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Clay Helton, the Trojans embattled coach, slipped away, traversing the Coliseum turf for what may be the final time.
Behind him, the fight song that had been his soundtrack at USC for the better part of a decade roared on. As the song blared joyously, again and again, in the aftermath of a 52-35 rivalry rout of UCLA, his players climbed the ladder one by one, conducting the band with the customary sword, soaking it all in.
But Helton kept walking toward the tunnel, until the man who would soon determine his fate called to him from a few yards away. “Enjoy this,” new athletic director Mike Bohn said as he caught up to his embattled coach. Helton put an arm around him and smiled, stopping only briefly, before continuing toward the tunnel.
There was plenty to enjoy Saturday for a coach who has faced a constant stream of doubt over the past two seasons.
The Trojans’ offense finished with a fireworks show, scoring more points and piling up more yards (643) than it had all season, led by a school-record 515 yards from freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. The defense slammed the door on Joshua Kelley, holding the Bruins’ lead back to just 45 yards rushing, after he piled up 289 a season ago. And for the third time in four seasons, the Trojans finished with five wins over their final six games. And USC (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) will still win the conference South Division if Utah loses to Colorado next Saturday.
But was it enough? Once again, the question loomed over all Saturday, as two crosstown rivals met at a crossroads. Both teams took rocky roads to arrive here, battling inconsistency, fighting unforced errors, struggling to establish any sort of foothold for long. Both teams, for different reasons, were desperate for a statement Saturday, if only to point to some evidence of their programs’ progress.
For UCLA, there was no such overt concern about its coach’s future. Chip Kelly, who boasts twice as many losses in L.A. (16) as he ever had as Oregon’s coach, would carry on without consequence.
The results were troubling, nonetheless. Saturday’s defeat not only saw the Bruins (4-7, 4-4) slip out of bowl contention, but also clinch a fourth consecutive losing season -- the first time UCLA had fallen so far since before the Great Depression.
“Whether this knocked us out of a bowl game or knocked us out of the playoffs or knocked us out of anything, when you lose it’s disappointing,” Kelly said.
It didn’t start so disappointingly for UCLA on Saturday, as the Bruins scored on their opening possession, thanks to a USC penalty on a punt that kept the drive alive. It was as positive a start as UCLA could have expected. In its four victories, UCLA had scored on its opening drive.
But once Slovis got going, there was no slowing the Trojans and their freshman phenom by one of the Pac-12’s worst secondaries.
Even as UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson did his best to duel with his crosstown counterpart, passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns and adding 64 and a touchdown on the ground, it proved to be a futile effort.
Arash Markazi: Clay Helton is no longer the right coach for USC
USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
All times Pacific. Radio: 790 KABC
USC 31, Fresno State 23
USC 45, Stanford 20
at BYU 30, USC 27 (OT)
at USC 30, Utah 23
at Washington 28, USC 14
at Notre Dame 30, USC 27
at USC 41, Arizona 14
USC 35, at Colorado 31
Oregon 56, at USC 24
USC 31, at Arizona State 26
USC 41, at California 17
at USC 52, UCLA 35
UCLA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
All times Pacific. Radio: AM 1150
at Cincinnati 24, UCLA 14
San Diego State 23, at UCLA 14
Oklahoma 48, at UCLA 14
UCLA 67, at Washington State 63
at Arizona 20, UCLA 17
Oregon State 48, at UCLA 31
UCLA 34, at Stanford 16
at UCLA 42, Arizona State 32
at UCLA 31, Colorado 14
at Utah 49, UCLA 3
at USC 52, UCLA 35
Saturday vs. California, 7:30 p.m., FS1
SATURDAY’S TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
No. 1 LSU 56, Arkansas 20
No. 2 Ohio State 28, No. 8 Penn State 17
No. 4 Georgia 19, Texas A&M 13
No. 5 Alabama 66, Western Carolina 3
Arizona State 31, No. 6 Oregon 28
No. 7 Utah 35, Arizona 7
No. 9 Oklahoma 28, TCU 24
No. 10 Minnesota 38, Northwestern 22
No. 12 Wisconsin 45, Purdue 24
No. 13 Michigan 39, Indiana 14
No. 14 Baylor 24, Texas 10
No. 15 Auburn 52, Samford 0
No. 16 Notre Dame 40, Boston College 7
No. 17 Iowa 19, Illinois 10
No. 18 Memphis 49, South Florida 10
No. 19 Cincinnati 15, Temple 13
No. 20 Boise State at Utah State, late
No. 21 Oklahoma State 20, West Virginia 13
No. 22 Iowa State 41, Kansas 31
No. 23 USC 52, UCLA 35
No. 24 Appalachian State 35, Texas State 13
Navy 35, No. 25 SMU 28
SATURDAY’S PAC-12 SCOREBOARD
No. 23 USC 52, UCLA 35
Arizona State 31, No. 6 Oregon 28
No. 7 Utah 35, Arizona 7
Colorado 20, Washington 14
Washington State 54, Oregon State 53
California 24, Stanford 20
Oregon, 7-1 in Pac-12, 9-2 overall
Oregon State, 4-4, 5-6
California, 3-5, 6-5
Washington State, 3-5, 6-5
Washington, 3-5, 6-5
Stanford, 3-6, 4-7
Utah, 8-1, 10-1
USC, 7-2, 8-4
UCLA, 4-4, 3-5
Colorado, 3-5, 5-6
Arizona State, 3-5, 6-5
Arizona, 2-6, 4-7
Saturday night’s game left the Lakers feeling both relieved to have escaped with what they got, and frustrated they made things so hard on themselves.
At the end of it, though, the Lakers had beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 109-108, had secured their seventh win in a row and a 14-2 record – the best start the franchise has had since the 2008-09 season. That was a championship year for the Lakers.
“It was a very imperfect game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re happy to get a W, but certainly we have to play to a higher standard than we played tonight. We’re lucky to get out of here with a win.”
Because of the Grizzlies’ tenacity, LeBron James played nearly 39 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, scoring 30 points while making 14 of 27 shots and shooting no free throws. Anthony Davis made his presence felt defensively, with five blocked shots and three steals to go with his 22 points, which included three three-pointers.
Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant scored 26 points, making 10 of 16 shots.
“I think it just flat-out shows it,” Morant said, having barely lost to the team with the best record in the NBA. “That no matter what, we can be in ball games and win ball games. We weren’t able to close out tonight, but tonight showed what type of team we are and who we want to be.”
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Lakers made uncharacteristic mistakes that allowed the Grizzlies to lead for the entire first half, by as many as 15 points. The Lakers gave up 35 points in the first quarter, and another 28 in the second quarter.
They came out of halftime having corrected their defensive woes.
“We held them to 45 points in the second half,” James said. “Even with them starting 7-of-7 from the 3-point line, they had 10 3s at half, they were beating us in all aspects -- free-throw attempts, fastbreak points, everything. We just kept our composure. That’s what we do. We’re a very resilient team and they haven’t played in three or four days. We knew they were going to have a lot of energy.”
Read more NBA
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 shots and set a franchise record with his 132nd victory as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Ducks 6-2.
Brayden Point had two goals, and Nikita Kucherov, Pat Maroon, Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat also scored for the Lightning, who have won five of their last seven games. Vasilevskiy moved past former teammate Ben Bishop atop the team’s win list.
Derek Grant had a short-handed goal and Rickard Rakell also scored for Anaheim. Ryan Miller finished with 21 saves as the Ducks lost for the eighth time in nine games (1-5-3).
The Kings (the NHL’s leader in shot differential), peppered the opposing goal all game, putting 45 pucks on net to the Arizona Coyotes’ 19. Winners in four of their previous five, the Kings overcame a sluggish start to generate most of the momentum throughout. In the dying minutes, they mounted a comeback charge too.
None of it was enough in a 3-2 loss at Staples Center that keeps the Kings last in the Western Conference.
“We’re not playing to stay close, we’re playing to try to win,” coach Todd McLellan said, adding: “I thought we created more, played with a little more authority. … I thought we had what we needed to give ourselves a chance.”
Indeed, it isn’t structural errors or slacking effort that is dragging the Kings down. They are simply struggling to put the puck in the net enough. Saturday’s loss was perhaps the most extreme example yet.
“The finish part is the tough part,” McLellan said. “That’s a question 31 teams ask themselves throughout the season.”
Few clubs, however, are coming up with as seemingly few answers as the Kings.
Read more NHL
After matching up against proven playmaking receivers such as Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson in his four games with the Rams, Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens is a different kind of challenge for cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Two of the Ravens’ top three receivers are tight ends. Receiver Marquise Brown is a rookie.
The biggest name on the Ravens’ offense is quarterback Lamar Jackson, a dual threat capable of turning designed plays and broken ones into big gains.
So Ramsey could become more involved in stopping the run against a Ravens team that has won six games in a row.
Jackson, 22, is “super dynamic” and “the MVP front-runner,” Ramsey said.
“Some quarterbacks, you worry about the passing, not really getting out of the pocket and scrambling,” Ramsey said Saturday. “But he can make plays through the air and with his feet.”
Jackson has passed for 19 touchdowns. He also is the leading rusher for a team that averages an NFL-best 203.8 yards a game on the ground. Jackson has run for 781 yards and six touchdowns.
That presents an extra challenge for Ramsey, regarded as perhaps the league’s top cover cornerback.
“I’ve still got to do my job — I’ve still got to cover the receivers, that’s my main priority,” Ramsey said. “But I’m not just a cover corner, though. I get in the run game a lot at times, so I’ll be asked to do that.”
TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE
All times Pacific
New Orleans at Clippers, 6 p.m., Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
BORN ON THIS DATE
1930: Football player Yale Lary (d. 2017)
1938: Basketball player Oscar Robertson
1939: Boxer Yoshinobu Miyake
1940: NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue
1943: Basketball player Dave Bing
1948: Former Dodger Steve Yeager
1968: Former Dodger Dave Hansen
1971: NHL player Keith Primeau
1976: Figure skater Chen Lu
DIED ON THIS DATE
2003: Baseball player Warren Spahn, 82
2012: Boxer Hector Camacho, 50
Steve Yeager hits a three-run homer in Game 5 of the 1977 World Series. Watch it here.
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