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USC-UCLA: Breaking It Down

Patrick Crawley |
December 5, 2010 | 1:47 a.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

USC senior Allen Bradford puts a stiff arm on a UCLA defender on his way to a 47-yard touchdown reception. (Shotgun Spratling)
USC senior Allen Bradford puts a stiff arm on a UCLA defender on his way to a 47-yard touchdown reception. (Shotgun Spratling)

USC ended its season on a high note Saturday, beating rival UCLA 28-14 at the Rose Bowl. USC finishes 8-5 for the season with a 5-4 Pac-10 record – third best behind Oregon and Stanford.

The Trojans delivered a decisive win, their fourth straight over UCLA, outrushing their crosstown rivals 271 yards to 128 and forcing three Bruin turnovers.

It wasn’t the prettiest performance – Matt Barkley threw two interceptions in his return from injury – but it was a satisfying end to an otherwise frustrating season.

“We had our ups and downs this season,” senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson said after the game. “But we came out with a victory tonight and that’s all that matters.”

Key moment: Malcolm Smith has a reputation as a Bruin killer, having run back an interception for a touchdown last season against UCLA. He strengthened that reputation Saturday by scooping up a Johnathan Franklin fumble in the second quarter and returning it 68 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

Smith’s second defensive touchdown of the season put the Trojans ahead 14-7 at halftime and gave them the confidence they needed to finish off their L.A. counterparts. Smith, a senior, finished with nine tackles and recovered a second fumble in the third quarter. Not a bad way to end a college career.

Game changer: USC’s offensive line was terrific all game. Not only did the trench warriors pave the way for Allen Bradford’s touchdown run (he went 73 yards untouched), they also led three running backs to averages of five yards per carry or more (Bradford – 7.6, Marc Tyler – 5.6, and C.J. Gable – 9.0). They gave the Trojans a much-needed boost, especially considering how poorly the team has run the ball the last two weeks, and therefore deserve to be recognized. Well done, gentlemen.   

Player of the game: No surprise here. It’s Allen Bradford. Anytime a player rushes for 220 yards, scores two touchdowns and sets three career highs in his final college appearance, he’s a lock for player of the game. In addition to running the ball 28 times (a career-high), Bradford also had the longest touchdown run of his career (73 yards) and the longest touchdown catch (47 yards). He played like a man possessed in arguably the most important game of the season. Just what you’d expect from a team leader like “AB.”

Play of the game: UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin’s 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was pretty spectacular, but Bradford’s 47-yard touchdown reception trumped it. No. 21 caught a dump pass from Matt Barkley with 11:17 left in the game and turned a broken play into gold. After making the catch, Bradford raced down the sideline, showing his combination of strength and speed by stiff arming All-American safety Rahim Moore and outracing another Bruin to the pylon. The touchdown gave USC a commanding 21-7 lead.

Unsung hero: The Trojans’ top defensive back, Shareece Wright, is a senior. He won’t be around next year. Fortunately, Kiffin and Co. have a good replacement waiting in the wings: Nickell Robey.

Not only did Robey, a true freshman, catch his team-leading fourth interception of the season, he also forced a fumble and had four tackles. After the game, the always humble Florida native said he knows no spot on the team is guaranteed but that he has been talking to his senior teammates, including Wright, in the hope of picking up enough knowledge to earn the top cornerback spot next season. Judging by his performance Saturday, he’s well on his way to making that dream a reality.  

USC's defense stuffs UCLA running back Malcolm Smith. (Shotgun Spratling)
USC's defense stuffs UCLA running back Malcolm Smith. (Shotgun Spratling)
Key stat: USC’s defense held UCLA to just 128 yards on the ground. It wasn’t the Bruins’ lowest rushing output of the season – Cal held UCLA to 26 yards on the ground – but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. After all, this is a team that ran for 437 yards against Washington State and averaged 180 yards on the ground per game.

If there’s a silver lining to the season for the Trojans, it’s that their defense improved significantly over the course of the year. Holding the Bruins to 128 yards rushing is a testament to that.

Best coaching decision:
The decision to start Allen Bradford. The fifth-year senior had problems with fumblitis all season, but coach Lane Kiffin put his trust in “AB” in the final game and it paid off. Bradford had a career day, accounting for over 50 percent of USC’s offense and scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.  

“It was a really great way for him to finish,” Kiffin said.  

Worst coaching decision: It may not have been a coaching decision per se, but the Trojans’ attempted trick play on 4th-and-13 in the second quarter was an abomination of a play. Rather than kicking what would have been a 34-yard field goal, the kicking team went out wide under the direction of Mitch Mustain. UCLA wasn’t fooled in the slightest. They immediately read the play and smothered all potential targets, forcing Mustain to throw a forced pass into coverage that landed incomplete.

The game was tied at the time, making the decision to try a trick play even more baffling.

After the game, Kiffin said the botched play was a case of misreading the situation.

“When they [the opposing defense] check out of their normal alignment like they did, we go for the field goal. But obviously that didn’t happen.”

To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @BasketballFiend.



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