USC vs.  UCLA score, takeaways: No. 7 Trojans keep playoff hopes alive by edging No. 16 Bruins

USC vs. UCLA score, takeaways: No. 7 Trojans keep playoff hopes alive by edging No. 16 Bruins

No. 7 USC clinched its spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game and kept its College Football Playoff aspirations alive with an epic offensive showing in a 48-45 win over No. 16 UCLA. The Trojans only punted once while racking up 649 yards and rallying from a 14-0 deficit against their crosstown rival in a massive game for both programs.

A win would have kept UCLA’s hopes of reaching the Pac-12 title game intact, but the Bruins had no answer for USC’s prolific offense on senior night at the Rose Bowl. USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 470 yards and scored both through the air and on the ground while out-dueling UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

In the final home game of his five-year career, Thompson-Robinson accounted for all six UCLA touchdowns — throwing four and running for two — and had the Bruins ahead 21-10 late in the first half. But he also committed turnovers on three of UCLA’s next four possessions right as USC settled into an offensive rhythm.

Ever a warrior, Thompson-Robinson played through some obvious pain and answered USC’s offense repeatedly in the second half. But when the Bruins finally forced USC’s first punt of the night with 2:27 remaining in the game and took possession with a chance to tie or take the lead, another turnover doomed their chances. Korey Forman intercepted Thompson-Robinson with 1:26 remaining, which allowed the Trojans to run out the clock and seal the win.

Here are more takeaways from Saturday night’s wild offensive showing in Los Angeles.

Caleb Williams makes Heisman case

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud looked relatively pedestrian in an uninspiring win over Maryland Saturday. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was injured late in the Volunteers’ blowout loss at South Carolina. Michigan running back Blake Corum went over 100 yards yet again in the Wolverines’ narrow win over Illinois, but he was limited in the second half due to injury. North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye threw for 200 yards against Georgia Tech … but the Tar Heels lost to the Yellow Jackets.

Overall, it wasn’t a great day for the Heisman Trophy frontrunners — except for Williams. The Oklahoma transfer has now thrown for 3,480 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions while leading the Trojans to a spot in the league title game. He will be tested against a solid Notre Dame defense next week in a game that figures to garner significant national attention, but a good performance there might catapult Williams to the top of the Heisman odds sheet.

The No. 2-ranked quarterback from the 2021 recruiting class showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman for the Sooners last season, but he has been far more consistent this season. His performance on Saturday was particularly heroic because it came with USC’s leading rusher and emotional leader Travis Dye sidelined due to a season-ending injury suffered last Friday against Colorado.

The Heisman is a season-along honor, but this year’s race is as wide-open as it’s been in a while. How contenders play late in the season matters, and Williams is showing up at the right time.

Important transfers come up big

Trojans wideout Jordan Addison, the most highly scrutinized transfer of the offseason, delivered for his team in a huge spot with 11 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. The reigning Biletnikoff Winner as the nation’s best receiver from his standout season at Pitt last year, Addison proved impossible to defend for the Bruins. This was Addison’s first effective game back since suffering a leg injury vs. Utah last month, and he showed why he was such a valuable addition.

Another transfer, running back Austin Jones, also delivered when called upon. The former Stanford running back effectively handled an increased workload with Dye out, finishing with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Jones also caught four passes for 57 yards, making him USC’s second-leading receiver behind Addison on the night.

CFP scenarios

With No. 5 Tennessee falling out of the CFP picture with a 63-38 loss at South Carolina, USC figures to move up at least one spot in the new CFP Rankings on Tuesday night. The victory will go down as the best yet for the Trojans, which could give them a case to surpass No. 6 LSU. The Tigers have two losses and did little to help their summary in Week 12 by beating Conference USA foe UAB in a nonconference game.

With No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan set to play next week, more carnage near the top of the rankings is inevitable. USC will get a crack at a quality Notre Dame team next week at home and then have a shot to polish its résumé even further in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

It may have looked like a long shot after the Trojans lost at Utah on Oct. 15 and fell to 6-1, but USC has a legitimate shot at making the CFP in Lincoln Riley’s first season as coach.

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