Before UCLA’s and USC’s football teams kicked off in their latest version of the Crosstown Rivalry, both teams wearing their dark home uniforms, I had predicted that being that those teams were relatively even, the game would be a war.
Though it took a little while, I was proved to be right as after the Bruins came out slugging, scoring the game’s first 24 points – 14 of them off of two Trojan turnovers – ‘SC scored the next 20 points and eventually got to within three in the fourth quarter before UCLA delivered the knockout punches in this heavyweight title fight and ended their five-year losing streak against the Trojans, winning 38-28 before a huge Rose Bowl crowd of 83,277 that was soaked by rain twice during the contest.
It was the first time that the two major institutions in Los Angeles played each other in wet weather since 1961.
Not only did the Bruin triumph earn them the Victory Bell, which will now be painted blue, and bragging rights to America’s second largest city, it also clinched Jim Mora’s team a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game on November 30 as they won the Pac-12 South crown at the Trojans’ expense.
We’ll get to the knockout punches in a bit.
But first, the details of this glorious win…
UCLA showed that they would bring it hard on the game’s first snap when Aaron Hester intercepted a Matt Barkley pass. Brett Hundley took care of the rest three plays later when he ran it in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.
After another USC turnover led to a 17-yard scoring catch by Joseph Fauria and Johnathan Franklin had a 16-yard touchdown run to push the Bruin lead to 24-0, Barkley and his Trojan mates woke up, made adjustments, and scored two quick TDs of their own, one of them a 33-yarder to Nelson Agholor to break the shutout, and went into the locker room having cut UCLA’s lead to 24-14.
Using a boxing analogy, the Bruins won the first round while the Trojans won the second and had gained momentum, which continued after halftime when George Uko recovered a rain-caused fumble – it had stared to pour by that time – in the end zone to put ‘SC to within four.
Eventually Lane Kiffin’s squad got to within three points in the fourth quarter when Marqise Lee, who as predicted got his yards with 158 on nine catches, caught a 14-yard pass from Barkley to make the score 31-28 and got the Trojan faithful rocking in the end zone seats with 7:22 left.
That was when UCLA delivered the knockout punches – three to be exact…
First, Franklin had a spectacular run of 29 yards to pay dirt after Fauria caught perhaps the biggest catch of his life on a 3rd down and 13 play to push the Bruin lead to ten.
Then came what I and many others felt was the big lights-out punch when with a little over two minutes to play and ‘SC’s offense driving, Anthony Barr delivered a wickedly vicious hit to Barkley – who had thrown for 301 yards and three touchdowns to that point – and left the Trojan quarterback lying on the wet Rose Bowl turf.
Not only was the pre-season Heisman Trophy favorite forced to leave the game, he was later ruled out for USC’s showdown with Notre Dame on November 24 due to the sprained shoulder that was caused by Barr’s Hulk-like hit.
The third knockout punch that laid the Trojans out and left them down for the count was when Sheldon Price, whose coverage problems miserably continued as he committed three pass interference penalties, more than made up for those yellow flags when he blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by Andre Heidari with a minute and a half remaining, effectively clinching the changing of the guard as far as college football in L.A. is concerned.
The knockout blows electrified the Bruin crowd, which was electrified throughout the game anyway as they did a fantastic job inspiring the team through their noise. After the defense stopped a last Trojan run, the shocking of the Los Angeles sports scene was complete and the celebration began, with many of the UCLA players going into the student section to share the glory in the rain that began again at game’s end.
The win was a long time coming, as it was the first Bruin triumph over USC since the 13-9 upset of 2006. Not to mention the first win over the Trojans by the Bruin seniors, who along with the rest of the team and Bruin Nation achieved much-needed payback for the 50-0 embarrassment of last year.
“…it’s a very special day,” commented Mora afterward.”I’m as excited as I can be…I’m just happy for all the seniors.”
Hundley was brilliant in his first outing against the crosstown rival, completing 22 of 30 passes for 234 yards while accounting for three touchdowns – two of them on the ground – but Franklin gets the MVP award for the game due to his many clutch runs, including his 29-yarder with 3:14 left, finishing with a game-high 177 yards and two scores.
Meanwhile, USC was hurt by their three turnovers, a fumble by Lee and two Barkley picks, and the failure of their kicking game as in addition to that blocked field goal try, Heidari also missed a PAT and punter Kyle Negrete likewise had a punt blocked by Eric Kendricks, who also had an interception.
Now sitting at 7-4 and completely out of all the polls after beginning the season as the nation’s top-ranked team, the only thing left for the Trojans to do – without Barkley because of that shoulder – is to regroup and somehow try to beat the new number one team in the country: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who are 11-0 and are four quarters away from the BCS title game.
As for the Bruins, this was obviously a spectacularly tremendous victory not only for the team, but for the entire Bruin Nation.
“We knew we could play with (USC),” Barr said.
“We knew we had to bring our ‘A’ game,” Kendricks added, “And we brought it from the first play.”
Every UCLA student, alumnus, and fan as well as football player and member of the Bruin coaching staff should be ecstatic over beating ‘SC; I, for one, will be wearing my Bruin gear all week in light of this triumph.
The focus needs to be changed right away and the letdown absolutely must be avoided as the now 9-2 and 17th ranked (in the BCS) Bruins – 15th in the AP poll – still have one game to play, against a squad that not only has the best defensive front seven in the Pac-12 Conference if not the country, but is fresh off a huge upset of the nation’s second-ranked team, Oregon, completely shutting down their high-powered, Road Runner-like offense.
And this team did it in the Ducks’ Autzen Stadium – the toughest place to play in the Pac-12, which should prove that this next opponent, ranked 8th in the BCS, will not be intimidated in the slightest by the Rose Bowl or the UCLA crowd.
Simply put, at 9-2 (same as the Bruins), the Stanford Cardinal is better than USC, who they beat 21-14 earlier this season, and without a doubt will be UCLA’s toughest test.
A preview of the Stanford game will appear on this site on Wednesday.