LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kedon Slovis didn’t grow up in the Los Angeles area, and Southern California’s rivalry with UCLA doesn’t yet loom as large for him it does for his fellow Trojans and Bruins playing against lifelong friends for yearlong bragging rights.
When USC’s freshman quarterback got his first taste of the famed crosstown showdown Saturday, he still took one enormous bite.
Slovis passed for a school-record 515 yards and threw four touchdown passes in USC’s 52-35 victory over UCLA in the schools’ 89th meeting.
Slovis and four 100-yard receivers carried the Trojans (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) to the Victory Bell with another landmark performance in the 18-year-old passer’s shockingly impressive debut season. During his fourth 400-yard performance in the last five games, Slovis surpassed Matt Barkley’s single-game USC records against UCLA and against any opponent in the fourth quarter while coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense racked up 643 yards.
“It’s obviously an honor to be up on that list, (but) it’s just a testament to the players around me,” said Slovis, who also surpassed the school’s single-season freshman yards passing record. “Any of you (reporters) in here could probably throw for 100 yards with these receivers.”
Michael Pittman Jr. caught two touchdown passes and Vavae Malepeai rushed for two scores as the Trojans wrapped up their regular season with their 16th win in the last 21 meetings with UCLA. Drake London and Tyler Vaughns also caught TD passes while USC survived a tumultuous second half at the Coliseum and eliminated the rival Bruins (4-7, 4-4) from bowl contention.
A year after UCLA’s Joshua Kelley broke the crosstown showdown’s rushing yardage record, Slovis broke its passing record while leading USC to its 10th win in the Bruins’ last 11 visits to the Coliseum. Slovis also had his third consecutive 400-yard passing game — another first in USC’s lengthy history.
Not bad for a freshman who only got a shot to play as a freshman because of J.T. Daniels’ season-ending knee injury.
“No, I didn’t see him becoming the new superstar quarterback of college football,” Pittman said with a grin.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson passed for 367 yards with TD throws to Demetric Felton, Devin Asiasi and Chase Cota for the Bruins, who will finish with four consecutive losing records for the first time since 1921-24, shortly after the school was established in 1919. Asiasi finished with a career-high 141 yards receiving.
“They had very good quarterback play and many receivers that can beat you,” Chip Kelly said. “It’s a seasoned offensive football team.”
After Kelly won his first game in the rivalry last year, USC beat the Bruins for the fourth time in five years under embattled head coach Clay Helton. After starting 3-3 this year, USC finished the regular season with five wins in six games.
“It means a whole lot, especially based off of last year and what happened, and wanting to change the narrative and fix that.,” USC defensive end Christian Rector said. “I think we did that as a team.”
With both teams wearing their home jerseys in accordance with rivalry tradition, USC scored 28 consecutive points after falling behind 10-7 early. The Bruins hung around with TD catches by Asiasi and Cota, but Slovis hit Vaughns with a 49-yard TD pass on the opening snap of the fourth quarter. On USC’s final scoring drive capped by Stephen Carr’s TD run, Slovis blew past Barkley’s USC-record 493 yards passing against Arizona in 2012.
“It is frustrating, but we made a lot of mistakes,” UCLA receiver Kyle Philips said. “We didn’t take advantage of their mistakes. We put up a decent amount of points, but left a lot on the table.”
Unless Pac-12 South leader Utah stumbles late in the season, the Trojans have likely earned a trip to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve. Whether they’ll make it with Helton remains to be seen.
Fan calls for Helton’s ouster have remained strong this year, but new university president Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn haven’t announced a plan. A decision is expected, but not guaranteed, before USC begins its bowl preparations.
“USC is an extremely special place, and always will be,” Helton said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m the coach or you’re the coach.
CATCHES IN BUNCHES
A school-record four Trojans topped 100 yards receiving, and two Bruins also hit the mark. No game between Power Five teams had featured six 100-yard receivers since 2012, when Baylor and West Virginia did it.
“This is Wide Receiver U here,” Vaughns said. “At any point in time, we have great receivers coming in and out of here, so I mean just knowing that, we are Wide Receiver U.”
UCLA: The Bruins will miss out on a bowl game in three of four years for the first time since 1989-92, and Kelly’s rebuilding project still has little traction after two seasons, even after a strong second half by the offense in this rivalry game. UCLA has given up 101 points in its last two games, guaranteeing another long winter without a bowl in Westwood. Next season looms large for Kelly and his credibility as a coach.
USC: Helton’s future will dominate discussion until it is resolved, but his Trojans showed impressive resilience after a brutal first half of the schedule. Going 8-4 would be enough to keep most jobs, but USC’s weak recruiting traction and widespread fan dissatisfaction won’t be resolved by this victory.
UCLA: Host California on Saturday, Nov. 30.
USC: Regular season over. Most likely headed to the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31.
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