USC Rubs It in Against UCLA

LOS ANGELES - Pete Carroll said it was only because he has the heart of a competitor. So, leading by a couple of touchdowns, with less than a minute to play, USC went deep. Into UCLA's heart.

Another touchdown for the Trojans. Another blow to the Bruins. And almost another one of those brawls which are an embarrassment to college football.

The crosstown rivalry, friends against friends, families against families. Except it's not a rivalry. It's a rout. And a message to the other school, UCLA, that any thoughts of catching up with USC, of ending the monopoly are worthless.

This wasn't much of a game Saturday night, this 79th meeting between the two universities 12 miles apart in the nation's second largest city. It was boredom inside of ennui wrapped in personal fouls. And then in the final minute, with the result decided, USC took a shot that depending on one's viewpoint was cheap or it wasn't.

Eventually, after the final gun, after the bomb from nowhere that extended the margin, after the USC kids danced on the sidelines and waved a few beckoning fingers at the Bruin players who attempted to march across the field and rumble, the Trojans had a 28-7 victory before 85,713 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

And Carroll, the Trojan coach, for the first time in years not going either to the BCS Championship or the Rose Bowl, explained why leading 21-7 he has quarterback Matt Barkley throw a 48-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.

A score which had the Trojans, now 8-3 with a game remaining, huddling on their side of the field and whooping it. A score which had the Bruins, losers in this series for the 10th time in 11 games, mad as hell and ready to take out their frustration with punches that fortunately never were thrown.

"We were killing the clock,'' said Carroll, "taking a knee. And they called time out. Nothing wrong with that. It was just competing. That's exactly what went through my mind. When the play came up over the headsets, that was a great flippin' call. And as we're lining up and executing, it was just flawless. An action pass down the middle.''

From Barkley to flanker Damian Williams, who was wide open behind a UCLA defense figuring USC would never throw in that situation.

"Oh gosh,'' said Carroll, "oh gosh. What does this mean? Really what it is, and I'll just admit it to you, it's the heart of a competitor just battling. In a competitive moment we went for it. Everything we've ever done is about competing. We just want to have fun and do the best we can. When the moment was there, it wasn't about what (the media) is going to say. It was a great call.

"Either you're competing or you're not.''

Two weeks ago, there was distress among Trojan alumni because leading by four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh went for a two-point conversion. Although he never responded to questions then about the play, Carroll after this game, "I have no problems with Jimmy's call.''

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said he had no problem with Carroll's call.

"I had three time outs left,'' said Neuheisel. "We wanted to make them punt. It's our job to cover, and they have every right to throw deep. People can make their own conclusions. Our job is to stop the play. I don't blame them for doing it.''

When Neuheisel arrived before the 2008 season, UCLA ran an ad in southern California papers with a full-page photo of the coach promising "the monopoly is over.'' Well, it isn't,

The Bruins finished their regular schedule 6-6, an improvement over the 4-8 of last year but nothing else to make anyone think this is a two-team town. UCLA had won its last three games before this one, and USC had lost two of its last three, including that one to Stanford.

Observers were suggesting this would be UCLA's best chance for a victory. But UCLA couldn't do zilch offensively until the fourth quarter. USC didn't do much either, but it turned two interceptions into two touchdowns, one directly, a 62-yard return by Malcolm Smith in the first quarter, one indirectly, Allen Bradford's 1-yard run in the third quarter after a pick by Will Harris.

When you're mediocre, turnovers will ruin you. And they ruined the Bruins, who stumbled and staggered until a 65-yard drive in the fourth quarter gave them points and a bit of hope. After that, they would have neither.

"Anyone who watched,'' said Neuheisel, "knows the programs are not far apart other than the ball at the end. The interception for the TD was the difference.''

And the long pass in the final minute was the crusher.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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