Cue Tusk! The Rose Bowl was a nice venue to watch a game.
Tonight’s victory wasn’t the most beautiful performance you will ever see from USC, but they took care of business. Even in a down year by USC standards, the Trojans marched into Pasadena and took care of their hated rival. Lane Kiffin bought himself some time with a solid win and created some momentum heading into the offseason. After year one, it’s hard to assess whether Kiffin is a good coach or not, but the possibility certainly exists that he is a nice long term fit at the school. 8-5 is worse than the 9-4 of 2009, but the Trojans finished third in the Pac-10 and showed they weren’t ready to fold.
Until late in the fourth, USC’s offense struggled yet again. They came out guns blazing through the air on their first drive, but the success didn’t last long. Matt Barkley struggled to throw accurate passes, which led to two interceptions. To Barkley’s credit though, he threw the perfect swing pass to Bradford for an important touchdown with just over eleven minutes to go in the game. He seemed out of synch with his receivers, and they dropped some passes as well. After an incredible start to the season, the production from the wide receivers really toned down towards the end of the year. However, USC has a bright future ahead with Robert Woods out wide. USC’s first touchdown was brilliant. Kiffin rolled Baxter to the right out of the wildcat, and the trick play left a receiver wide open in the back of the end zone. The talented freshman found Rhett Ellison for an easy score to give USC a 7-0. Some of Lane Kiffin’s decisions have been questionable, but that play was a prime example of what you get with him instead of the boring Jeremy Bates.
Allen Bradford deserves serious credit for putting the team on his back and leading the Trojans to victory in his final game. Bradford turned in 212 yards on the ground on 28 carries. With USC looking to run the clock out up 14 with 3 minutes to go, the senior rumbled through a wide open hole for 73 yards to paydirt. Throughout the night, Bradford turned in long run after long run, often digging USC out of long down and distance situations. During the week, Bradford tweeted something that made it seem as if he was very unhappy with his playing time. He had been in Kiffin’s doghouse for turning the ball over, and tonight’s strong performance was amazing. He kept his head in the game, didn’t worry about the past, and exploited UCLA. Yes, USC’s offense struggled down the stretch, but Mitch Mustain played in one and a half of those games, and Matt Barkley wasn’t 100% for the last one. Compared to 2009, the offense was miles and miles ahead in 2010, and much of that credit goes to Lane Kiffin.
A tip of the cap for the defense tonight. Malcolm Smith joined the group of seniors who had big days by scooping up a fumble and taking it 68 yards to the house. During that drive, UCLA appeared poised to take the lead, and it would have been deflating. Instead, Smith took it the other way for six and the Trojans never looked back. Nickell Robey also forced a fumble on a brilliant hit when Brehaut pitched the ball and came up with an interception, and the pressure created a number of sacks. UCLA mounted only a respectable 358 yards, and Richard Brehaut was held to 230 through the air, most of which came on the final drive. Each week, the defense got better and better, and that bodes well for the future. The young secondary will be much better next year, and the line will also be rather experienced. However, the final two minutes summed up USC’s season on defense. UCLA was able to put together a quick drive to make the score look a little bit better, and the Trojan defense collapsed late again. Something needs to be done about this. USC can’t continue to allow teams to put up points late in games. This is the reason the Trojans only finished 8-5 despite leading during the second half in 12 of their 13 contests.
A quick note: That special teams play was awful. It looked as though USC had caught UCLA off guard in terms of coverage, but nobody blocked for Mitch Mustain. He had two seconds to throw the ball, and that really isn’t enough time. In the future, I hope Kiffin just runs a regular offense instead of dealing with trickery. Just line up and beat your opponent, please.
As great as the game was, the post game matched it. Rick Neuheisel stepped to the microphone for one of his patented pep talks. Few UCLA fans remained, and the Trojans boo’ed as the less than inspiring coach began to speak. Neuheisel admitted he didn’t have much to say, but promised that things would get better. Honestly, could they get worse? He has won a total of eight Pac-10 games in three years. In fact, all he has been good at is talking. He appeared in an ad saying the football monopoly was over, but hasn’t come within two touchdowns of the Trojans. For these reasons, I hope UCLA keeps this guy around. He is a total goofball.
It was great to watch the seniors wield the sword to Conquest. The celebration lasted a while, and it was well deserved because these players didn’t have to stay but they did. A big thank you to each and every player that poured their heart and soul into this season. On the way out, some students congregated under the Rose Bowl sign and jumped up and down to the tune of “Seven Nation Army.” The festivities reminded me why I love coming to USC, and how we will always be a family no matter what the NCAA tries to do to us. 2010 was an absolute joy to watch. Fight On!