Joshua Kelley wants UCLA to ‘make some new memories’ against USC this week

UCLA running back Joshua Kelley pushes off USC cornerback Ajene Harris during the Bruins' 2018 win.
UCLA running back Joshua Kelley ran for 289 yards in the Bruins’ victory over USC last year.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

The question will be asked in his presence someday, if it hasn’t already, allowing him to sit back and smile while the responders ponder a lengthy list of Heisman Trophy winners and other legends.

Who ran for the most yards in the history of the UCLA-USC rivalry?

Hmmm … O.J. Simpson? Wait, sorry, Gaston Green? Oh no, I’ve got it, Reggie Bush!

Joshua Kelley can just laugh and shake his head until somebody gets it right. It’s him.


Kelley’s 289 yards during UCLA’s 34-27 victory last season, including a 55-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins the lead early in the fourth quarter, are the biggest reason the Victory Bell is now resting in the lobby of the Wasserman Football Center.

The walk-on who arrived at UCLA two years ago as a transfer from UC Davis no longer ponders the improbable memories as much as the intriguing possibilities Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum when the teams renew their rivalry.

“You can’t really live in the past as a player because it’ll just set you up for something bad,” Kelley said Monday. “Maybe it’s just something I’ll show my kids or show my wife, something like that, a couple years down the road. But hopefully we’ll make some new memories because it’s not going to be easy for us Saturday.”

Coming off a strong performance against California, USC is a 13-point favorite to beat UCLA in Saturday’s Southern California rivalry showdown.

Kelley has made success seem routine while running for 104.3 yards per game this season, trailing only Utah’s Zack Moss (106.1) among Pac-12 Conference players. He is a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy that goes to the nation’s best college player who has been a walk-on.

His yardage hasn’t just come against bad defenses. Kelley gained 78 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry last weekend against a Utah defense that entered the game giving up only 56 yards per game and 2.45 yards per carry.

“We watched him run through some tackles on Saturday and that’s kind of what you expect out of Josh,” coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s comforting to know you have a guy like that in the backfield because he’s durable, he’s physical and you know he’s usually falling forward when he has the football.”

When it comes to his biggest rival, Kelley isn’t looking back, even if those around him never fail to bring up his big moment.

“It’s been a little bit different around campus, around Westwood,” Kelley said of the atmosphere since the last rivalry game. “But I always try to tell them that we played a great team.”

UCLA running back Joshua Kelley celebrates after scoring a touchdown against USC last year.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

Forward thinkers

Don’t seize the day three weeks away.

That could become one of Kelly’s mantras after two of his players admitted being less focused on Utah than a possible appearance in the Pac-12 championship game.

Now they can’t get there.

UCLA’s 49-3 defeat left the Bruins (4-6 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) two games behind Utah and 1½ games behind USC. Even if UCLA beats the Trojans and California in their next two games, the Bruins have been eliminated from Pac-12 South contention by virtue of having lost the tiebreaker against the Utes.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and linebacker Lokeni Toailoa acknowledged Saturday that some players had been looking ahead after the Bruins won three consecutive games to put themselves in title contention. Kelly said that can happen amid a group of players that includes 87 freshmen and sophomores.

“They’re young kids and I think a lot of people do it in life, you know, you start to try to see a little bit farther down the road than [that day],” Kelly said. “Hopefully, you learn a lesson from it, that you’ve got to be where your feet are.”

UCLA understands a lot went wrong in the Bruins’ blowout loss to Utah, but their next game against USC would help them sustain their bowl game hopes.

Turnover troubles

Thompson-Robinson was not at fault for either of his interceptions against Utah, according to Kelly.

The first, on a broken play in which the quarterback scrambled before heaving the ball into the end zone, was intercepted by safety Julian Blackmon after he stepped in front of tight end Devin Asiasi.

“When you’re throwing the ball up to a 6-foot-4 tight end that was wide open,” Kelly said, “you’ve got to go up and get the ball.”

The other interception came when defensive lineman Pita Tonga tipped a pass to himself after being unblocked.

Thompson-Robinson’s fumbles came after the ball slipped out of his hand while cocking his arm back to throw and on another play in which Kelly said Thompson-Robinson was holding the ball too low, allowing a defender to knock it out of his hand.


Tight end Jordan Wilson joined linebacker Tyree Thompson, defensive lineman Winston Polite and running back Sitiveni Kaufusi in working off to the side with a trainer during the portion of practice open to reporters. … UCLA’s game against California on Nov. 30 at the Rose Bowl will start at 7:30 p.m. on FS1.