Josh Rosen stretched his arms into the air after the touchdown pass, the only hint of celebration he allowed.
He did not smile. His eyes did not gleam. Time was running out to rally his team.
Another sterling performance ended in defeat for the UCLA quarterback on Saturday night at the Coliseum, Rosen’s brilliance unable to compensate for the special teams breakdowns, dropped passes and poorly timed penalties that doomed the Bruins during a 28-23 loss to USC.
“I really thought we won this game,” Rosen said.
“I mean we executed how we wanted. We just couldn’t function in the red zone.”
Rosen was partially culpable for that, losing a fumble and throwing a pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Those mistakes were nearly his only blemishes on a night he completed 32 of 52 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Rosen lofted a perfectly placed pass to Jordan Lasley in the corner of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left.
On what was possibly his final pass in the cross-town rivalry game, Rosen tried to connect with Lasley again during the two-point conversion attempt but the pass fell incomplete as Lasley ran into the padding around the goalpost.
USC recovered the onside kick and got the first down it needed to run out the clock on what Rosen had hoped would be a storybook ending.
Playing before a slew of NFL scouts, Rosen outplayed USC counterpart Sam Darnold, who passed for 264 yards and no touchdowns.
Rosen’s favorite target, as usual, was Lasley, who caught 10 passes for a career-high 204 yards and three touchdowns.
Lasley made a circus catch early in the fourth quarter when a Rosen pass deflected off both Jack Jones’ hand and fellow USC cornerback Iman Marshall’s helmet before landing in Lasley’s hands for a 43-yard completion. The Bruins couldn’t fully cash in, however, Rosen connecting with Austin Roberts for five yards on third and nine. UCLA sent kicker J.J. Molson onto the field for a 26-yard field goal that shaved USC’s lead to 21-17.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do,” Rosen said, “it’s just for some reason when we got inside the 10-, 15-yard line, we spazzed out.”
Rosen connected with Lasley for all three of his touchdown passes, including a nine-yard connection in the third quarter that brought the Bruins to within 21-14.
UCLA appeared to have the momentum squarely in its favor but gave some back on its next drive when Rosen threw behind Christian Pabico on third down. Pabico got his hands on the ball but couldn’t bring it in for a catch. Rosen appeared to blame himself, slapping his helmet with his hands.
Rosen’s receivers weren’t doing him many favors in the first half, dropping four passes. Right tackle Andre James also wiped out a 53-yard pass to Lasley when James was penalized for being an ineligible receiver downfield.
Rosen’s linemen failed him again late in the second quarter. The Bruins were at USC’s 12-yard line when Trojans defensive end Malik Dorton sacked Rosen and stripped the ball.
USC linebacker John Houston Jr. recovered the ball, preventing the Bruins from getting a possible score-tying touchdown. Rosen was sacked four times.
Rosen only had himself to blame for another lost opportunity in the third quarter. UCLA was facing a third and 11 at USC’s 14-yard line when Rosen flung the ball into double coverage in the end zone. The play didn’t end well for the Bruins, with Trojans safety Marvell Tell III intercepting the pass.
“I thought it was a touchdown when I threw it,” Rosen said, acknowledging his failure to see Tell.