Caleb Williams threw for a career-high 470 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third score leading USC to a 48-45 victory over UCLA Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl, assuring the Trojans of a berth in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game.
USC sophomore rush end Korey Foreman sealed the victory by intercepting a pass by Dorian Thompson-Robinson at the 50-yard line with one minute, 26 seconds to play. The interception was Foreman’s first in his 20 college games.
The takeaway was the fourth by the Trojans’ much-maligned defense.
“The four turnovers, those were the difference in the game,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said.
The Trojans intercepted two of Thompson-Robinson’s passes late in the first half. USC was unable to capitalize on Mekhi Blackmon’s interception as Denis Lynch missed a 33-yard field goal with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Shane Lee intercepted a Thompson-Robinson pass at the Bruins’ 48-yard line five plays later leading to Lynch’s 49-yard field goal as the first half ended.
Tyrone Taleni’s sack of Thompson-Robinson with 7:24 remaining in the third quarter and Latrell McCutchin’s recovery and 6-yard return gave the Trojans the ball on UCLA’s 9-yard line.
Austin Jones ran 2 yards for a touchdown two plays later, giving USC a 34-24 lead before a capacity crowd of 70,865 at the downsized Rose Bowl. The usual capacity for UCLA games at the Rose Bowl is 53,170 but was increased for Saturday’s game but not to its full capacity of 91,136, according to UCLA Athletics’ website.
The Trojans (10-1, 8-1 in Pac-12 Conference play) trailed 14-0 and 21- 20 at halftime. USC scored touchdowns on each of its first four second-half possessions — two on touchdown passes by Williams — to take a 48-38 lead with 9:10 remaining.
The Bruins (8-3, 5-3) cut the deficit to 48-45 with 6:38 left on Thompson-Robinson’s 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Ezeike. Laiatu Latu’s 11-yard sack of Williams on a third-and-10 play from UCLA’s 34-yard line forced USC to punt for the only time with 2:27 to play.
On a third-and-10 play from the Bruins’ 11-yard line, Thompson- Robinson completed a 27-yard pass to Jake Bobo, advancing the ball to the 38. Thompson-Robinson scrambled for five yards on the next play and threw an incomplete pass on the play preceding the interception.
Williams completed 32 of 43 passes with one interception, his third of the season. He also ran for 33 yards on eight carries, including a 6-yard touchdown 11:52 before halftime that cut UCLA’s lead to 14-7.
Thompson-Robinson completed 23 of 38 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. He also ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
The Trojans outgained the Bruins 649 yards to 513 and led 30-27 in first downs and 35:14-24:46 in time of possession.
USC played without its leading rusher, Travis Dye, who suffered a season-ending leg injury when he was tackled during a 55-17 victory over Colorado on Nov. 11. Jones ran for a season-high 120 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns in his place.
“He was huge, but exactly what we expected him to be, exactly what he has been,” Riley said. “There’s not one person in the locker room surprised about the way he plays. Another great example of the unselfishness of this team.
“He comes in, they’re mixing time in the beginning, we start to ride Travis a little bit more. He could have got down, he could have quit practicing hard, he could have got selfish. Not for one second. There was no doubt in that locker room that he was ready.”
The Trojans turned the ball over on downs on their first possession and Lynch missed a 32-yard field goal on their second. UCLA took a 14-0 lead on Thompson-Robinson’s 1-yard run capping the 14-play, 80-yard drive following Lynch’s missed field goal and Thompson-Robinson’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Ezeike, one play after linebacker Kain Medrano intercepted a Williams pass and returned the ball 24 yards.
The points off the turnover were the first USC allowed this season.
The 1-yard touchdown was the 107th Thompson-Robinson accounted for in his career, breaking the previous school record of 106 set by Brett Hundley, who played for the Bruins from 2011-14.
Thompson-Robinson’s 384 yards of total offense gave him 11,953 for his career, breaking Hundley’s previous record of 11,713. His 309 passing yards increased his career total to 10,235, moving past Hundley, who had 9,966, and into second behind Cade McNown, who had 10,708 from 1995-98.
The victory increased the Trojans’ lead in the series to 50-33-7, not including victories in 2004 and 2005 that were vacated as part of the penalties issued by the NCAA for improper benefits accepted by star running back Reggie Bush and his family.
The victory returned possession of the Victory Bell to USC. The 295- pound bell originally hung atop a Southern Pacific freight locomotive and was given to the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939. In 1941, it was taken by a group of USC students who hid it in a variety of locations for more than a year.
Following an intervention by school administrators, the student body presidents of both schools signed an agreement in 1942 providing that the winner of the football game would keep possession for the next year, a tradition that has continued, along with painting the bell’s carriage in the school color of the winner.
Hashmarks at the 1-, 15- and 41-yard lines were painted Virginia orange in memory of slain Cavaliers football players Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry. The players were shot to death on a charter bus returning to the university after a class field trip Sunday night.