Amon-Ra St. Brown already burned UCLA’s defense once. The USC receiver caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, sapping momentum from the Bruins after they thought they had just come up with a stop on third-and-short two plays earlier.
When the Trojans needed a play again, JT Daniels, their freshman quarterback, turned to his favorite freshman receiver, but the Bruins were ready. Linebacker Krys Barnes got in front of the fourth-down pass to seal UCLA’s 34-27 win over USC on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
In a season of many lows, the play gave the Bruins the highest of highs as the fingertip pass breakup from Barnes seemed to erase a season-high 337 passing yards allowed for a maligned pass defense.
“You can’t break up every pass and every ball, and sometimes you’re going to give up some catches,” safety Adarius Pickett said. “But you just gotta keep playing.”
It hasn’t always been easy for the Bruins (3-8, 3-5 Pac-12) to keep playing this year. They matched their worst start since 1943 with five straight losses. Between injuries, preseason defections and suspensions, their number of available scholarship players dipped below 60 and they’ve played a school-record 20 true freshmen.
Now they’ve also beaten USC, giving head coach Chip Kelly a win in his rivalry debut.
“I don’t think this team dwells in the past,” Kelly said. “I think they learn from their experiences and just keep fighting forward and that’s what this team is: It’s a very resilient team.”
UCLA gave up seven passing plays of 20 yards or longer to the Trojans, the most for a single game allowed by UCLA this season. But the Bruins responded with two interceptions. Senior Nate Meadors grabbed his first pick of the season, shutting down a USC drive in the second quarter. Sophomore Darnay Holmes’ interception in the fourth, which came on the first play from scrimmage after Joshua Kelley’s 55-yard touchdown run put UCLA up 28-27, had the Bruins in hysterics on the sideline.
They could feel the end of their three-game losing streak to USC coming, the same way they believe brighter times are coming for the Bruins under Kelly.
“We have a great coaching staff that told us to keep pushing,” Pickett said. “We come back every week with the mindset of getting better, and just being obsessed with improvement. The fact that we came together as a defense — we gave up some plays but we also had some big stops — it meant everything.”
As he sat in front of reporters in the postgame press conference, the struggles of the season briefly replayed in Pickett’s mind.
He remembers UCLA’s record mid-answer. When hears himself say the 3-8 record aloud, the redshirt senior almost seems shocked at the sound of such a measly mark.
But he definitely didn’t feel like a player on a 3-8 team Saturday night when he climbed into the stands behind the north end zone to celebrate with students. They grinned back at him, waving their blue pom poms.
— Adarius Khyree (@Pick6Pickett) November 18, 2018
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