter.
“That game should have been ours, point-blank, period,” Lake said. “I think the main thing is, just don’t get complacent. We’ve got to finish.”
Lake was also responsible for a pass break up in the second quarter, preventing a Trojan touchdown that would have reduced the Bruin lead to seven in the early going.
Nonetheless, Lake said he saw positive signs from the UCLA defense that finished 2019 ranked last in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed per game.
“We were making a lot of plays in the first half and sometimes that can get to your head,” Lake said. “You think you’ve got the game in the palm of your hand, but obviously that wasn’t the case.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the UCLA running backs – redshirt senior Demetric Felton and graduate transfer Brittain Brown – rushed for 124 yards on 28 combined carries.
Thompson-Robinson contributed 50 yards to the ground game, but also logged 364 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Save for an interception in the second quarter, and another that was nearly returned for a touchdown in the fourth, Thompson-Robinson had a near-perfect game, going 30-for-36 on the night.
Thompson-Robinson and Dulcich linked up for numerous big plays on the night, and Dulcich’s 167 yards were a career-high for the redshirt sophomore.
“With (Dulcich), you guys know he’s my roommate and stuff so we have a wonderful connection,” Thompson-Robinson said. “He’s worked his tail off this whole offseason and continues to and it shows on the field.”
Twice in the second half, the Bruins opted to keep their punting team on the sideline. At the 1:44 mark in the third quarter and 4:18 mark in the fourth, UCLA opted to run the ball up the middle to keep its drive going.
Both times – once on a Felton carry and the other on a carry by redshirt freshman running back Keegan Jones – the Trojans snuffed out the play, receiving the ball at midfield.
Earlier in the third quarter, the Trojan offense was gifted another starting position at midfield, after freshman punter Luke Akers fumbled the football at the UCLA 31-yard line. USC would go on to capitalize on that mistake, scoring seven of their 33 second-half points on that ensuing series.
With the loss, the Bruins move back to .500 on the season and will face an opponent yet to be determined next weekend.
“I’d say (the locker room) was the quietest it’s ever been,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We know it’s going to hurt, obviously, but we’re excited to get back there Monday and work for next week.”