LOS ANGELES, Calif. — All season UCLA’s quarterbacks have been under heavy pressure and adjustments have been few and far between.
Bruins redshirt junior Ethan Garbers finally had a solution early in the third quarter Saturday and, in the process, solved the red zone issues that have plagued the offense.
Garbers chucked a wild, 7-yard pass to running back T.J. Harden to push UCLA’s lead to 21-10. Sixteen seconds later, the Bruins defense that has done the heavy lifting for most of the season provided an even bigger cushion.
USC running back Marshawn Lloyd’s impressive series of jukes was stopped on the Trojans’ 11-yard line for a forced fumble by UCLA cornerback Jaylin Davies and safety Alex Johnson tracked the loose ball down for an 11-yard scoop and score.
It was all part of a 17-3 third quarter that turned the tide in UCLA’s 38-20 win over rival USC to take back the Victory Bell in front of 72,243 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Yeah I mean, today was probably one of the better days of my life, for sure,” Garbers said after completing 18 of 31 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. “Had some dreams about this as a little kid. Just great to see, great to get the W, and great to go home.”
For once, the Bruins put it all together — even with some help from special teams — to stop and two-game slide coming into the game and leave with their second consecutive road win in the crosstown rivalry.
UCLA (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12), which came into the contest with questions surrounding the future of head coach Chip Kelly, made sure those rumors would not be the lead topic of conversation for at least one day.
Kelly said UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond ensured him that a report earlier in the week that he would “very likely” be fired was both “inaccurate” and “inappropriate.”
“Not an issue for me,” Kelly said. “I’ve never been governed by the fear of what other people say. And the lessons that this game has taught me — and I love this game — is that there’s gonna be highs and there’s gonna be lows, and you gotta lean into the lows and you gotta embrace ‘em and then you just gotta go to work. But the rest of the stuff is just, that’s never bothered me.”
Harden and Habermehl had two touchdowns apiece, with the former finishing with 142 yards rushing to lead the way for an offense that also solved its issues with slow starts.
The Bruins punctuated the rout with 9:06 left in the game on a 15-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by tight end Hudson Habermehl, diving at the end of the play for his second score of the contest.
USC (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) finished its regular season with a third consecutive loss after allowing 354 yards of total offense and turning the ball over three times and two others via downs.
Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, who torched the Bruins for a career-high 470 yards and two touchdowns through the air last season, completed 31 of 42 passes for 384 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
Williams was sacked for four times, with half coming from UCLA star edge rusher Laiatu Latu.
Latu had a game-high seven tackles and his sack total for the season is now at 13 — two shy of matching his season goal set before the season.
9:15, UCLA: RB T.J. Harden 1-yard TD run (PAT GOOD, Blake Glessner), 7-0 UCLA
2:46, UCLA: QB Ethan Garbers to TE Hudson Habermehl, 14-yard TD pass (PAT GOOD, Blake Glessner), 14-0 UCLA
14:01, USC: QB Caleb Williams to WR Brenden Rice, 74-yard TD pass (PAT GOOD, Denis Lynch), 14-7 UCLA
0:05, USC: PK Denis Lynch 34-yard field goal, 14-10 UCLA
9:45, UCLA: QB Ethan Garbers to RB T.J. Harden, 7-yard TD pass (PAT GOOD, Blake Glessner), 21-10 UCLA
9:29, UCLA: Safety Alex Johnson 11-yard fumble recovery TD (PAT GOOD, Blake Glessner), 28-10 UCLA
3:51, USC: PK Denis Lynch 34-yard field goal, 28-13 UCLA
1:21, UCLA: PK Blake Glessner 35-yard field goal, 31-13 UCLA
9:06, UCLA: QB Ethan Garbers to TE Hudson Habermehl, 15-yard TD pass (PAT GOOD, Blake Glessner), 38-13 UCLA
3:52, USC: RB Austin Jones 7-yard TD run (PAT GOOD, Denis Lynch), 38-20 UCLA
UCLA’s quick start
The Bruins’ slow starts have been another one of those continuing issues for most of the season. There were no such problems on this day.
UCLA executed well on both sides of the ball after the defense gave up an opening-play first down. The Trojans didn’t pick up another first down until the final moments of the opening quarter.
UCLA’s defense forced a turnover on downs, a punt and collected a fumble recovery and interception against Williams through the first 15 minutes.
The Bruins’ offense exceeded last week’s point total (7) in less than 13 minutes.
First, Harden left the offense’s short-yardage woes last week behind on a 1-yard touchdown run. Then, three plays after the defense forced a fumble inside USC’s own 20-yard line, Garbers connected with Habermehl on a 14-yard touchdown to push the lead to 14-0 at the 2:46 mark.
The Bruins’ defense took a huge blow early in the second quarter as tackle Jay Toia went down holding his right knee and left the game. He did not return.
On the next play, Williams got the Trojans out of their funk with a 74-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brenden Rice, who was isolated 1-on-1 against Bruins cornerback Jaylin Davies, to cut the deficit to 14-7 with 14:01 left in the half.
The offenses then stalled the rest of the half, with UCLA placekicker Blake Glessner and USC counterpart Denis Lynch both missing field goals.
USC turned the final possession of the half into points after starting on its own 32 with 51 seconds left. A key 33-yard pass from Williams to Lloyd to put ball on UCLA 21 with 22 seconds remaining.
The Trojans got all the way down to the UCLA 11 before Bruins edge rusher Gabriel Murphy came in for a sack and loss of 6 yards with 5 seconds remaining. USC settled for a 34-yard Lynch field goal to pull within 14-10 at the break.
Bruins standout on offense: QB Ethan Garbers and RB T.J. Harden
After struggling in three particular short-yardage situations last week, it was Harden who shouldered the load this week and came through.
Harden’s rushing performance was highlighted by a 58-yard scamper to keep the momentum going while leading 28-13 late in the third. It was part of a scoring drive capped by a Glessner field goal to extend the advantage to 18.
Garbers played within himself and finished off the drives UCLA struggled with in his absence last week.
Garbers also made his only two throws of the afternoon to Habermehl count, finding him for 29 yards and two touchdowns. The connection helped open up the offense while receiver Logan Loya paced the receivers with nine catches on 13 targets.
Bruins standout on defense: Edge rusher Laiatu Latu
Latu let the nation know that Williams wasn’t the only star player to watch.
Leading 28-10, the transfer from Washington erased USC’s hopes of making the game more interesting with Williams leading a drive that went all the way down to the UCLA 5.
Latu sacked Williams on back to back plays and the Trojans had to settle for a Lynch field goal.
As a unit, the Bruins came out fundamentally sound and quickly made all of last season’s issues containing Williams a thing of the past.
UCLA play of the game
The Bruins’ ability to build on their halftime lead immediately and then create a turnover for a touchdown gave them a cushion that was never in danger.
Why UCLA won
The Bruins finally put together a complete performance after failing to do so for most of the previous seven Pac-12 contests.
Instead of playing from behind, UCLA jumped out to a 14-0 lead through one quarter and didn’t let a second-quarter lull derail the performance.
Defensively, the Bruins added to the onslaught with their typical aggressive pass rush and even helped out the offense on Johnson’s momentum-changing scoop and score early in the third.
Notable UCLA stats
Ethan Garbers: 18 of 31 for 155 yards, 3 TDs
T.J. Harden: 22 carries for 142 yards, TD
Carson Steele: 12 carries for 49 yards
Logan Loya: 9 catches for 60 yards
Hudson Habermehl: 2 catches for 29 yards, 2 TDs
T.J. Harden: 2 catches for 16 yards, TD
Laiatu Latu: 7 tackles, 2 sacks
Kenny Churchwell III: 6 tackles, forced fumble
Gabriel Murphy: 4 tackles, 1 sack
Jaylin Davies: 4 tackles, forced fumble
Alex Johnson: 2 tackles, fumble recovery, TD