For the third time in four years, the Southern Cal defense scored a touchdown against UCLA. This time, the offense wasn’t nearly powerful enough to overcome its mistakes, and the Bruins lost their third straight Pac-12 South Division championship game. It will be a long winter.
As always, we use:
- Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency
- Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness
- Points Per Drive to measure scoring
- Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure drive finishing
- Field Position Margin to measure field position
- Turnover Margin to measure turnovers
If you’re the type to ascribe blame to only one side of the ball, then the Bruin offense had a much rougher game than the defense. Against a very mediocre defense that attempted to change their entire philosophy for one game, the UCLA offense could not counterpunch and scored two touchdowns fewer than they have averaged against Southern Cal in the Mora era. They went three and out on 6 of their 14 drives, and that doesn’t count the game changing fumble that happened on the first play of a drive.
Despite being given very solid field position all game long, the Bruins could not consistently move the ball, with only one drive of over 8 plays. The big plays that had shown up for most of this season evaporated, and so, inefficient and bereft of big plays, the UCLA offense spat out its second worst Points Per Drive effort of the year (after the Arizona State game) in the most important game of the year. Disappointing, considering both Arizona State and Southern Cal are middle-of-the-road conference defenses at best.
The defense really wasn’t that bad, though it wasn’t nearly as dominant as it perhaps should have been given the injuries to the Southern Cal offensive front. The Bruins didn’t allow very many big plays, but the ones they did allow put Southern Cal in imminent scoring position, and they allowed 4 touchdowns in 6 trips inside the UCLA 40. Frankly, given a competent offense this was probably a good enough effort to win, but it was by no means the dominant performance we have come to expect by the UCLA defense against USC. The Trojans had four drives of at least 10 plays, and they all ended in points. In fact, the shortest scoring drive was 8 plays, meaning the defense did a solid job of cutting out the lightning strikes that had been such a big part of the USC offense this year. They just didn’t quite play well enough to overcome…
Turnovers. Turnovers turnovers turnovers. They are just such a huge part of the game, and they (along with the punt return that should have been called back for a clear block in the back but whatever) were the deciding factor in a game that was mostly even across the other stats that we track. Up 21-20 with great field position, the Bruins had a chance for one of those drives that have so often broken the spine of the mentally-fragile Trojans. The 84 yard drive to go up 31-14 to start the 2014 second half. The 8 play drive to answer a Trojan touchdown and go up 28-14 midway through the 2013 third quarter. The 83 yard drive punctuated by the electrifying Johnathan Franklin 29 yard touchdown to go up 38-28 late in the 2012 game. Instead, the receivers couldn’t get open, Rosen scrambled right into a sack, then compounded his mistake by coughing up a fumble that went the other way for a touchdown. In a game where the Southern Cal offense couldn’t rely on the big play, that was just a killer. The next drive, Rosen threw an interception in Trojan territory as the Bruins were driving in an attempt to retake the lead. 8 plays later, it was 33-20. The Bruins did a great job of winning the field position game, but the turnovers trumped field position.
When watching the Notre Dame-Stanford game on Saturday evening, we had a little bit of déjà vu back to the feeling of watching the Alabama-Georgia SEC championship game in 2012 after the UCLA-Stanford Pac-12 championship. It felt like watching the varsity game after the JV’s, and there is still a corner or two left to turn for the Bruins to get to that level. It has now been 17 seasons since the last conference title, and Jonathan Ogden was 11 years old the last time UCLA won the Rose Bowl. Given the key injuries and losses to inferior teams this season, we have probably found the Bruin Revolution’s floor. The key over the next two years will be to reach towards a new ceiling. Next week, a team and conference season review.
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