Joshua Kelley ran for 289 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter, as UCLA upset USC, 34-27, Saturday at the Rose Bowl, raising further questions about the future of Trojans coach Clay Helton.
After Kelley’s 55-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes, 39 seconds to play gave the Bruins a 28-27 lead, UCLA got 19- and 48-yard field goals from JJ Molson on its next two possessions.
Following Molson’s second field goal, USC picked up two first downs and had the ball on the Bruins 36-yard line. JT Daniels’ first- and second-down passes were incomplete and his third went for seven yards to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Daniels’ fourth-down pass intended for St. Brown was broken up by Bruins linebacker Krys Barnes, turning the ball over to UCLA on downs. The Bruins ran out the final 32 seconds to end its three-game losing streak in the series.
“It’s just a blessing for me to be able to sit right here with my man (fifth-year senior strong safety Adarius Pickett) and for him to finally get one and for us to finally get one,” said UCLA sophomore cornerback Darnay Holmes. “It shows that hard work pays off.”
The Trojans led 24-21 at halftime, but were limited to Michael Brown’s 22-yard third-quarter field goal on their five second-half possessions, which included an interception by Daniels on the first play from scrimmage after Kelley’s 55-yard touchdown run.
The loss was the fourth for USC in its last five games, prompting another round of fans calling for Helton’s firing.
Helton said he wasn’t more concerned for his job than he was earlier this week.
“I work my butt off every 24 hours to try to buy them” another 24 hours, Helton said after his team fell to 5-6, 4-5 in Pac-12 Conference play. “You know, if you work as hard as you can and do the best job you can for your kids and for the university you love, you have no regrets, and I don’t.
“I’ll continue to work as hard as humanly possible. I’ve had great support from USC, from (athletic director) Lynn Swann, and from these kids. And I will continue to work as hard as I can for them.”
When asked if he thought he would be coaching the Trojans in 2019, Helton responded, “That’s a great question for Mr. Swann. Out of respect to him, I’ll let you ask him that. As I said earlier this week, I feel tremendous support from Mr. Swann and what we are doing here and thank him for being with me every step of the way.”
Helton said he isn’t bothered by people saying he should lose his job.
“My main heartbreak is for our seniors, because I wanted it for them,” Helton said.
Kelley’s 289 yards were the third-most in UCLA history, behind Maurice Jones-Drew’s 322 in 2004 and DeShaun Foster’s 301 in 2001, both against Washington. They were the most in a UCLA-USC game. Kelley’s 40 carries matched the third-highest total in school history behind the 42 by Foster in a 2000 game against Alabama and Karim Abdul-Jabbar against Stanford in 1995.
“I’m with coach. Whatever he wants me to do, I’m going to do it,” said Kelley, a redshirt junior who is in his first season of play for the Bruins after spending the first two seasons of his college career at UC Davis and redshirting last season under NCAA rules for transfers.
“Forty caries, that’s a lot. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to feel all 40 of those. If that’s what it’s going to take, call me in the game.”
Said UCLA coach Chip Kelly: “He’s important not only because of his production, but also how positive and what type of person he is. He kind of typifies everything that’s gone on this season. He started off the season as a starter and then he lost the job and actually didn’t play in the Fresno State game.
“But because of his mentality and his positive outlook on everything … he got the job back and hasn’t given it back. What we try to build is that everything is earned here. So what he did today doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think it surprises our coaching staff or surprises anybody in that room, just because of what they see he does every day.”
Kelley had a career-best 61-yard run in the first quarter, setting up quarterback Wilton Speight’s 4-yard run for the Bruins second score.
Kelley ran 1 yard for a touchdown that gave UCLA a 21-17 lead 8:10 before halftime.
The Bruins out-gained the Trojans, 479 yards to 449, led 25-19 in first downs and 32:43-27:17 in time of possession.
Speight completed 13 of 22 passes with one interception for 166 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Theo Howard on the first possession for UCLA (3-8, 3-5).
Daniels completed 20 of 34 passes with two interception for 337 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to St. Brown with 22 seconds left in the first quarter and a 45-yard touchdown pass to Velus Jones Jr. 5:54 before halftime.
USC’s other touchdown came 49 seconds into the second quarter when Isaiah Langley blocked a punt by Stefan Flintoft, Devon Williams recovered the loose ball and ran 5 yards for the score. Brown kicked a 46-yard field goal on the Trojans first possession.
The loss means USC needs a victory next Saturday against undefeated Notre Dame in its regular-season finale to be bowl eligible. The Trojans have played in a bowl game every season since 2001 except for 2010 and 2011 when they were banned from bowls because of an NCAA penalty.
USC leads the series, 47-32-7, not including victories in 2004 and 2005 that were vacated due to NCAA penalties. The victory was UCLA’s fifth in the last 20 meetings dating to 1999.
The victory shifts possession of the Victory Bell to the Bruins.
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.
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