Sports Now

Sports news from Los Angeles and beyond

« Previous Post | Sports Now Home | Next Post »

USC football: A fan's look back at the UCLA game

November 29, 2009 |  7:09 pm


Part of the fun of beating UCLA at the Coliseum is driving home after the game and
listening to the whining on the Bruins’ postgame radio show. It makes for good comedy and Saturday night was an all-timer.

The host, whose name I won’t use to protect the idiocy, was losing it, calling Pete Carroll “classless” about a thousand times for his decision to call a pass play in the final minute. He then told a caller, a Bruins fan, to “talk slowly” for Trojans fans listening.

As a proud 1984 graduate of the University of Southern California, allow to me to say, very slowly:

That’s what the Trojans have accomplished in the rivalry after a 28-7 victory that
reinforced the thought that the monopoly is far from over.

With three losses this season, this has been USC’s worst year since 2001. But among the Trojans’ eight victories are wins over Notre Dame and UCLA.

Carroll is now 8-1 against each school.

For USC fans who remember the days of 0-12-1 against the Irish and 0-8 against the Bruins, this is as good as it gets.

"Good" would not be a word associated with the play of either team's offense Saturday night. USC's was lousy. UCLA's was worse.

UCLA’s strong defense played a solid game. USC’s much-maligned defense played like it did the first half of the season.

It was a major relief to see the Trojans bounce back on defense after their 55-21 loss to Stanford two weeks ago, which came two weeks after a 47-20 loss in Oregon.

The Trojans intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble. It seemed junior linebacker Malcolm Smith’s name was mentioned about 100 times by the public address announcer. Not only did Smith account for the game’s first score on a
62-yard interception return, he also was in on 15 tackles.

The Trojans shut down UCLA’s running backs (they had more problems with the
Bruins’ scrambling quarterbacks) and consistently kept the Bruins’ excellent kicking
game out of field-goal range.

As for USC’s offense? Different week, same story. Too many failures on third down, too many penalties. USC’s first touchdown on offense came on a 29-yard drive, set up by a Will Harris interception.

But for all its troubles, the offense stepped up when it most needed to. UCLA’s only touchdown came with 5:41 left in the game, making the score 14-7. The Trojans needed to respond, or at least take significant time off the clock. They did both.

In their best drive since their game-winning one at Ohio State, the Trojans went 73 yards in nine plays, Allen Bradford scoring on a two-yard run with 1:30 left. Bradford deserved the score for gaining 30 yards in four carries on the drive. Matt  Barkley also was big at the end, completing three passes for first downs. It was a
20-yard pass to Ronald Johnson on a third-and-three play from the UCLA 43 that pretty much cemented the outcome.

That should have been the end of it, but of course the next few minutes will be the subject of discussion forever — or at least until the teams meet next season.

After UCLA turned the ball over on downs, USC attempted to run out the final 54 seconds by taking a knee. UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel called a timeout. Carroll then had Barkley throw a deep pass, which Damian Williams caught in the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown.

Was Carroll rubbing it in? Did Neuheisel get what he deserved for not letting the clock just run out?

I admit I didn’t feel totally comfortable with the entire sequence. I really hated it when the teams looked like they were going to fight at midfield after the ensuing conversion. James Washington, who played at UCLA, said on the television postgame show that he had no problem with what Carroll did once Neuheisel decided to extend the game. (Interestingly, Darrell Rideaux, who played for Carroll, said on USC’s radio postgame show that Carroll’s move was “bush league.”)

I tend to agree more with Washington, but I wouldn’t have minded had Bradford broken off a 48-yard run. I was furious at Jim Harbaugh for his decision to go for
two points two weeks ago to reach 50 against USC. That completely went against the spirit of the game. Maybe the solution to it all is to have Carroll, Neuheisel and Harbaugh compete in a steel-cage match.

The final minutes gave sportswriters a lot of great angles and there were few who
could capture it better than The Times’ Mike Penner, who died on Friday. I think Mike would have laughed at the uproar.

R.I.P. Mike.

--- Hans Tesselaar

Photo: The Trojans celebrate Damian Williams' 48-yard touchdown reception after UCLA had called a timeout with less than one minute remaining. Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.