I watched the USC/UCLA Rivalry Game from the Trojan sidelines. Frankly, it was not a pretty game. I saw 2 young quarterbacks –Kevin Prince & Matt Barkley - who were both telegraphing passes.
UCLA’s Prince struck first, finding USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who rumbled to the first TD of the game and a 7-0 Trojan lead. Then after USC got deep into UCLA territory on a big play from tight end Anthony McCoy early in the 2nd quarter, Barkley found a wide-open Bruin defensive back Alterraun Verner.
Ultimately, the first half ended on a missed Jacob Harfman 50-yard field goal (he was about 10 yards short). By the way, it is beyond me how a major program like USC doesn’t possess a place-kicker who has a shot at a 45+ yard FG. (The Trojans’ regular kicker Jordon Congdon has absolutely no shot at a long one. Harfman did have a great night punting with a 45-yard average.)
Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow had achieved their first half objective. They were down only 7-0 and within a touchdown of their hated crosstown cardinal & gold rivals.
In the 3rd quarter, Kevin Prince worked his magic again finding Will Harris, who made the INT in Bruin territory. The Trojans got a 9-yard completion from Barkley to Damian Williams and 15 yards on the ground from Allen Bradford, making it 14-0 on a 1-yard plunge from Bradford.
After Prince’s 2nd pick, Neuheisel & Chow went to QB Kevin Craft (Prince injured his shoulder), a great kid who will never be mistaken for a top-flight signal-caller, but he did get the Bruins on the scoreboard with a combination of designed quarterback runs, a few high percentage pass completions and a steady dose of Chane Moline. UCLA was back to within a TD with 5:22 left in the game.
At that point, a combination of Jeremy Bates’ aggressive play-calling & Matt Barkley’s proficiency put the game out of reach. On the game-clinching drive, Barkley was 4-5, finding Ronald Johnson twice including a big 20-yard gainer. Bradford got the last 23 yards of the drive with a second TD run, UCLA obliged with a 4 & out and USC essentially won the game 21-7.
If that’s where the game ended, we wouldn’t have much to talk about. The Trojans winning for the 10th-time in 11 years in a sluggish 21-7 defensive slugfest is totally fine, but, let’s be honest. It’s an off year for the Trojans and Rick Neuheisel is still trying to figure out if he can turn around the Bruins. Not a lot at stake. USC playing for a possible 2nd place finish in the Pac 10 & a Holiday Bowl berth. UCLA trying to avoid a school record 4th consecutive 6-loss season.
After Neuheisel & Chow were unable to put together a drive against the chippy USC defense, Pete Carroll did the classy thing. With 54 seconds left in the game and a 2 TD lead, Matt Barkley took a knee. Run out the clock. Game over.
And then he did it. Rick Neuheisel called a timeout.
Huh? I had climbed the steps at the Peristyle end of the Coliseum, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what Neuheisel was doing. I ran back down all those steps because something weird was happening. After the game he muttered something using his timeouts and forcing USC to punt.
That makes perfect sense. All the Bruins had to do was to stop USC 2 more times, block the punt with a run-back for a TD, try an onside kick, get possession again and score another touchdown in 52 seconds.
I’ve always liked Rick, but he’s living in a fairy tale if he didn’t understand how over that game was. They had no chance to win. Not even a 1 in a million chance.
But if Rick calls timeout to announce “game on,” then they better be prepared to play some defense. Jeremy Bates called for a little play-action and a bomb to Damian Williams. The numbers that will ring in Los Angeles for many years will be 48 and 44. A 48-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left.
Neuheisel had it coming. He’s the mastermind behind the infamous, “The football monopoly is over” newspaper ad before he ever even coached a game for the Bruins. So far, he is all sizzle and no steak. We interviewed him on the Mason & Ireland Show on 710 ESPN on September 21. It was the Tuesday after the Trojans were upset at Washington, falling to 2-1, while UCLA was 3-0 after defeating a mediocre Kansas St. team at the Rose Bowl. Rick proudly declared that “the deck in the Pac 10 is being reshuffled.”
UCLA celebrated this new reshuffled Pac 10 by losing its first 5 conference games. I don’t disagree with the general concept. The Pac 10, in my opinion, is very, very good. Love Jeremiah Masoli and Chip Kelly at Oregon, Mike Riley and Sean Canfield at Oregon St., Jake Locker and Steve Sarkisian at Udub and Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. (I don’t love Harbaugh, but I respect him as a coach.)
But If you’re the guy that’s going to come on the radio and announce that the deck is being re-shuffled, you better make sure you have good hold cards. Right now, the Bruins are sitting at the table with a 2-7 off-suit.
In 2009, his first year, Neuheisel was 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the Pac 10 including a 28-7 loss to USC at the Rose Bowl. This year, he went 6-6 overall with an identical 3-6 in-conference with a 28-7 loss to archrival USC at the Coliseum. The only quality win for the Bruins was at Tennessee, although Lane Kiffin is in the beginning of a rebuilding process of his own. That was Rick’s only 2009 win against a team with an above-.500 record. If the UCLA doesn't make a quantum leap next season, the so-called Bruin Nation will begin to question the direction of the program.
I don’t believe that the last touchdown pass is an example of Pete Carroll running up the score. It’s the result of Slick Rick’s stupidity. PC wasn’t classless. Neuheisel was schooled. Carroll wanted to end the game on a friendly note, but when Rick called the dumbest timeout in history, he led with his chin. I don’t blame Trojans for shattering it.