Move Those Chains - UCLA review

With the loss to UCLA, the only positive outcome is the fact that I'm positive the Trojans could not have played worse.

New Year's Disillusions: It's taken me nearly eleven months to understand, but I'm finally starting to appreciate exactly what Vince Young did to me on the night of January 4, 2006.

It may seem like a strange place to start a discussion of Saturday's loss to the Bruins, but rest assured, it all comes back to Young and the Longhorns.

You see, the National Championship game loss to Texas set the bar for devastating losses. For me, that was the first day of school, Black Tuesday, and The Day the Music Died rolled into one. Blowing a 12-point lead with six minutes left, to miss out on winning three straight National Titles was like watching a double feature of "Requiem for a Dream" and "Kids" while Sylvia Plath narrated the entire evening. At the time, I didn't understand what a blessing it would be to finally have that under my belt.

Compared to that loss last January, the defeat on Saturday felt like having a pet die. Sure, it's sad. But at the end of the day, it's not a parent or a child.

Of course, now I'm wondering if all Trojan losses will feel this way. If they'll come and go, and I'll simply move on by shrugging it off and saying, "Hey, at least it wasn't as bad as losing that Rose Bowl game." Kind of like the way your parents start everything with, "Well, back in my day…"

It took me this long to realize the extent of Young's actions because the loss to Oregon State was more of a "What are you gonna do?" game. I mean, four turnovers, a punt return for a touchdown, a 21-point comeback and the Trojans wind up with a loss. What are you gonna do? Sometimes them's the breaks.

But Saturday's loss was devastating. At least, it should have been devastating. Nine total points, one offensive touchdown, 55 yards rushing, no forced turnovers and a game-ending interception inside the red zone. I should have been pulling my hair out. It was bad enough to lose to UCLA, but to lose to a 6-5 UCLA team? Unacceptable.

And yet I accepted it. I accepted it full force, in fact, sitting amongst the Bruins' season ticket holders. Sure, it was disappointing to lose that game and get knocked out of the National Championship picture. But at the beginning of the season, didn't 10-2 and a berth in the Rose Bowl seem like it would be overachieving for this particular team? Just because they could have gone to Glendale doesn't mean they should have gone.

Maybe I'm just rationalizing this loss. But then again. Hey, at least it wasn't as bad as losing that Rose Bowl game.

The A,B,Fs of UCLA: I guess congratulations are in order for the Bruin football team as well as their fans. However, before the Bruin backers pack up and head off to San Francisco for the Emerald Bowl, I really hope they swing by my place and pick up their official, "Worst Fans in Organized Sports Award."

The final results were fairly shocking. As Raider and Yankee Nation were headed for a tenth-consecutive first-place tie, LSU and Florida fans made a frantic on-line push for the title. But the Bruin fans gave a stunning performance in, "December 2nd: At The Rose Bowl," to clinch the victory.

I could honestly not imagine a fan base behaving worse than the Bruins on Saturday. I know that every team has its loonies and people who go a little too over the top. And I understand that this is a rivalry game, and a recently lopsided one at that. But seriously? Is this what the USC-UCLA game is going to turn into?

Now, I'm a huge supporter of taunting at athletic events. I hate Duke basketball with a passion, but I appreciate every single clever chant the Cameron Crazies come up with. The guy who got to Phil Jackson by reading aloud, during a game, from Jackson's basketball memoir, "Maverick," is one of my personal heroes. I even love the "Hey batter, batter" chant in Little League.

But for UCLA fans, apparently clever taunting is a foreign concept. It's not like they were hurting for options. At the time, Reggie Bush was faring considerably worse in the NFL than Maurice Drew and he still has the whole housing thing hanging over USC. Matt Leinart wasn't exactly lighting things up in Arizona. O.J. Simpson overdosed on crazy pills and wrote about it. The Trojan quarterback has an obviously anatomical last name. And they handily defeated the team who beat the Trojans. They could have gone after any and all of those.

Heck, they could have even gone after the question of back-to-back championships, explored the basketball angle or taken the academic superiority stance.

But they didn't do that. Instead, they decided to learn all the various uses of the "F" word and how to raise only the middle finger on both hands.


Totally awesome.

Bruin fans are true heroes. It felt like I was cast as an extra for Al Pacino's version of "The Big Lebowski." They even managed to turn the 8-clap into an F-stravaganza.

I never would have believed that I could hear that word tossed directly at me so many times in a span of five hours. I can't even imagine the abuse that the obnoxious USC fans were taking.

Walking through the UCLA student section as it gathered outside the stadium after the game, I felt like Andy Dufresne when he first walked into Shawshank. There were no, "Hey, great game," or, even witty derogatory comments. It was just a constant stream of F-bombs and middle fingers.

I don't say any of this to whine or tattle; it just struck me as odd. I mean, really? That's where Bruin fans want to take this rivalry? To a point where it ceases to be about fun and competition? These are the same people who go to a rock show just to punch people in the mosh pit. Would it have been any different if the Trojans had come out on top? I seriously doubt it.

And if that's the case, why don't we just call off the game? Each fan base could line up all the way down the 10 Freeway and hurl insults at each other for three hours once a year. And parents, don't forget to bring your children, because apparently they're fair game as well.

Obviously I can't put the full blame on UCLA fans, because I'm sure that the Trojans have their share of rude and obnoxious supporters, but the Bruins' performance at the Rose Bowl was just the most recent and vicious example of the current state of the sportsmanship in this rivalry.

What at first was anger at their behavior quickly turned to embarrassment as I was treated to countless screams of "F You," "F ‘SC" and even one fantastically clever, "F You and F ‘SC." It's a spectacular example of how Bruin fans would rather see USC lose than UCLA win, even when those events are mutually inclusive. I wanted to ask a few of them why they needed to celebrate this win in that fashion, but I decided against it. I didn't want any Bruin fans forced to come up with anything other than a four-letter retort.

All in all, it was a great day to be a sports fan. So congratulations again, Bruins, for making Saturday's game so effing fantastic.

Sportsmanlike Unsportsmanlike Conduct: If you weren't at the game, sure, your self esteem stayed at a normal level by missing the constant berating you would have encountered by wearing anything remotely cardinal. But you missed one of the neatest sights I've ever witnessed on a football field.

After the Bruins punted the ball back to the Trojans with just over five minutes remaining in the game, ABC cut to a TV timeout.

During that time, the Bruins gathered their entire team around the defensive huddle and the Trojan bench followed suit around the offensive huddle.

Soon, players from both teams were splitting from the huddles and making their way to the center of the field, jawing away the entire time. They made it out to the hash marks before referees intervened and started pushing players back to their respective sidelines. Of course, the players didn't intend on going farther than that and there was never any danger of a fight breaking out, but the referees overacted anyway, throwing unsportsmanlike conduct flags against each team.

It may not have meant much in the final outcome, but as a fan of college football, that intensity was truly exciting to see.

As For The Game: There were plenty of positives to take away from the loss to Oregon State. John David Booty matured into a top-shelf quarterback. The young group of Trojans refused to give up and as long as they kept the turnovers to a minimum, this team would be tough to beat.

With the loss to UCLA, the only positive outcome is the fact that I'm positive the Trojans could not have played worse.

The obvious starting point is the seven offensive points scored by the Trojans. Of course, the over-reactors and the ultra-spoiled student body are placing the blame squarely on Lane Kiffin and demanding that he be fired. It figures. In 25 games as the offensive coordinator, the Trojans have failed to score enough points to win the game just one time. Sure, there was plenty to complain about in the loss, but the butter of blame needs to be spread evenly over the Trojan toast. For the first time in recent memory, the Trojans were out-played, out-coached and out-prepared by their opponent.

The offensive line was downright brutal. They accounted for five false start penalties and a personal foul, totaling 40 negative yards. Then, they paved the way for 55 total rushing yards. Not exactly the kind of numbers you're looking for when trying to win a football game. Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis are good defensive ends, but it's not like they're going to end up in the Hall of Fame or anything.

To be fair, the line improved as the game went on, but the way they started that game – allowing pressure on John David Booty on just about every single play – was the first domino that fell.

Because of that initial pressure, Booty played the rest of the game as if he was facing an all-out blitz every time he went back to pass. He rushed his drop, didn't set his feet correctly, looked for the hot receiver and very rarely gave the play a chance to develop.

When the offensive line isn't stemming the pass rush and the quarterback doesn't look comfortable in the pocket, the obvious answer is to go to the running game. Except, on Saturday, the Trojans couldn't get it done there either. The running game ended up hitting for fewer than two-yards per pop and it was beyond frustrating to see the coaches continue to call running plays. It was like watching a basketball game where a team starts out hitting three straight three-pointers. Then, they miss nine of the next ten but are convinced that they can shoot their way out of the slump.

Eventually, they finish the game 7-35 from three-point range and lose by 20 points. If just ten of those shots are distributed elsewhere, to a facet of the game that is working, maybe that score ends up a lot closer in the end.

That's how I feel about the UCLA game. If the Trojans took ten carries away from C.J. Gable and put the ball in Booty's hand each time, USC wins that game. The Bruin secondary was no match for the Trojan receivers. And yet, only twice did the coaches call for Booty to try anything deep.

Beginning the third quarter, it finally looked like the Trojan coaches made some good decisions. It was obvious that the USC receivers could get deep on the Bruin defensive backs, provided the offensive line gave Booty enough time to throw. With a five or even seven-step drop and a clear receiver in mind, Booty would be able to pick apart the secondary. Forget about locking onto a receiver or checking down to other options, simply throwing the ball down the field on every play of the second half would have won that game.

And when the third quarter began, it was as if the coaches were listening to me. After a Chauncey Washington one-yard run, three consecutive completions moved the ball to the UCLA 43-yard line and gave the Trojans all the momentum.

Two C.J. Gable runs and a personal foul later, the Trojans were punting the ball back to the Bruins and my forehead was slamming against the back of the seat in front of me.

But the Trojan defense showed up on the subsequent possession (as they did for much of the day) and got the ball back on the USC seven-yard line.

The first play on that drive was the deep toss to Dwayne Jarrett. It was good for 39 yards and finally exploited the one true offensive advantage they had over the Bruin defense. On the following play, the Trojans again attacked the secondary. This time, it was C.J. Gable streaking down the left sideline out of the backfield. Booty's pass ended up too high for Gable to bring down, but that didn't change the fact that the running back was wide open on the play.

And then… nothing. A false start penalty sandwiched between two short incompletions forced the Trojans to punt. The Bruins took the ball, converted a huge third-down play and kicked the game-winning points.

When the field goal went through, my brother told me the game was over. The Trojans wouldn't score again. At the time, I didn't believe him. After all, this was the same guy who predicted no fewer than 60 kickoff return touchdowns for Reggie Bush during his career at USC. But as it turned out, he was right.

The Trojan offense continued to force the running game until the final drive, where they threw the ball on 11 of 13 plays and finally had some offensive identity.

Normally, I'm a big fan of offensive balance. But normally, the Trojans are capable of sustaining an offensive balance. Why force something when it's not there?

I believe that Lane Kiffin, and the rest of the coaches responsible for offensive play calling and decision making, didn't have their best game against the Bruins. I also believe that demanding someone be fired for one bad decision is ridiculous.

And to those current USC students demanding that Kiffin leave: you're right. You deserve something much better than two regular season losses in the past two years. So when you find a team that has done that, go ahead and fill out the transfer paperwork, buy a jersey of your new team, and watch the Trojans represent their fans and the University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl. You deserve it.

Ultimately, it's up to the players on the field to win the game. The coaches didn't commit nine penalties. They didn't allow Patrick Cowan to completely dominate an entire Bruin drive with his legs. And they certainly didn't tell John David Booty to throw that ball at the UCLA defender.

All in all, it was what my dad calls a "low biorhythm day" for the Trojans. They exerted so much emotion and energy during the previous three games and they just ran up against a team that left everything out on the field. Getting beat by a team that does absolutely everything they had to do in order to get the win is nothing to hang your head about.

I'm very proud of what this Trojan team accomplished during a rebuilding season. They may have finished the regular season on a sour note, but at the end of the day, at least it wasn't as bad as losing that Rose Bowl game.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for He can be reached at Top Stories