Quote: When USC and UCLA play, one should anticipate anything. Even when the clock is stopped.
There was 5:52 left in Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl, and USC’s offense was waiting on its sidelines for play to resume. The Trojans, who began the game within grasp of a national title berth, stood around like a group of tourists at LAX trying to find their bus after having had their luggage stolen.
Suddenly, a few of their teammates on defense ran on to the field, and began bumping bodies and jostling their teammates. Within seconds, the crowd of Cardinal and Gold had swelled to a mosh pit of about 50 players, and now the USC crowd in the south end zone was screaming along trying to light a fire under its team.
On the other side of the field, UCLA’s players had just left their own huddle in which head coach Karl Dorrell had delivered a simple message: This is exactly where everyone in Blue and Gold should want to be – in a position to finish off USC in the exact same circumstances, fourth quarter, close game, that they had faced, and misfired on, in the past.
When the Bruins broke that huddle, the players looked across the field and saw USC getting animated. So they walked, en masse – quarterback Patrick Cowan from St. John Bosco, defensive ends
The electricity in that moment could keep California glowing for years.
And USC did bring it. And UCLA did respond. And of such moments memories are made that will last several lifetimes.
UCLA has never been so happy to put USC into the Rose Bowl. The Bruins’ 13-9 win before 90,622 will deny the Trojans a shot at the national title game Jan. 8 in Arizona when the final BCS rankings are issued today and keep USC home for the holidays.
It marked the first time UCLA (7-5) has ever beaten a USC team that was ranked in the top nation’s top three. So when someone says this may have been one of UCLA’s biggest wins ever, take the thought seriously.
It snapped USC’s seven-game winning streak in the series. It sparked an absolute love-in in the Bruin locker room in which moms and dads and recruits and boosters and wives and lifetime Bruins celebrated alongside the players.
Bruins safety Aaron Ware hugged defensive coordinator and rookie Bruin DeWayne Walker and made him sing every word of the fight song, and the coach from Pasadena, of all places, who has spent most of his career in the NFL laughed and smiled like someone experiencing a brand new emotion.
It reversed the swirl of frustration and defeat that had ensnared Dorrell this season. It was the most devastating defeat of Pete Carroll’s brief but glorious career as USC head coach, even more than last year’s title game loss to Texas, and he was clearly outcoached.
It also made budding stars of Cowan, the sophomore quarterback from Bosco whose starting job was incredulously in question at midweek, and Walker, the defensive coordinator who played in the shadow of the Rose Bowl at Muir High School and Pasadena City College.
Cowan delivered a poised performance that transcended a box score, one that saw him throw for 114 yards and run for 55. It was his sprint out runs, for 29, 16 and 8 yards that led UCLA to a first-quarter touchdown.
It was Cowan who completed passes for 16, 11 and 13 yards, the last on a third-and-eight situation, to get UCLA in range for a Justin Medlock field goal to make it a 10-9 Bruins lead in the third quarter.
It was Cowan who threw a 21-yard, third-and-15 completion and ran for 11 yards a few plays later to put Medlock in position for a field goal with 8:49 left that bumped the margin to four points and force USC to think touchdown, not field goal.
Cowan didn’t really want to talk after the game. He wanted to be with his teammates and absorb the moment. When asked how he felt, he said "I’m just happy for my teammates. This is the stuff dreams are made of. I just want to get back in the locker room with my teammates.
"Coach said that if I was able to make some plays with my feet I should take it. We saw film last week of (Notre Dame’s) Brady Quinn breaking a long run. (USC’s corners) stay with the wide receivers. The more I play, the more I learn. I just didn’t want to force anything.
"It feels great," he said, "and it’s getting better."
No one on the UCLA sideline probably deserved more praise than Walker.
UCLA’s defense last season was a mess, ranking among the nation’s worst, allowing 431 yards a game and 5.4 a rush. Seven times the Bruins allowed opponents 499 yards or more in a game.
Walker was hired away from the NFL, where he had been an assistant for Bill Belichick in New England, one-time 49er Jim Fassel with the Giants and one-time Cerritos College assistant Joe Gibbs in Washington. The difference this season was immediate, and the game plan against USC was brilliant.
The Bruins gave USC’s offense several different looks and totally distracted quarterback John David Booty, who looked remarkably uncomfortable with a man in his face and time and again threw the ball away. Pure Bruin effort kept the USC running game from offering a counterpunch; C.J. Gable gained 52 yards and the Trojans’ longest run, a year after rushing for 430 yards against the Bruins, was nine yards.
"We figured if we could confuse Booty, that would take care of (wide receiver Dwayne) Jarrett," Walker said.
"We wanted to give him a lot of looks and keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket."
Booty completed 23 passes, but only four to Jarrett. Limiting USC to nine points snapped USC’s NCAA record streak of scoring 20 points or more in 63 straight games.
"We saw weaknesses," Bruins safety Rodney Van said of the USC offense. "They didn’t pick up pressure very well, and they didn’t see two ends like (Davis and Hickman) all season."
Targeting the happiest Bruin afterwards was impossible. But Davis clearly offered the best perspective.
"People said we were small, and we are," he said. "But we’re big enough to knock Booty on the ground. They weren’t expecting our heat. They figured they have All-American tackles and they didn’t have to keep a tight end in to block and that Booty could sit comfortably in the pocket and find his great receivers.
"But after that first series, you could see they weren’t prepared for what was happening. Their linemen were real wide-eyed. They weren’t used to seeing their quarterback on the ground and didn’t realize how fast we were. I kept telling them we would keep coming, too.
"We played a great game. USC, they were probably more worried about the national championship. They shouldn’t have underestimated us. Because we’ve been through a lot the last four years, especially this season."
"We did not anticipate this happening," USC’s Carroll said afterwards.
When USC and UCLA play, one should anticipate anything. Even when the clock is stopped.