A first-half defensive struggle between UCLA and USC turned tight, and then ugly, last Saturday night at the Memorial Coliseum.
When the final gun sounded, the Trojans earned a 28-7 decision and perhaps some respect in a season filled with great expectations.
USC’s final tally came with 44 seconds left, and requires some serious head scratching. Ahead by 14 points, and the Pacific 10 Conference game out of reach, USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley took a knee but UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel called time out, as many in the crowd of 85,713 started booing.
On the next play, Barkley (18 of 26 for 206 yards with one interception) faked a handoff and then found wide receiver Damian Williams (82 yards and five catches) alone, and he trotted into the end zone on a 48-yard play.
The Bruins didn’t expect this, and what followed was both sidelines jawing, and many players and coaches coming toward the middle of the field. This went on for about five minutes but eventually cooler heads prevailed.
Though not an artistic gem, the 79th meeting between these fierce rivals took on a surreal dimension more likely seen on a hockey rink.
When triple zeroes were left on the scoreboard, USC Head Coach Pete Carroll and Neuheisel quickly shook hands but barely acknowledged one another.
“It’s just the heart of a competitor, just battling,’’ said Carroll, who improved to 8-1 against the Bruins.
“They have every right to throw the ball deep,” said Neuheisel. “It’s our job to cover it.”
For much of the first half, it was a punting contest. This trend continued into the second half, as the Trojans finished with eight and the Bruins seven.
USC committed one turnover and churned out 336 total net yards, while UCLA had four miscues and 322 yards.
The only score of the opening half was a 62-yard interception by USC linebacker Malcolm Smith with 6:31 left in the first quarter.
The throw by UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince (10 of 22 passes for 90 yards with two interceptions) was ill-advised and practically air-mailed to Smith, who went untouched and finished with 15 tackles.
Each team sputtered in the opening half, with the Trojans (8-3 and 5-3 in conference) gaining 140 yards to 138 yards for the Bruins (6-6 and 3-6 in conference).
USC could have gone ahead 10-0 at the close of the second quarter but Jacob Harfman’s 50-yard field goal drifted wide left.
UCLA wide receiver Nelson Rosario (54 yards and five receptions) made a nice catch, and then fumbled which Josh Pinkard recovered and set up the long kick.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft played in the second half, completed eight of 17 attempts for 98 yards with one interception and ran for a team-high 40 yards.
USC running back Allen Bradford (game-best 82 yards on 14 rushes) had a one-yard run that made it 14-0 with 7:01 left in the third quarter.
Safety Will Harris picked off Prince deep inside UCLA territory, and Bradford’s run over the left side capped off a seven-play, 29-yard drive.
Fullback Chane Moline scored UCLA’s lone touchdown with a two-yard run and 5:41 left in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 14-7.
Bradford made it 21-7 about four minutes later when he scored from two yards out, before the final drama played out.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.