The story: What appeared to be one of the most uneventful USC-UCLA matchups in recent memory suddenly took an exciting turn when freshman quarterback Matt Barkley connected with redshirt junior receiver Damian Williams on a 48-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown cemented the Trojans’ 28-7 win over the Bruins Saturday night, but also almost started a brawl between the heated cross-town rivals.
Up 21-7 with under a minute to play, USC was content to run out the clock, taking a knee near midfield. But UCLA decided to call one of its three timeouts to stop the clock in hopes of getting one more possession.
But USC coach Pete Carroll said his competiveness kicked in, and when he heard the call of a play-action deep pass come over the headset, he gave the green light.
“It’s just the heart of a competitor just battling, and in this sense in the competitive moment we went for it and that’s it,” Carroll said. “There’s nothing more I can tell you.”
Fair or foul?: USC’s decision to throw after UCLA’s fourth quarter timeout.
The outcome of the game was almost lost amidst all the hoopla following Carroll’s decision to throw deep with the game in hand. Carroll said he had no problem with UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel’s timeout after USC took a knee. And when he heard the call that would eventually lead to a touchdown, he was giddy.
“I thought it was a great freakin call,” Carroll said.
Carroll likened the call to Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go for two amidst the Cardinal’s blowout of USC two weeks ago.
“I know Jimmy Harbaugh and he’s a great competitor,” Carroll said. “And I totally get it. So I didn’t have any problem with that.”
Barkley said the team was irked when UCLA called timeout.
“They can’t disrespect us like that,” Barkley said. “You could say they were trying to play the game, but if they wanted to keep the game going, then we did.”
Neuheisel said he was not offended by what USC did.
“Our job is to cover and they have every right to throw deep,” he said. “People can make their own conclusions. Our job is to stop the play… I don’t blame them for doing it.”
Nevertheless, Carroll and Neuheisel shared an extremely brief handshake after the game.
Nearly a brawl: Although Neuheisel said he had no issues with USC’s decision, some of his Bruins players certainly seemed to.
After Williams’ touchdown and the ensuing extra point, nearly the entire UCLA team came out to midfield, shouting at the USC sidelines. Multiple Bruins and Trojans had to be restrained as play was suspended for a few minutes. No punches were thrown.
Still, the Trojans said they were preparing for the worst.
“I put my helmet on and my mouthpiece in just in case,” Barkley said.
Redshirt junior running back Allen Bradford admitted he was in the center of the near-pandemonium.
“I was out there, I was in the front of it, I’m not going to lie,” Bradford said. “That’s just the type of player I am … I’m never going to start no fight but I’ll never back down.”
Momentum-changing play of the game: Sophomore linebacker Malcolm Smith’s interception return for a touchdown.
After both teams came out of the gates slowly, Smith helped USC strike first when he stepped in front a pass from UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and took it back 62 yards for first score of the game.
“I was supposed to have man coverage, but I was peeking at the quarterback,” Smith said. “He was moving kind of slow to the flat and he just threw it at me. It wasn’t really anything special.”
It was Smith’s first touchdown as a Trojan.
“I just remember running right here and being like, “Oh, I’m about to score a touchdown,” Smith said.
Player of the game: Allen Bradford.
After starting junior running back Joe McKnight had to leave the game with a bruised left thigh, Bradford stepped in and received the majority of the carries. He finished with 70 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
“It felt good being out there for that long and not coming out,” Bradford said.