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UCLA football’s USC rivalry matchup carries conference championship implications

Redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson rushes down the field in a game against USC in 2021. Thompson-Robinson and No. 16 UCLA football will face off against No. 7 USC on Saturday. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Football


No. 7 USC
Saturday, 5 p.m.

Rose Bowl
FOX

By Jon Christon

Nov. 17, 2022 11:22 p.m.

The Victory Bell won’t be the only thing on the line Saturday.

With bragging rights, a potential spot in the Pac-12 championship game and even College Football Playoff implications at play, No. 16 UCLA football (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) will take on No. 7 USC (9-1, 7-1) in primetime at the Rose Bowl. It will mark the first time since 2014 that the Bruins and Trojans are both ranked for the crosstown rivalry matchup.

“There’s definitely a bitter feeling toward those guys across town,” said redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to go out there and win on Saturday.”

The bragging rights – and the aforementioned bell – currently reside in Westwood after UCLA’s 62-33 blowout victory over USC a year ago.

However, senior running back Zach Charbonnet said the Bruins aren’t using last year as motivation.

“It’s always a good thing being able to get the Bell, but that was last year,” Charbonnet said. “I’m not really looking at last year anymore.”

Like Charbonnet, USC isn’t looking at the past either.

After achieving their worst record in 30 years at 4-8 in 2021, the Trojans overhauled both their roster and their coaching staff in the offseason. The transformation began with the hire of coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, who brought with him his quarterback, Caleb Williams.

With Riley and Williams at the helm, USC sits atop the Pac-12 and serves as the conference’s only chance at a CFP berth.

Coach Chip Kelly said stopping Williams – who tops the conference in passing touchdowns with 31 and is one of four quarterbacks in the country with at least 3,000 passing yards and 250 rushing yards – will be the key to the game.

“It’s a quarterback-driven offense, and he’s such a good football player,” Kelly said. “He can generate things with his legs as well as his arm, and I think it’s that versatility at the quarterback position that’s a concern for everybody that’s played against them.”

While Williams will be treading in uncharted territory Saturday in his first crosstown rivalry matchup, Thompson-Robinson represents the aged veteran. The 92nd edition of the rivalry will be his fifth matchup versus USC as a member of the blue and gold and his fourth as the team’s starting quarterback.

In three starts against the Trojans, Thompson-Robinson has thrown for over 1,000 yards and scored 14 total touchdowns. He found paydirt six times in the win over USC a year ago.

“I obviously know what’s at stake,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We hate those guys across town.”

Not only will it be Thompson-Robinson’s fifth and final game against USC on Saturday, but it could also be his last contest at the Rose Bowl. He will participate in Senior Day festivities before the game with his collegiate eligibility exhausted this year.

Saturday will be Thompson-Robinson’s third time facing off against Riley, dating back to UCLA’s home-and-home series against Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019.

Riley said he remembers matching up against the now-redshirt senior quarterback four years ago when Thompson-Robinson was making his first career start against the Sooners.

“He had to have been 15 at the time,” Riley said. “He’s a really good player. You could tell he has some ability there at a young age. … It’s kind of fun, I’ve seen the beginning (of his career), and now I’m seeing a little bit of the end.”

But despite Saturday being Thompson-Robinson’s last home regular-season game, another contest in Pasadena is not out of the question.

UCLA is currently tied for fourth place in the conference with Washington. A win would move the Bruins to third and keep them alive for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. A loss, however, would eliminate the Bruins from championship contention and thus from earning a shot at the Rose Bowl.

Despite the long odds, Thompson-Robinson is confident he’ll get another chance to make memories at the Rose Bowl.

“It’s been such a ride from when I first got here to this being almost my last home game here,” Thompson-Robinson said. “It’s been special.”

UCLA will kick off against USC at 5 p.m. Saturday night.

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Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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