In an out-of-character USC season that oscillated from hopeful optimism to heartbreak, the Trojans were in need of something consistent.
Allen Bradford answered the call Saturday night against UCLA with a breakout performance in his last game in Cardinal and Gold.
The senior running back carried the ball 28 times for 212 yards with one touchdown and added a key receiving touchdown to lead the Trojans in a 28-14 win over their cross-town rivals.
Like a microcosm of this offbeat season, Bradford had had his share of up-and-downs. Slated to start at the beginning of the year, Bradford looked the part after big performances against Minnesota and Washington.
But he fell down the depth chart as the season wore on because he continually put the ball on the ground.
USC coach Lane Kiffin put his faith back in the 6-foot, 235-pound running back and it paid off.
After a turnover-ridden third quarter, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley threw a swing pass to Bradford who turned it up for a 47-yard touchdown that gave the Trojans a commanding 21-7 lead.
Bradford added a 73-yard touchdown on USC’s next drive for good measure, prompting the USC sideline to bounce around exuberantly, a sight that has been much less common than normal this season.
Bradford’s breakout performance came in spite of subpar game for Barkley, who still seemed bothered by a sprained left ankle. Barkley finished 15-of-26 for 198 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Jonathan Franklin was the only bright spot for UCLA (4-8), finishing with 109 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Quarterback Richard Brehaut threw for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
An offbeat first half gave way to a mistake filled third quarter where each team committed two turnovers that basically balanced out. Freshman cornerback Nickell Robey intercepted a UCLA pass, then Barkley quickly threw an interception of his own to UCLA’s Tony Dye.
Senior linebacker Malcolm Smith recovered a fumble a few plays later, and the Trojans moved the ball a bit before being stopped on fourth down for the third time in the game. All this in less than three minutes of game time.
After a Bruins’ punt, Barkley threw another interception, this one to Aaron Hester. USC’s defense held, allowing the turnover-filled third quarter to end scoreless and setting up Bradford’s game-changing touchdown catch.
At the start, USC struck first when freshman running back Dillon Baxter, lined up in the wildcat formation, rolled right and hit a wide-open redshit junior tight end Rhett Ellison for a five-yard touchdown about eight minutes into the game.
The Trojan defense had been staunch up to that point, but faltered two plays later. Jonathan Franklin burst through for a 59-yard touchdown that evened the score.
It would be the defense’s only major mistake of the night.
Smith redeemed the USC defense later in the half when he scooped up a Franklin fumble and returned it 68 yards for the score.
It was familiar territory for Smith, who returned an interception 62 yards against the Bruins in last season’s matchup.
The Trojans gained 207 yards in the first half but only had seven points to show for it before Smith’s timely defensive score. The Bruins halted the driving Trojans twice on fourth down, including on a curious fake-field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Two plays after a freshman wide receiver Robert Woods touchdown was erased by a holding penalty, senior kicker Joe Houston lined up for a 35-yard field goal. But the Trojans shifted into a spread set with backup Mitch Mustain at quarterback.
UCLA was not fooled and Mustain’s pass fell incomplete.
The Trojans held on for the win, however, ending the night with 28 points.