Meanwhile, UCLA dropped to 6-6 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12. The staggering loss cost head coach Rick Neuheisel his job. UCLA still has to play in the Pac-12 Championship game, hosted by the No. 8-ranked University of Oregon Ducks, which will be Neuheisel’s last game.
“Tonight they were clearly the superior team,” Neuheisel confesses. “I don’t think that’s the case all the time. I believe we can close the gap, and we will. We weren’t good enough to play a marquee team like USC.”
Due to USC’s NCAA sanctions, the Bruins have claimed the Pac-12 South Division. Nevertheless, the nation knows that USC is back, and they are on fire. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley was quite aware that USC could not make an appearance in the postseason.
“We’ve worked hard for this, and I think we deserve to celebrate this,” he tells reporters. “We knew coming into this year, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just tried to take advantage of every opportunity we did have.”
Barkley passed ex-USC quarterback Matt Leinart for the single-season conference record for touchdown passes. For the game, Barkley threw for 423 yards and six touchdowns on 35 completed attempts out of 42.
Freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods had 12 catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Randall Telfer and Rhett Ellison each had a TD reception.
The Trojans also did solidly well in the running game. Junior running back Curtis McNeal rushed the ball 12 times for a whopping 124 yards, including a long 73-yard TD run in the first quarter. Senior Marc Tyler had six rushes for 31 yards.
For the Bruins, junior quarterback Kevin Prince passed for 261 yards while completing 21 of 33 throwing attempts. However, Prince was sacked four times, had one interception and no touchdown passes.
Prince also had 17 carries, good enough for 34 yards. USC’s defense, which has drastically improved, completely shut him down as well as junior running back Johnathan Franklin. He had eight carries for 55 yards.
There was production on the receiving end, but not significant enough to make noise for the Bruins. Only senior wide receiver Nelson Rosario had prominent receptions (seven) and receiving yards (118).
USC took the lead at 13:15 of the first quarter when Barkley connected with Lee for a 42-yard TD pass and catch. After one quarter, the Trojans held a 14-0 edge, and it was really enough to secure the win that early.
The Bruins never responded, while the Trojans kept mounting points in each quarter. USC scored 15 in the second, 14 in the third and seven in the fourth.
“They took it very personally,” USC coach Lane Kiffin says of Neuheisel’s comments regarding UCLA football closing the gap on USC’s talented team. “That’s a pretty strong statement to make. Did it motivate them? I don’t know, but it was talked about a lot, and not much by me. I think they felt disrespected.”
No one truly knows if Barkley will return for his senior year at USC. Not even his coach thinks that.
“Unless he wants to do it, just to be a special Trojan, he ain’t coming back,” Kiffin depicts. “He’s every bit ready to go to the NFL. It’s just going to be a decision; does he want to do something really unique? He might be the guy to do that.”
UCLA travels to Oregon on Saturday, Dec. 2, to face the Ducks in Eugene at 5 p.m.
“Life still goes on. We still have the opportunity to do something big in the Pac-12 championship,” says senior Bruin running back Derrick Coleman after the awful defeat to the Trojans. “That was a shot to the gut for everybody. We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to out and take it.”