Five things we learned in USC’s victory over UCLA

USC defensive end Rasheem Green (94) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a touchdown on a fumble return in the second half.

USC defensive end Rasheem Green (94) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a touchdown on a fumble return in the second half.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC defeated UCLA, 40-21, on Saturday at the Coliseum. Here are five things we learned in the Trojans’ victory:

USC was physical

After getting beat up by UCLA the last three seasons, USC left no doubt that it’s become the most physical team in Los Angeles.


The Trojans kept pressure on quarterback Josh Rosen, made five tackles for losses, including three sacks, and forced a fumble.

Defensive backs played man-to-man coverage, broke up nine passes and intercepted two.

On offense, USC rushed — often straight up the middle — for 235 yards in 59 carries. UCLA had no answer.

Freshmen made a difference on defense

Earlier this season in a victory over Utah, it was freshman linebacker Cameron Smith who sparked USC’s defense with three interceptions.

Against UCLA, it was freshmen Rasheem Green and Iman Marshall.

Green, a defensive lineman, recovered a fumble in the third quarter and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 26-21 lead.

Marshall intercepted passes by Rosen in the third and fourth quarters for his second and third interceptions this season.

His first interception Saturday was converted into a touchdown and his second interception allowed USC to run out the clock to end the game.

Rosen had thrown 245 passes since his last interception.

Helton could become coach

After a 48-28 defeat last week at Oregon, interim Coach Clay Helton had USC ready to play against UCLA.

His game plan was clear: Run the ball and play aggressive man defense.

The Trojans dominated time of possession, 40 minutes to UCLA’s 20, and left no room for the Bruins to gather any momentum.

Helton is 5-2 this season, with losses to Notre Dame and Oregon.

Players stated emphatically after the game that he should get the job because of how he has coached them.

Players can’t make the decision, but their play on the field should speak loudly to USC’s administration.

Tailbacks couldn’t be stopped

After throwing the ball -- unsuccessfully -- on its first drive, USC turned to the run in its second series.

The rest was downhill for the Bruins.

Justin Davis rushed for 130 yards in 25 carries, Ronald Jones II rushed for 63 yards in 17 carries and Tre Madden rushed for 32 yards in seven carries.

Jones became the all-time leading freshman rusher for USC.

Madden had been sidelined against Colorado and Oregon because of a nagging knee injury.

Offensive line made it work

Starting center Max Tuerk and backup center Toa Lobendahn have been sidelined because of season-ending injuries and USC has been forced to play a third- and fourth-team center.

Khaliel Rodgers made his fifth start against UCLA, despite injuries to both of his shoulders.

Rodgers went to the sideline hobbled in the first half and was replaced by third-year sophomore Nico Falah, who never had played center in a game.

Falah held his own until Rodgers was able to return in the second half.

Both players deserve credit for keeping their composure and snapping the ball well enough to avert any turnovers.

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