USC defense manages to clinch Trojans ticket to Pac-12 title game – Orange County Register

USC defense manages to clinch Trojans ticket to Pac-12 title game - Orange County Register
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PASADENA — What if someone told you on Friday that in USC’s biggest game of the season, it would be the Trojan defense that would seal the fate of USC? What if they said that, in a game in which USC allowed six touchdowns, it was the defense that made the plays that turned the tide of the rivalry with UCLA?

Whether you believed it or not at the time, it was actually the defense that kept the Rose Bowl heroes away when No. 7 USC beat No. 16 UCLA 48-45, which earned to the Trojans a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. in year 1 under head coach Lincoln Riley.

“We talk about it all the time. We can’t just have a front row seat for Caleb Wiliams and Lincoln Riley’s offense,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Our expectations are higher than what we have. fact. … I’m just really proud of the fight. It’s fun to be on the sidelines with them. They fight, they scratch, they scratch.

The defense was understandably under a microscope going into this game. UCLA was the best offense USC had faced all season and the possibility of the Bruins getting a rough ride seemed high.

And the Bruins did, to some extent. UCLA gained 513 yards, 204 rushing, converted seven of 13 third attempts and their only fourth attempt.

But the history of the USC defense when it clicked this season has been about turnovers, and it was again in this game.

For the first time since Week 4, USC took the ball four times. The first, an interception by Mekhi Blackmon, was spoiled by a missed field goal.

But USC made the rest count.

When linebacker Shane Lee reached out to intercept UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, ripping the ball in the air on the very next drive, it led to a 49-yard field goal from Denis Lynch with 14 seconds left in the first half. After trailing 14-0 to start the game, USC had dragged themselves back to make it a one-point game.

After UCLA moved the ball into the red zone to open the third quarter, USC limited the damage to one field goal. That allowed quarterback Caleb Williams to find Jordan Addison for a 35-yard touchdown to give USC their first lead of the game.

The next drive, defensive tackle Tyrone Taleni trashed Thompson-Robinson and defensive back Latrell McCutchin got the ball back to UCLA 9. The Trojans needed two plays before Austin Jones entered the zone goals and make it a 10 point game.

“We knew we had to make a big play,” Taleni said.

The Trojans and Bruins traded blows, each scoring touchdowns on three consecutive hits. UCLA finally broke the streak by forcing USC to a punt with 2:27 remaining. The Bruins had the chance to tie the game with a field goal.

But that’s when Korey Foreman – the former No. 1 overall rookie – came back into coverage and jumped down the road for the game-winning interception.

During practice week, Foreman made an identical play. Safety Bryson Shaw came to him and asked Foreman to do the same in-game play, and Foreman promised he would.

After the game, Shaw relayed, Foreman walked up to security and said, “I told you so.”

At the end of the match, Riley came over and hugged Foreman, while his teammates made sure the second got his chance to ring the Victory Bell, which will soon get a cardinal new coat of paint.

“Really cool for him. Never know when it’s going to be your moment,” Riley said. “He worked hard behind the scenes.”

The Trojan defense has taken chunks this season after numerous performances that, as the Grinch was quick to admit, fell short of expectations.

But Grinch and leaders like Lee always preached consistency, put their heads down, and got to work. And USC had the chance to prove the hard work would pay off.

“That means everything, kind of thinking back to when we all got here, the thing we wanted to do was have an unbreakable brotherhood,” Lee said. “The energy and the passion that we have, to play for each other, you have to be part of it to feel it.”

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