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The Sports Report: Did the Trojans save Clay Helton’s job with win over Bruins?

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UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is shoved out of bounds by USC cornerback Olaijah Griffin.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

USC-UCLA GAME

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.

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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.

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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.

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Dylan Hernandez: UCLA sticks it to rival USC by losing, which will delay Clay Helton’s departure

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UCLA coach Chip Kelly deflects criticism for battered defense

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson is ‘absolutely electric’ in losing effort

Vavae Malepeai returns and helps USC defeat UCLA

Arash Markazi: Clay Helton is no longer the right coach for USC

USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. puts on a show in his final game at the Coliseum

USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

All times Pacific. Radio: 790 KABC

USC 31, Fresno State 23

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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

Read all about them here

PAC-12 STANDINGS

North

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

South

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

LAKERS

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.”

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DUCKS

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).

KINGS

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

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RAMS

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

AND FINALLY

Steve Yeager hits a three-run homer in Game 5 of the 1977 World Series. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. If you want to subscribe, click here.


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