Trojans show no respect for Bruins’ Crown and deal UCLA a crushing defeat
By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –
Los Angeles – Odds Makers, prognosticators and ever sports talk show hosts frequently use the term ‘Trap Game’ to describe an upcoming contest between two teams.
Although mostly slang and without an ‘according to Webster’ definition, it literally means that there are unforeseen forces that may have stacked the deck against one of the participants in a particular contest. Generally, these forces are inevitably damaging because they are unrecognizable or completely ignored by one of the participants.
In the case of Saturdays complete destruction of UCLA’s football team by its cross-town rival, every possible example of the definition of ‘Trap’ game were on clear display during the weeks leading up to the game.
If he knew the signs, Stevie Wonder could have seen this one coming. For me it started to become clearer last Saturday as I watched the UCLA Band perform a pre-game parody of the sacking of the Trojan city and its army before their game against Colorado.
I know these things are rooted in tradition and are harmless demonstrations of the natural competition between two great institutions but a dose of reality is an important thing when you are a pretender and not a contender.
And that is the situation the Bruins found themselves in on Saturday night. A team that had scratched and clawed its way to a respectable record but unable to accept the reality of the situation, the little engine that could get the job done on occasion but inherently fragile and particularly vulnerable away from the comforts of its home crowd.
Entering Saturday’s final game, UCLA had won only one road game all season against lowly Oregon State and had been outscored by opponents 136 – 79 in those games. Then, early in the week UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel proudly proclaimed that “we have closed the (talent) gap” with USC. Whether Rick was looking for momentum or just being the eternal optimist, those words added even more fuel to the fire.
After the game seemingly still in denial Neuheisel said, “We found ourselves out of rhythm and found ourselves in too many third and longs. The key to us is being in third and manageable and executing, we missed some passes that we should’ve hit. We had guys wide open but just missed. And on the other side, Barkley was hitting everything.”
Not only was Barkley hitting everything, Woods and Lee were catching everything and McNeal was running everywhere and UCLA was finished after two possessions no matter how many more passes they caught or dropped. After winning the coin toss, USC took only four plays to reach the end zone on a 42-yard pass from Barkley to Marqise Lee to take a 7-0 lead.
The ensuing Bruins first drive consumed more than 6 minutes and delivered them to the USC 1-yard line with a chance to tie the game early but tailback Derrick Coleman was stopped for a loss on fourth down by Jawanza Starling and Dion Bailey turning the ball over to USC on downs.
After that stop, the Bruins would pose only one other serious scoring threat. Late in the second quarter, with the ball on the USC 7-yard line UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince was intercepted by T.J. McDonald.
Matt Barkley threw for 423-yards and 6 touchdowns. Freshman Wide receiver, Marquise Lee caught 13 of Barkley’s passes for 224-yards. Super sophomore Robert Woods caught 12 passes for 113-yards giving him 111 for the season shattering Keyshawn Johnson’s previous record of 102.
It was truly an awesome display of football and yet at the same time painful to watch knowing most of the young men on the losing side are great players and competitors but are trapped by their current system and forced to endure the most humiliating loss by either side since 1930.
Having locked up the title of Pac-12 South Division Champions after Utah faltered against Colorado, the Bruins likely felt some degree of false confidence from merely capturing the crown. Engaging in weeks of hyperbole or downright denial doomed any chance of survival for Rick Neuheisel and on Monday UCLA announced that he would be released after the Pac-12 Championship game.
The most important and least understood thing by UCLA was the determination on the part of the entire Trojan team to make this season special outside the traditional definition of a successful season. In other words, no conference title…it would be nice but no problem. No, Bowl game….yeah they are a lot of fun and it makes our school a lot richer but again, no problem.
The USC staff somehow convinced these young players that there was a bigger prize and rallied the entire team to avoid focusing on what wouldn’t be available to them and go after what was within reach. And that ended up being a 10 win season, a single digit national ranking, denying a conference opponent a possible title game appearance, humiliating their cross-town rival and a complete revision of the USC record book after the season is over. Oh, and possibly an unprecedented fourth Heisman Trophy in 10 years.
With and overall record 6–6 and 5–4 in conference the Bruins are the Pac-12 South Division Champions and will travel to Oregon on Friday to battle the Ducks for the conference championship. With a lame-duck coach and Saturday’s loss still on their minds, the Bruins could easily be walking into another trap.
G. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org