After two weeks of hearing about how far they have fallen, and how poorly they have performed during the second half of the season, the USC defense stepped up Saturday night and led the Trojans to a 28-7 victory over the rival UCLA Bruins.
“First off, this was a tremendous bounce-back for us,” Carroll said. “To mentally come back and play good, solid football was important.”
The ball hawking UCLA defense forced 10 turnovers in wins the past two weeks, while the USC defense had taken its fair share of lumps on the field, and in the media, after being blown out in two of their last three games, but it was the Trojans’ that came up with three interceptions.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith got the Trojans’ on the board when he stepped in front of a Kevin Prince pass in the first quarter and returned it 62 yards the other direction for the first touchdown of the game.
“I was fired up about Malcolm tonight,” Carroll said. “He played a beautiful game.”
Smith, like the entire defense, has struggled at times this season but he had a terrific performance Saturday night. The junior linebacker was all over the field, racking up 15 tackles and a tackle for loss to go along with his 62-yard interception return.
Defensive backs Will Harris and Josh Pinkard both added interceptions as the Trojans defense controlled the game.
In the matchup of Carroll vs. Chow, Carroll’s defense came out on top, holding the Bruins to just 7 points for the second straight year, and scoring a touchdown of their own.
“Defensively it was huge to keep the score down,” Carroll said.
While the Bruins managed just a single score, they were in the game until late in fourth quarter and pulled within a touchdown on a 2-yard touchdown run by Chane Moline in the fourth. But the Trojans immediately responded with an impressive offensive drive that put the game out of reach.
The Trojans took possession of the ball with 5:41 left in the game and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates aggressive playcalling quickly put the Bruins on their heels, starting the drive with four consecutive pass plays. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley completed 3-of-4 attempts leading the Trojans to midfield.
After two runs by Allen Bradford, Barkley completed a 20-yard pass to Ronald Johnson a critical third-and-3 play, that was arguably the play of the game. The completion kept the Bruins from getting the ball back with a chance to tie the score.
Tailback Allen Bradford broke off a 21-yard run up the middle on the next play and capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Trojans’ a 21-7 lead with just 1:30 left on the clock.
Bradord ended the night with 70 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on just 14 carries.
Late in the game the Trojans’ took a knee and were ready to run out the clock, when Rick Neuheisel took a timeout, and that’s when things got heated.
“We were killing the clock and were just going to take a knee,” Carroll said. “The game was over for us.”
On the play following the UCLA timeout, Matt Barkley hit a streaking Damian Williams for a 48-yard touchdown pass to give USC a 28-7 lead, which didn’t sit well with the Bruins.
“They were going to get the ball back. We didn’t want them to have the ball again. That’s exactly what went through our minds.”
Neuheisel added: “I had three timeouts. I was trying to make them punt and maybe if they run we cause a fumble. But our job is to cover and they have every right to throw deep. People can make their own conclusions. I don’t blame them for doing it.”
Emotions are what make rivalry games so special, but the emotions nearly boiled over as both teams jawed at each other near midfield, in a show of poor sportsmanship that has no place in college sports.
“There was a lot of energy going on,” Carroll said. “I wish that didn’t happen.”
After another heated rivalry game, the Trojans got a much needed win and Carroll continued to his dominance over the Bruins.
“It’s a fight for L.A.,” USC tailback Allen Bradford said. “We run L.A. for another year.”
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