USC: All Is Right With the World

UCLA pulls off the most stunning performance of the college football season in beating #2-ranked USC, 13-9, and knocking the Trojans out of the BCS Championship Game. Everything is sweet about it -- ending USC's streak in the series, and showing on national television what team has the heart...

The UCLA Bruins pulled off the most stunning performance of the college football season, and created one of the biggest memories in the cross-town rivalry when it beat USC Saturday, 13-9.

If you were living in a cave, that win knocks #2 USC out of the BCS Championship Game.

It also ends the 7-year winning streak USC had in the rivalry, preserving UCLA's eight-game winning streak as the longest in the series.

It also allows all of our children not to have to tolerate so much trash talking at school for the next year from all the mouthy little Trojan kids (The children of bandwagon jumpers are the worst).

You could go on and on, listing incredible things from the aftermath of the win.

UCLA gets the Victory Bell back, for the first time in seven years.

The Bruins surge ahead in the Lexus Gauntlet standings, 30-5.

The win either kept USC from many records, or ended streaks for them. A couple of note: If USC had won it would have been the first time the Trojans swept UCLA and Notre Dame in five successive seasons; it was the first game in 63 games that USC didn't score over 20 points.

And I'm sure the victory provides Head Coach Karl Dorrell many things he could list.

It preserves a winning record for UCLA this season, now going to 7-5 on the year. It gives Dorrell his first victory over USC in his four years.

And it gives Dorrell his biggest victory of his coaching career at UCLA to date.

It was a well-earned victory by Dorrell and his coaching staff, because one of the most prevalent impressions of the game was that UCLA out-coached USC. I think USC's coaching staff would readily admit it: Karl Dorrell out-coached Pete Carroll.

The game ball, at least one of them, has to go to defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. It was probably the best coaching job by a coordinator against USC in five years. His defensive scheme was so good it looked like he had been sitting in on USC's offensive game plan meetings all week (perhaps it helped that Walker worked for Carroll at USC for a season). On the two fourth-and-ones that USC went for, that UCLA stuffed, there were UCLA defenders in the backfield before John David Booty even handed the ball to his running back. The mixing of man and Cover 2 in the secondary had USC's passing game out of sync, as well as the bracketing of big-time receiver Dwayne Jarrett. And the adjustments were phenomenal; at the outset of the game, it looked like USC would be able to run the ball easily, but the Trojan running game was quickly bottled up once Walker recognized the running game's tendencies (one, that they were running exclusively to the left side) and he adjusted accordingly.

It made for UCLA's defense to easily be the best unit on the field Saturday. And while it's great to watch a high-powered offense, there's nothing that truly makes a fan more proud than for its team to perform defensively like it did against USC.

In another testament to Walker, the defense did it, and has done it all year, with many guys who probably wouldn't even be seeing the field at USC. Middle linebacker Christian Taylor needs to be anointed as one of the greatest linebackers in UCLA history. Seriously. If you consider what players are getting out of their capabilities, then Taylor has to be among the few best in UCLA lore at getting the most out of himself. In this game, he was not just always in position and making clutch tackles, leading the team in tackles with 11 for the game, but he adjusted the defense and his teammates throughout the game to get them in position. He is the poster boy for Gutty Little Bruins.

The defensive line, by the second half, you could see was wearing down USC's vaunted OL. UCLA's speed looked like it was tiring out the Trojans, trying to keep up with Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman flying around the edge. USC was called for three false starts, trying to get a jump on Davis and Hickman.

The good defensive effort was built on good coverage. Booty, for the most part, was getting a decent amount of time, but couldn't find receivers open. A big amount of credit has to go to UCLA's corners, Trey Brown, Rodney Van and Alterraun Verner. They provided excellent coverage, and even when a pass was completed, they made very sure tackles and allowed very little YAC (yardage after contact). USC's passing game is predicated on getting Jarrett the ball and allowing him to make yardage. He got loose for one 39-yard reception when he split a seam, but his three other catches were for a total of 29 yards. He dropped a quick swing pass in the critical final two minutes, looking un-focused and a bit rattled. A great deal of credit has to go to UCLA's safeties, also, with Dennis Keyes having the best game of the season for him, in position and making solid tackles.

One of the game balls definitely has Eric McNeal's name on it. The tip and interception will go down in UCLA history as one of the biggest plays in the series with USC, and one of the most amazing. Watching it a number of times, it was a greatly athletic play, not only was McNeal able to react quick enough to bat down the pass, but to then get back up in the air in a mili-second to lunge to catch the ball. McNeal came down balanced, with both feet on the ground, giving him the chance to go back up quickly. In a video interview coming later on BRO, McNeal said that the play happened for him in slow motion, and that he remembers exactly how the ball was spinning. It was such a huge play in the game since, at the time, it looked like USC was driving toward the winning touchdown, at UCLA's 18-yard line. It has been deemed the "McPick," and it will go down in UCLA lore as truly one of the top few plays for UCLA in the rivalry. It is also almost Hollywood-fitting that it was McNeal, a senior who had been through quite a bit during his UCLA career but perservered, that did it.

The focus and determination it took for McNeal to accomplish that play really epitomized UCLA's defense in this game, and down the stretch. Watching from the sideline on the field for the last ten minutes of the game, you could feel the energy and intensity of UCLA's defense, compared to the back-on-their-heels aura coming from USC's offense. Besides a great overall game plan, what won the game for UCLA was the attitude you could see they brought to the field. On that final USC drive, all you could see from Brown, Verner, Keyes, Van or Horton was focus, in a potentially daunting situation, lining up mano-a-mano against the likes of Dwayne Jarrett.

The energy and confidence was most evident at the beginning of the second half. Yes, UCLA had played USC evenly in the first half, but you expected the Trojans would come out in the second half with we're-now-going-to-put-away-this-game-to-play-for-a-national-championship intensity. But UCLA had the intensity and USC wilted. USC's offense didn't score in the second half, and didn't get past the 50-yard line until UCLA's Michael Pitre fumbled the throw-back swing pass that was a lateral at about the beginning of the fourth quarter. They had four drives in the third quarter that UCLA stopped them on before mid-field. On one, Booty was sacked on what is called a "team sack," but it was just really Booty kind of collapsing and slipping, feeling the pass rush but falling untouched.

For three years, I thought that former USC quarterback Matt Leinart was over-rated, playing in a great system with a great deal of talent around him. But USC certainly missed Leinart's cool-headedness in this game.

On offense, UCLA didn't put up good numbers, by any means, but the offensive performance was really a thing of beauty, if you look at it from what it accomplished. It was obvious that the game plan was to try to keep the clock running, keep USC's offense off the field, and keep UCLA in the game so it could pull out a win at the end. It accomplished that. It was good in the handful of very critical junctures in the game. In the fourth quarter, when it needed to gain yards on the ground and eat up clock, it had three critical runs. UCLA was ahead 10-9, and on its first drive of the fourth quarter, at the 44-yard line, Chris Markey ran for 11 yards, then Derrick Williams rushed for six, and then had a great 7-yard gain where it looked like he was caught behind the line, juked a couple of guys, broke a tackle and got the first down at USC's 20. With so many big, critical plays in this game, especially on defense, that more subtle sequence might be over-looked, but it was key, putting UCLA definitely in Justin Medlock's field goal range. With Medlock making the subsequent field goal, and bringing the score to13-9, it forced USC to have to score a touchdown rather than kick a field goal to win.

UCLA had not been able to run all day. In fact, those three runs were UCLA's biggest runs from scrimmage for the game. But it was a time UCLA needed to gain yards on the ground, and the offensive line sucked it up, and took advantage of a deflating USC team, and Williams was rested and explosive (those were his only two carries, and I believe he got injured, walking in a boot in the locker room after the game).

Talking about going down in UCLA lore, Patrick Cowan deserves a section in the UCLA Football Lore Book. He threw for just 114 yards, and completed just 12 passes. Early in the game, he wasn't good, not seeing open receivers, locking on others and missing some throws. But he came into his own during the one, hugely critical drive toward the end of the first half where he scrambled for a total of 55 yards on four different plays, including a one-yard scramble on a roll-out for a touchdown. It put UCLA up 7-0, and sent a notice that this was going to be a game where USC didn't roll over its opponent. In the second half, with UCLA down 9-7, Cowan stepped up and took control of the game on one drive. First he hit Marcus Everett for a gain of 16, bringing UCLA into USC territory. He cooly threw a strike to Logan Paulsen for a gain of 11. Then he hit Everett again for another first down at USC's 14. The drive stalled but UCLA kicked a field goal, went up 10-9, and took the clock from 9 minutes to 5:45 in the third quarter. It was at this point when you realized that, with UCLA's defense doing what it was doing, and Cowan playing well and under control of the offense, UCLA could win this game.

After that, UCLA put together a sequence of plays that, again, should go down in Bruin Lore. The UCLA defense stopped USC for a loss of four on fourth down, at the UCLA 36-yard line. It was a huge play, and you could make an argument it was the play of the game.

But then you'd have an argument over the next big play. On third and 15, and with UCLA's offense not wanting to give the ball back to USC's offense, Cowan hit Everett for a 21-yard gain. Everett made an incredible, leaping catch with the ball sticking in his hands. Then Markey and Williams had those critical runs and UCLA got the field goal to make it 13-9. Marcus Everett gets the other game ball (how many is that we've given out now?). It truly was a miraculous catch, to be added to his now lengthy resume of clutch, miraculous catches.

During that entire second-half sequence, it was really a stretch of some magical moments for UCLA, those kind of moments where it just wasn't clutch plays being made, but lucky, little critical bounces of the ball, too, where it seems the Football Gods are on your side. Dennis Keyes fumbled a punt that could have given USC the ball deep in UCLA's territory in the fourth quarter, but the ball bounced luckily and Keyes picked it up.

On the other hand, there were a few little bounces that, if they had gone UCLA's way, could have made a big difference also. USC fumbled a ball on a pass, but it luckily popped up and into the hands of Jarrett. UCLA's Ryan Graves had a big return on a punt and was just one man away from going to the house. Alterraun Verner stepped in front of a Booty pass and missed a pick and probably a touchdown by about six inches.

Those little bounces are what make college sports so much fun.

But UCLA, obviously determined, focused and intense, forced those unpredictable little bounces to go their way in this game moreso than USC.

It was truly vindication, in that aspect. You hear national pundits discarding UCLA, like ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit consistently referring to UCLA generally not having what it takes. It was beautiful, then, on such a national stage, for the Herbstreits of the world and, in fact, the world, to see what UCLA is made of. If you didn't know football, the Xs and Os, what a zone blitz is, if you were watching the game from a simple impressionable level, you would say that USC might have the champion-caliber athletes, but UCLA has the heart of the champion.

And for the first time in eight years, UCLA has the boasting rights of being the champion of the city for the next year. No more will you have to listen to your co-workers talk trash around the water cooler and your children can wear their UCLA sweatshirts to school proudly.

It was one of those games that will be indelibly imprinted in your memory. You'll see the stands full of True Blue and hear the sound of 90,000 people on their feet cheering. You'll remember the look in the eyes after the game of Junior Taylor, who came back from a potential career-ending knee injury to get this one. In the cross-town rival lore, Patrick Cowan will take his place right alongside John Barnes. You'll see McNeal making that leap for the interception just like you see Karl Morgan getting that sack, or Freeman McNeal catching that caromed pass at his shoe laces.

And no matter if you're a Blue or a Crank, you truly will bask in the feeling that Karl Dorrell must have, a True Bruin who works hard to do things the right way, and know that, sometimes, the good guys actually do win.


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