UCLA triumphs over USC in rivalry game, returning Victory Bell to Westwood
Redshirt senior linebacker Darius Muasau rings the Victory Bell as the rest of his team celebrates UCLA football’s win over USC. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Nov. 18, 2023 5:32 p.m.
This post was updated on Nov. 19 at 9:35 p.m.
Ninety-three yards of turf stood between the Trojans and the Bruins’ end zone.
Buried deep in his own territory, coach Lincoln Riley called for a MarShawn Lloyd rush on USC’s first offensive play of the third quarter.
But instead of a four-yard run to set up second-and-6, the ball popped out of Lloyd’s hands, landing right in front of defensive back Alex Johnson.
Eleven yards of turf stood between the redshirt senior and the Trojans’ end zone.
Johnson collected the ball and waltzed past the goal line untouched, extending UCLA football’s (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) lead over USC (7-5, 5-4) to 18 after the Trojans’ third turnover of the day. The Bruins’ 28-10 advantage ballooned to 38-20 over the remaining quarter and a half of play, clinching a rivalry game win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and returning the Victory Bell to Westwood.
“We (coaches) don’t step across the field. We don’t ever get on the field,” said coach Chip Kelly. “It’s about them, and when you can see the joy on their faces. … That’s the fun part. Just to see the smiles on those kids’ faces because this team works.”
UCLA’s defense set up its offense in plus field position early, holding USC to just 12 plays and 27 yards across its first four drives. A turnover on downs to begin the game put the Bruins at the Trojans’ 48-yard line, with the seven-play drive culminating in a one-yard touchdown rush from sophomore running back T.J. Harden.
Two possessions later, the Bruins only needed to go 19 yards after a fumble by wide receiver Zachariah Branch gave UCLA the ball in the red zone. Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers and senior tight end Hudson Habermehl connected for their first of two touchdowns with a 14-yard completion to double the Bruins’ lead.
Habermehl said having Garbers back under center after missing last week due to injury was a boon for the team.
“It’s cool having him back because he’s one of the veterans on the team now, so he can take a leadership role and pick up the offense when we need to,” Habermehl said.
Quarterback Caleb Williams got the Trojans on the board in the beginning of the second quarter with a 74-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brenden Rice, cutting the Bruins’ lead in half on his lone score of the game.
While UCLA’s defense gave up 384 yards through the air, it held USC to just three net rushing yards, with the only other Trojan touchdown coming after they trailed by 25 with under four minutes to go.
“Their run defense and our inability to run the ball was a big part of it,” Riley said. “We did okay in the short passing game, but our run game certainly wasn’t good enough.”
Starting the second half with the ball, the Bruins drove 65 yards on 15 plays, with Harden recording his second touchdown of the game on a seven-yard reception. The Bruins’ starter, who had played behind junior Carson Steele for the bulk of the season, finished his day with 158 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
And just one offensive snap after the following kickoff, Johnson recorded the first touchdown of his collegiate career. Kelly said Johnson’s play was a turning point in the game.
“The way our defense was swarming and what they were doing at that point in time. That was a critical juncture for us,” Kelly said. “To get it to a three-score game gave us just a little more room where you can be a little more comfortable.”
Garbers and Habermehl had their second scoring connection on the ensuing drive to push UCLA’s score to 38. The next time Garbers saw the field, he was tasked only with handing the ball off before entering victory formation to end the contest.
Prior to the game, it was USC’s official escorts ringing the Victory Bell around the Coliseum’s concourse and on the field.
But when time expired, UCLA pulled the bell’s string, sending clangs through the stadium that won’t be unrung.
“Today was probably one of the better days of my life for sure,” Garbers said. “Had some dreams about this as a little kid. Just great to see, great to get the W.”