Final Thoughts: UCLA review

We got beat. The USC Trojans did not lose this football game, we got beat. There is a difference.

The Bruins played better than the Trojans in this game, led by a defensive line that was causing problems for the Trojan offense from the very beginning. It's not like this should have caught the Trojans by surprise as Hickman and Davis were among the national leaders in sacks and had a reputation as being the strength of the Bruin defensive unit. Time and again, however, they were able to get pressure on Booty, they may not have always got to him but they hurried him and that affected his ability to throw the ball downfield. John David was consistently forced to step up into a pocket that was closing quickly and, to his credit, he was still able to put up decent numbers on the day with 274 passing yards coming primarily on short to mid-range completions.

It didn't help that the Trojan run game was slowed, especially in the second half when USC was held to negative seven yards rushing. All told in the game we rushed for 55 yards while Bruin quarterback Patrick Cowan matched that total by himself. C.J. Gable ran hard but when your leading rusher carries the ball 19 times and his long for the night is nine yards, something is wrong. We missed a healthy Chauncey Washington badly in this game with his power running style. On top of all that, the USC offensive line struggled as much as in any game this year but they did not get the help of adjustments or extra blockers to help what was an obvious problem all night with the UCLA d-ends.

At some point though you have to tip your cap to Bruin defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and the job he did game planning against the Trojans. Everything we did he had an answer for. He was as well prepared as any coach we have faced under Pete Carroll which makes sense considering Walker had been one of the first hires by Carroll when he first came to USC. Given their close relationship, one has to imagine that Walker has a pretty good insight into Carroll's line of thinking and it paid off for the Bruins. Rarely do the Trojan coaches get outschemed but they did tonight. We just never saw the adjustments or changes to the game plan that could solve the UCLA defensive puzzle and that's strange for Trojan fans because we're used to our coaches outhinking the other side when the game is on the line. You have to imagine that Walker earned himself a shot at being considered for a head coaching opportunity this off-season after what he did against the Trojans. If you would have told me before the game that UCLA would score 13 points I would have taken that to the bank and prepared for the celebration because there's no way I could have pictured the Trojans only scoring nine points of their own. When you score 20 or more points for 63 games in a row you kind of get used to it.

The USC defense played well enough to win, they basically gave up one big 91 yard drive in the first half which resulted in the only Bruin touchdown of the day. The defense also held UCLA to a field goal on a critical drive late in the game in which they had driven inside the USC five yard line. The fact that the Bruins were forced to settle for a field goal kept the game within striking distance and so many times over the years we have seen USC take advantage of those situations to pull out a victory, tonight we didn't. One defensive play that deserves mention was the hit by Rey Maualuga on Cowan along the sidelines. Wow, what an impact. Rey absolutely crushed the Bruin quarterback and it was somewhat surprising to see Cowan get up and make it back to his sideline.

So what really happened in this game? How did we get beat? Those questions will be discussed in the near future and hopefully there are some tangible answers. I'm sure Coach Carroll and his staff will take a long and serious look at this game film to figure out what went wrong. In the meantime, we get to deal with the reality of where we are at with this loss.

First of all, the opportunity to play for a national title is gone. To be honest, this team probably exceeded expectations to even be in that position but the opportunity was still there to earn a spot in the title game and it slipped through our fingers. With the competitive nature of our players and coaches, there is no way to minimize that lost opportunity. More than anything, however, it also just hurts to lose to the Bruins. It's one thing to lose to a Texas with a great player like Vince Young or to get surprised in Corvallis by a team like Oregon State. To lose against the Bruins, with so much on the line, it just really hurts. I'm sure they will get a lot of pleasure out of the Trojan angst this game will cause. I know I celebrated in 1999 when we broke their eight game win streak and I was also a huge Canes fan on the day that Miami beat them to keep UCLA out of the national championship game the year before that. To lose a game to the Bruins that costs USC both the win streak over their rival and an opportunity to play for a national title, you can't deny how much it hurts.

So where do we go from here? The next focus will be on the Rose Bowl game and a match-up against either Michigan or LSU. I'm sure our attention and spirit will get re-focused in due time but for now I'm not ready to look at the next game just yet. Give me some time to get over this one before we move on. I'm not sure how long it will take but it will happen eventually.


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