Former Colton High star overcomes setbacks to lead Trojans to victory
By G. Montgomery, BVN Staff –
The annual battle for LA’s mythical college city championship between UCLA and USC took on an unforeseen new twist this season.
One that most fans are not old enough to have witnessed before. For the first time in three decades the only thing at stake was a one year supply of bragging rights for the winner. It has been thirty years since neither of the two teams were advancing after this game. No Pac-10 title, no Rose Bowl, no anything bowl after Saturday’s game. Just a final team meeting and turn out the lights when you leave the locker room.
UCLA head coach Rick Nueheisel, the master of motivation, looked drained after losing his third consecutive battle to his cross-town rivals 28-14 in front of 71,101 fans. Fortunately for Nueheisel it is not a three strikes and your out situation but those little background noises are getting louder. UCLA (4-8, 2-7) still hasn’t been able to recruit enough of the kinds of athletes that Nueheisel needs to compete with USC and other Pac-10 powers.
Although the Bruins were a very young team this season with only a couple of seniors contributing overall, several underclassmen stars will likely declare for early entry into the NFL draft essentially leaving Nueheisel’s cupboard bare again.
Given UCLA’s poor showing this season, there is very little to build on for next season. When ask about his teams future, Nueheisel said. “I’ve said all along that I’ll have to wait until the end of the season, and it’s the end of the season. I have to trust my instincts on that. I’ve got some great mentors at the University that will help me. I’m looking forward to getting that process started as quickly as possible.”
Interpretation−He has no idea at this point what direction the program will take. Obviously, there will be major changes, likely in personnel and some staff, the pistol offense will likely be back in the holster.
USC’s (5-4, 8-5) frustration comes from an entirely different direction. The Reggie Bush fallout has been well chronicled and really warrants no further discussion other than remembering that USC is ineligible to participate in any post season Bowls. USC’s first season with Lane Kiffin as the head Trojan was marginally successful and in a really strange way kind of interesting. We learned more about Kiffin than we did about the team mainly because, USC never played Trojan football or what we have come to identify as Trojan football. Kiffin himself hinted at the possibility that he may have contributed to a couple of the close losses. “If you look back, there were so many games that we should have won. So many games that we just handed away. We finished 3rd in the conference and there is some good to that (but) obviously that’s well below standards”.
What Kiffin didn’t say is why those games were handed away. Maybe he doesn’t know or he’s not willing to say but there were some very questionable coaching decisions during the season. One of the most puzzling to everyone is benching starting tailback Allen Bradford midway through the season in favor of sophomore Marc Tyler and true freshman Di l lon Baxter. After Bradford’s dazzling 212-yard rushing performance on Saturday it is impossible not to look back at last weeks game when the Trojans rushed for a total of 80-yards and handed a winnable game to the Irish at the Coliseum.
Bradford, a former Colton High star fell victim to the coaching paradox that routinely occurs when athletes get caught up in a coaching change. Beginning the season as the heir apparent to the position, Bradford and CJ Gable were expected to handle the bulk of the offense. Bradford rushed for 131-yards against Minnesota in week 3 and got only 7 carries the following week. He rushed for 223-yards on 23 carries against Washington in a losing effort and then had only 28 total carries in the next six games. He did not play at all against Arizona and Notre Dame.
When asked when he had decided to start Bradford, Kiffin said the decision had been made on Friday night. Although there is some inaccuracies in the time line, the positive is that Kiffin finally figured out that he was depriving his team of one of its most potent weapons.
“All I need is someone to tell me that they are counting on me and I am going to give everything I can to get the job done. That’s what I did tonight. Said Bradford after his performance. I am going home now and wait to see what Bowl games I have the opportunity play in”. Bradford’s faith and determination delivered him to a successful end for his college career, one that he deserves but so many of these young men get caught up in coaching changes and have their paths misdirected and can never recover.
Gmontgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org