In the moments leading up to Saturday’s game against No. 10 USC, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel insisted that the gap between the two programs had closed.
Provided they could upend the Trojans (10-2, 7-2) in the 81st meeting between the two crosstown rivals, the Bruins would find themselves in first place atop the Pac-12 South standings.
“We’ve got a chance to win the championship, that’s closing the gap,” he said. “We didn’t have a chance in years past.”
Though UCLA will represent the South division Friday in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game against Oregon as USC is ineligible for postseason play, it didn’t necessarily look like a squad headed to a conference title game.
In front of an announced sellout crowd at the Coliseum, USC defeated UCLA, 50-0, to maintain the football pecking order in Los Angeles, despite the optimism Neuheisel had generated since returning to Southern California four years ago.
It was USC’s 12th win in the last 13 meetings against UCLA. It was the most lopsided matchup between the two rivals since 1930 — when USC similarly toppled the Bruins by a score of 52-0.
“It was a pretty strong statement to me,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said of Neuheisel’s remarks. “Our players took that very personally.”
The Trojans established their dominance at the onset and did not let up, scoring on their first four possessions of the game en route to a 29-0 halftime lead.
Headlining USC’s offensive attack, in large part, was junior quarterback Matt Barkley, playing in what could prove to be his final game in a cardinal-and-gold uniform. The third-year signal caller tossed six touchdown passes to break the Pac-12 single-season record for touchdowns with 39 — a mark previously held by former USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.
“I never thought this would happen,” said Barkley, who also threw for 423 yards, completing 35 of 42 passes. “I remember watching him play that year. I kind of dreamed about something like that, but I never thought it would actually happen.”
Barkley’s offensive showing was aided by the play of his wide receivers, freshman Marqise Lee and sophomore Robert Woods, who finished with 224 and 113 receiving yards, respectively, moving each over 1,000 yards on the season, marking just the fourth time in school history a receiving duo had done so.
Woods also broke the single-season Pac-12 record for receptions, finishing with 111 on the season, snapping Keyshawn Johnson’s previously held mark of 102.
“[Woods] was a huge motivation for me,” Lee said. “I knew once I came to ‘SC, I would transition all of my energy into football. My teammates and coaches have helped me a lot.”
Though USC’s offense accomplished a number of milestones against the Bruins, its defense, in several respects, was equally as impressive, recording its first shut out since a 56-0 win over Washington on Nov. 1, 2008 and first over the Bruins since 2001.
The win also marked the Trojans’ 10 of the season, giving it its 25th double-digit win season.
“To win is one thing, but to win like that is something different all together,” Kiffin said. “I’m really excited for our fans and our players.”