USC Sports

Trojans were familiar with UCLA’s rushing attack, they just couldn’t stop it

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA OCTOBER 17, 2018-UCLA running Joshua Kelley picks up yards despite being brough
UCLA running Joshua Kelley picks up yards with USC linebacker John Houston (10) pulling at his sleeve during the second quarter Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC coach Clay Helton said this week that he has always looked up to UCLA coach Chip Kelly for being an “offensive genius.”

Helton’s counter to Kelly on Saturday was USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who spent six seasons (2004-09) as a defensive coordinator in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.

In preparing for this week, Pendergast didn’t just look at UCLA tape from this season. He also reviewed film from Kelly’s stint in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

And it wasn’t that UCLA showed anything that different Saturday in setting running back Joshua Kelley loose on the Trojans for 289 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries. USC knew that the Bruins were going to use unbalanced line-blocking schemes, which stack more blockers on one side of the line of scrimmage to give the offense an advantage. The Trojans just couldn’t stop it.


“We worked on that,” Pendergast said. “They did bits and pieces of it all year long. Coach Kelly even did it at Philadelphia. They always have one or two different unbalanced [lines] every week, and that was one thing they did tonight.”

Pendergast said UCLA used more sets with two and three tight ends in this game. The looks helped bust Kelley for runs of 61 and 55 yards.

“We knew coming into the game what Coach Kelly is,” Helton said. “He’s a run-first guy, and he’s always had a good back. Coming into the game we had a lot of respect for Joshua Kelley. He’s a very physical back and a very good runner. He got going tonight. Credit to him and their offensive line.”

Pendergast said a turning point for the defense was losing middle linebacker John Houston to a hamstring injury. He was replaced in the third quarter by Reuben Peters, who hasn’t played much since the Colorado game Oct. 13.


“When John Houston went out,” Pendergast said, “we had pretty much [figured out] what they had been doing [with] formations. He’d been in there seeing those things. That definitely didn’t help us any. You gotta give UCLA credit. They had a nice plan.”

Penalties hurt

USC entered the game ranked 121st nationally in penalty yardage per game with 74.9. Saturday, the Trojans had nine penalties for 63 yards, which wasn’t so bad compared to other outings.

UCLA had just two penalties for 15 yards.

The most costly penalty came in the second quarter when Brandon Pili threw a punch at UCLA’s Chris Murray and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Bruins were going to face third-and-goal from the USC 5 but instead were awarded first-and-goal from the two-yard line. Kelley punched it in for a and a 21-17 UCLA lead.

Helton yelled at Pili when he came to the sideline, showing as much public frustration as he has this season with any player.

Last week, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Iman Marshall in the fourth quarter extended a California drive and kept USC from getting the ball back for a potential game-winning drive.


Helton said he showed clips of Marshall’s penalty — and of Amon-ra St. Brown committing the same penalty — to make a point of how players need to better control their emotions.


Helton said USC running back Aca’Cedric Ware left the game due to a shoulder injury. Ware had been limited at practice this week.

Twitter: @BradyMcCollough

Get our daily Sports Report newsletter