Week 5 LA CFB Recap: The Strip-Sack of Troy, a Bruin Bounceback

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Is the championship dream dead?

After four arguably unconvincing wins to open their season, the Trojans finally capitulated last Friday against Washington State as many predicted. It was an ugly game from a USC perspective, and it culminated in an ultimate anti-Heisman moment for superstar quarterback Sam Darnold.

The loss sent the Trojans plummeting nine spots in the AP Poll (they now sit at No. 14), and it was hard to argue USC won any aspect of the game. Luke Falk, the Cougars’ own superstar signal-caller, outshined Darnold in quarterback play, racking up 340 yards and two scores through the air. Ronald Jones II had 128 rushing yards on the night, but 86 of them came on an explosive touchdown run in the second quarter—while Jamal Morrow racked up 91 yards and a TD on just six carries for Wazzu (his longest run went for 35 yards).

USC was more impressive defensively, sacking Falk five times and picking him off on his own goal line. But the Cougars made the biggest play of the night when they took down Darnold and stole the football as he attempted a last-gasp comeback drive. Darnold had been more money than Mayweather late in the game his entire career until the trip to Pullman. Thanks to Washington State, his confidence now looks at a career low.

Predictably, Trojan nation went berserk after the game. Some have been calling for heads to roll:

And others have jumped at the chance to slam Darnold:

Look, there’s no sugarcoating Friday’s loss. The Trojans were fully and legitimately outplayed, Darnold overcooked multiple throws, and the play-calling was uninspired. I won’t blame you if you take this opportunity to declare USC overhyped and irrelevant.

But hey, that’s exactly the position this team likes to play from. The defense remains a playmaking force, even without top pass rusher Porter Gustin for the past couple of weeks. And despite playing behind an offensive line with two true freshmen and a redshirt sophomore with six career appearances under his belt, Darnold still showed improvisation and escapability not many other quarterbacks possess (I can’t think of a single guy who could play well behind a line that green).

If USC can get its roster healthy—a big if—the team remains a contender. The criticism this squad has gotten is fair, but in typical LA fashion, people are being a little melodramatic. Two losses kill the playoff dream. As of now, fans can hold out hope that Friday night kicks the Trojans into gear. Oregon State is up next, and in theory, it’s an opportunity to rest up while still coming away with a comfortable home win. At the very least, you know they’re pissed.

Let’s move on to greener pastures, and for once this season, that means jumping over to Pasadena. UCLA took down Colorado on Saturday to rebound from back-to-back losses.

Rosen was his usual deadly self, racking up 372 passing yards (though he only tossed one touchdown and threw an interception), and to his credit, he’s been spreading the ball around all year. I’ve focused a lot this year on his troubles with pressure and occasional awful decision-making, but obviously there’s a lot to like as well. When he’s given adequate time in the pocket, it’s hard to think of a guy with a nicer throw than Rosen in both weight and accuracy. He also spreads the ball around: Darren Andrews leads the Bruins with 553 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and Caleb Wilson (490 yards—but now out for the season) and Jordan Lasley (466) have also combined for four scores.

But the biggest news in the Rose Bowl was the Bruin defense. Tom Bradley’s unit held the Buffs to 23 points, making Colorado just the second team this season to score less than 40 points against UCLA. Steven Montez still had a great day, nearly matching Rosen in all-purpose yardage with 243 passing yards and 108 on the ground—and one touchdown through the air—but he also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes.

It was a massive improvement from what we’ve seen from this defense so far this fall, and after making that significant adjustment, it’s probably a great time for a bye week. The Bruins will look to build on their success for a full two weeks before going to Tucson for a date with Arizona on October 14th. They’re still very much in play for the Pac-12 title if they can make last week a habit. It seems unlikely, though: UCLA has a tough second-half schedule, and the team will have to beat Oregon, Washington, and Utah in consecutive weeks down the line. But for now, the Bruins can enjoy their rest and, just maybe, hope for the future.

Enjoy the weekend!

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