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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 12

Turnovers Kept Popping Up for Trojans

USC: Team loses five fumbles after losing only 10 all year.

November 22, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven turnovers.

One for every year of the USC losing streak that rolled over to eight on Saturday.

Five lost fumbles. Two interceptions.

One more loss.

"It's the worst," USC tailback Chad Morton said. "It hurts."

There was plenty of pain to go around.

Receiver R. Jay Soward, hobbled by a bad ankle but game to try to play, bobbled the ball as he made an awkward cut after catching a pass eight minutes into the game. UCLA's Tony White pounced on the fumble at the USC 22, and minutes later, the Bruins had a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

'We turned the ball over today. That was the difference in the game," said Soward, who played only sparingly. "They weren't really trying to strip the ball. We put the ball on the ground. We have to take care of the football. They made plays to capitalize on our mistakes."

Freshman quarterback Carson Palmer was next, losing the ball on the first play of the second quarter as he scrambled and was hit by the Bruins' Pete Holland. UCLA's Ryan Nece got that one.

"We'd start moving the ball, then just turn it over and give it to 'em," said Palmer, who also threw two interceptions. "We kept turning it over and turning it over.

"We might have been kind of tight, but there are no excuses. We must have fumbled the ball eight times. No way you can do that and expect to win the game."

Up next was Larry Parker, who caught a pass from Palmer for an 18-yard gain, lost the ball when UCLA's Marques Anderson hit him, and Jason Stephens recovered. Four plays later, a 38-yard field goal gave UCLA a 24-10 lead.

"Dang turnovers, we shot ourselves in the foot," said Parker, a fifth-year senior who saw his last chance to beat UCLA fumbled away. "It's not like our team to put the ball on the ground a lot. I can't explain it.

"You couldn't even say they stripped the ball. We just didn't do our job. We didn't take care of the ball."

Morton? It happened to him too, dancing left at midfield. The Bruins' Brendon Ayanbadejo forced that one, Larry Atkins recovered, and Cade McNown directed a five-minute field-goal drive that made the score 27-10.

Four fumbles had been transformed into 13 points. And that was only the first half.

"Turnovers killed us," offensive lineman Travis Claridge said. "I've been here three years, and I've never seen anything like that. I've never seen that many turnovers in high school.

"We got outplayed. They did the little things we didn't do. They took care of the ball. I'm not down on our guys. We don't normally have a problem with that.

"Every team is taught to hit and strip. That's what UCLA did. They did what the coaches taught them well."

USC had lost only 10 fumbles all season--an average of one a game.

But in the most important game of the year, the Trojans couldn't take care of the ball. Give UCLA some credit, and give USC some blame.

"I think they are some of the best in the conference at forcing the ball out," Morton said. "Whenever you were running the ball, you could see they were trying to pull the ball out or strip it away. It worked."

"I think it was one of the freaky things," said tailback Petros Papadakis, one of the Trojans who managed not to fumble. "We haven't had trouble with that. It was weird.

"We knew they were going to attempt to strip the ball away. We've got to take better care of the ball."

Fumbles and interceptions killed drives and they killed momentum, and in the end they killed USC.

Palmer threw his second interception with a little less than four minutes left.

Fittingly enough, the Trojans' final possession ended with yet another fumble, when tight end Antoine Harris caught a pass for a 21-yard gain, was stripped and lost the ball to Stephens.

"It was a situation where a guy's arm got over me and I was trying to pull the ball in with his arm there," Harris said. "I think it was partly their defense, but we turned the ball over."

The ball, and to some extent, the ballgame, though UCLA was plenty good enough to win.

"Right now, I can't wait till next year," Palmer said.

Next game is up first, against Notre Dame on Saturday at the Coliseum.

"We'll look at the film and see how we can improve," Morton said. "And do a lot of turnover drills."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Plus/Minus Ratio

UCLA came into Saturday's game No. 1 in the Pacific 10 in turnover ratio, and had a plus-four against USC. The Trojans had been No. 2: *--*

SATURDAY UCLA USC Fumbles 1 6 Fumbles Lost 1 5 Interceptions 2 2 Turnovers 3 7 Plus/Minus +4 -4

*--*

PACIFIC 10

(Leaders before Saturday) *--*

School G Lost Gain +/- UCLA 9 12 26 +14 USC 10 16 28 +12 Arizona 11 17 26 +9 California 10 20 27 +7 Stanford 10 20 21 +1

*--*

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