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Trojans Can't Overcome Turnovers And 24-0 Deficit, UCLA Wins 38-28

Aaron Fischman |
November 17, 2012 | 5:51 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

UCLA QB Brett Hundley celebrates an early touchdown. (James Santelli/NT)
UCLA QB Brett Hundley celebrates an early touchdown. (James Santelli/NT)

PASADENA, Calif. – The No. 21 USC Trojans fell behind 24-0 and were never able to fully recover, as they lost to the UCLA Bruins 38-28 in a game that rewarded the winning Bruins with the Pac-12 South crown. 

Matt Barkley was intercepted on his very first pass attempt, giving the Bruins prime field position at the Trojans’ 17-yard line. Freshman UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley quickly turned the turnover into points, as he scampered into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.  

The Trojans failed to score in each of their first four possessions, while the Bruins scored on each of their first four drives. The Trojans’ second turnover came on USC’s third drive of the game, as Marqise Lee fumbled fractions of a second before his knee hit the ground.    

“For us to go down like that early, obviously there was something wrong with how we had our guys ready to play,” said Trojans coach Lane Kiffin. “We dug ourselves a hole, then came back out of it, but weren’t able to come all the way out.” 

Johnathan Franklin torched the Trojans for 160 yards. (James Santelli/NT)
Johnathan Franklin torched the Trojans for 160 yards. (James Santelli/NT)
Hundley was extremely accurate from the start, completing 16 of 19 passes for 141 yards through the first half. A 16-yard Johnathan Franklin touchdown run extended the Bruins lead to 24-0 midway through the second quarter.

Just as the game was beginning to get away from the Trojans, Barkley and company put together two second-quarter touchdown drives to bring the game to 24-14 at the half. For such a miserable offensive start that featured two turnovers and a turnover on downs, a 10-point deficit appeared encouraging.

At the half, raindrops made an appearance and by the start of the third quarter, the rain was falling steadily.

The rain played an instant role, as momentum continued in the Trojans' direction and the Bruins fumbled the third-down snap on their first drive of the second half. George Uko opportunistically fell on the football for another USC touchdown. Andre Heidari would sail the extra point wide to the left, but USC had trimmed the 24-0 deficit all the way down to four points.

After a Trojan defensive stand, the Trojans went three-and-out on three incomplete passes. Bruin safety Tevin McDonald played a critical role on two of the incompletions. 

Poor special teams reared its ugly head once again for the Trojans, as Kyle Negrete’s punt was partially blocked by Bruin linebacker Eric Kendricks. Remember that name. The tipped punt gave the Bruins the ball 33 yards away from the end zone. All it took were three plays and 48 seconds for Hundley to lead his Bruins to a critical third-quarter touchdown. 

Eric Kendricks blocks a punt from USC's Kyle Negrete. (James Santelli/NT)
Eric Kendricks blocks a punt from USC's Kyle Negrete. (James Santelli/NT)
The teams then traded three-and-outs. For the Trojans, it was the second straight possession, in which Curtis McNeal was not given a single carry despite his success throughout the first half of the game.

Late in the third quarter, Heidari missed wide left again on a 44-yard field goal that would have cut the Bruin lead to 31-23. Instead, the Bruins maintained the 31-20 lead for the time being. 

After yet another Trojan defensive stop, an energized McNeal-led rushing attack brought the Trojans all the way to the Bruin 36-yard line until something inexcusable happened; something we’ve seen all too often this season. 

Barkley was intercepted again, this time by Kendricks, the same guy who blocked the punt in the third quarter. On the throw, there was not a single Trojan in the vicinity. The pick was Barkley’s second of the game and 15th of the season. That’s more than twice as many as he threw during his junior year.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Barkley would engineer a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive along with a two-point conversion. But three points (31-28) was the closest the Trojans would ever get after the Bruins answered with a touchdown drive of their own. This final Bruin touchdown drive was capped off by a 29-yard Franklin run. 

When the game was still theoretically in doubt, Barkley was forced from the game after taking a hard hit on a second-down play. Redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek mishandled the third-down snap. McNeal recovered the ball and ran for five yards, but he couldn't come close to a first down. 

Curtis McNeal had an impressive 7.2 yards per carry in the loss. (James Santelli/NT)
Curtis McNeal had an impressive 7.2 yards per carry in the loss. (James Santelli/NT)
Heidari was sent out for another field goal. The kick was blocked. It would be Heidari’s third missed kick, including the missed extra point early in the third quarter. 

As the final second ticked off the clock, Barkley limped off the field in obvious physical and emotional pain. One year removed from defeating his crosstown rivals 50-0, Barkley left the field a tragic figure, almost from the pages of Greek mythology. In the game, he threw two costly interceptions and was clearly outplayed by a freshman quarterback.

"You wouldn't think we would lose this game with a senior quarterback versus a freshman," said Kiffin. "But then again, when you turn the ball over like we did and get a couple of kicks blocked, those are the things that take us out of the game."

To Hundley’s credit, he played a phenomenal game, completing 22 of 30 passes (73.3 percent) for 234 yards and a touchdown, to go with two rushing touchdowns. 

“We thought he was going to be a little shaken up given that he was a rookie playing in the Rose Bowl for rivalry week,” said Trojan linebacker Hayes Pullard. “We tried to put a little pressure on him, but he reacted really well and executed their plan.”

Bruin tailback Franklin finally beat the Trojans in his last opportunity. The senior rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

In the defeat, McNeal finished with a brilliant 159 yards on 22 carries (7.2 yards per carry), but his presence was seemingly forgotten by USC play-callers for long stretches of the second half. McNeal’s excellence couldn’t save a Trojan team that dug itself into a deep 24-0 hole, committed three turnovers, didn’t force a single turnover and missed three kicks.  

When asked after the game, Kiffin told reporters that USC athletic director Pat Haden assured him he would keep his job regardless of how USC's last two games (the games against UCLA and Notre Dame) unfolded.

Barkley infamously returned for his senior season to settle some “unfinished business,” but after this defeat, it’s evident Barkley’s senior season will be judged as a complete and utter failure. The Trojans have now lost three of their last four games, with Barkley throwing nine interceptions over that stretch. 

With the victory, the Bruins have won the Pac-12 South and will face the winner of the Pac-12 North on Friday, Nov. 30. For the Trojans, all there’s left is a chance to play spoiler against the undefeated Notre Fighting Irish next Saturday.

Reach Senior Sports Editor Aaron Fischman by email, or follow him on Twitter.



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