In what can be characterized as a season marked by setbacks and a narrative of humility for the USC Trojans, the concluding game delivered a stinging 38-20 defeat at the hands of arch-rival UCLA Bruins at the Coliseum.
Echoing the pattern of the previous season’s rivalry clash, UCLA surged to a rapid 14-0 lead in the first quarter, capitalizing on a resilient defense that stymied the Trojans. USC, mirroring an earlier defeat against Arizona, struggled to advance beyond the 50-yard line in the opening quarter.
Despite these early challenges, USC managed a resurgence. Junior quarterback Caleb Williams orchestrated a critical play, launching a pass to Brendan Rice, who, against heavy coverage, made a spectacular catch and scored, offering a rare moment of celebration for the Trojans‘ supporters.
However, the third quarter brought renewed defensive struggles for USC. Despite nearing a pivotal stop near their own endzone, the Trojans succumbed to a touchdown pass from UCLA’s junior quarterback Ethan Garbers to sophomore running back T.J. Harden, widening the deficit to eleven points.
A pivotal fumble by redshirt junior running back MarShawn Lloyd further compounded USC’s woes. The turnover, seized upon by UCLA’s sophomore defensive back Jaylen Davies, resulted in an uncontested score, extending the Bruins’ lead to 18. The deficit persisted until the game’s conclusion at 38-20.
The season, once brimming with optimism following last year’s Heisman-winning performance by Williams, witnessed a drastic downturn. A promising 6-0 start unravelled into a 1-5 record in the final six games, leading to the loss of USC’s ranked status for the first time in the Lincoln Riley era.
Head coach Lincoln Riley acknowledged shortcomings in the latter part of the season, particularly in preparing the offense. Addressing the emotional toll on the team, Riley admitted to reaching a limit, emphasizing the need for improved performance to avoid close games.
Questions surrounding Caleb Williams’ future lingered post-game, with Riley commending the quarterback’s contributions but refraining from speculation. The season’s disappointments, including two significant blowout defeats against bitter rivals Notre Dame and UCLA, culminated in a 7-5 regular season finish.
Despite the sobering conclusion on Senior Day, with players like center Justin Dedich bidding farewell after six seasons, Riley remains optimistic about the program’s growth. Acknowledging the tough times, he emphasized the collective need for resilience and unity to navigate the challenges on the path to success.
As USC’s regular season concludes, attention now turns to bowl season, with the Trojans awaiting their next opponent and destination. Riley and the team look ahead, determined to overcome adversity and strive for the elusive national championship that has eluded USC since 2004.