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SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL | SPOTLIGHT / WEEK
: THE RIVALRY USC 27, No. 20 UCLA 0 : The Whirled Series

Rolling Trojans Hand Reeling Bruins a Dominating Shutout

Defense Makes the Difference for USC, as Teams Continue to Go in Opposite Directions

November 18, 2001|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not so long ago, this year's version of the cross-town rivalry between USC and UCLA looked certain to be a mismatch.

And that's exactly how it turned out.

But no one expected Saturday afternoon's game to be a romp for the Trojans, who parlayed a smothering defense and a few big offensive plays into a 27-0 victory over UCLA at the Coliseum, their third consecutive victory in the rivalry and the first shutout since 1947.

The win capped the Trojans' comeback from a 1-4 start, improving their record to 6-5 in Coach Pete Carroll's first season. They are assured a postseason game, most likely in the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, the loss sent a reeling UCLA even deeper into a funk. The Bruins, who came into the game ranked No. 20, have now lost four consecutive games after racing to a 6-0 start.

"I love it," USC quarterback Carson Palmer said. "We're going in a good direction. They're not."

It has been a forgettable few weeks for the Bruins. Tailback DeShaun Foster was declared ineligible for the remainder of the season for borrowing a car--an "extra benefit" in NCAA terms--from a Hollywood actor/director.

More recently, it was discovered quarterback Cory Paus had been convicted of drunk driving before the season and must serve jail time. Asked if the distractions had caught up with his teammates and him, Paus said: "I think the team was as focused as we could be."

His coach, Bob Toledo, seemed stunned.

"I'm kind of speechless right now," Toledo said. "We were totally inept out there."

USC, on the other had, looked like a team that has gained confidence from four consecutive victories.

Playing before a crowd of 88,588, the Trojans gave a hint of things to come on their first possession. Facing third and 13, Palmer threw what might have been a simple 10-yard pass to Kori Dickerson except the tight end broke a tackle and sprinted 66 yards up the sideline. Suddenly, the Trojans were out of a hole.

Palmer made good on it a few plays later, throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Keary Colbert. All week long, Colbert stood on the sideline in practice with sore ankles. But when he stepped onto the field Saturday, he said, "I saw all those people and the pain just went away."

On the scoring play, Colbert got one of his heavily taped feet--"The bad one ... they're both bad"--just over the goal line for a 7-0 lead.

"You could tell early," Carroll said. "We had a shot at playing a great ballgame."

But if the offense got things started, it was defense that made the difference.

The Bruins were expected to come with the running game, even without Foster in the backfield. The Trojans weren't buying it.

Early in the week, the coaching staff decided to let the defensive linemen go after Paus without worrying about their gaps. It was something of a gamble, putting an onus on the linebackers to clean up any running backs who might slip through. But the coaches simply did not believe reserve tailbacks Manuel White and Akil Harris could hurt them.

So the defense tried every trick in the book, from blitzes to stunts to a zone drop that had defensive end Omar Nazel covering receiver Craig Bragg on one play in the second quarter. "We called everything on the sheet about three times," Carroll said.

There was a moment, however flickering, when this strategy threatened to backfire. UCLA looked to be mounting a drive late in the first quarter with White rushing three consecutive times for 17 yards. Then, unexpectedly, Paus dropped back and threw to Brian Poli-Dixon. What happened next was just as inexplicable.

The ball bounced off Poli-Dixon and hit cornerback Antuan Simmons in the leg. Simmons trapped it with one hand, brought it behind him and between his legs. Everyone else seemed frozen.

The senior--who came back from life-threatening surgery less than two years ago--ran 36 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. That margin grew to 17-0 at halftime.

Gone was UCLA's determination to establish the run. Gone was any semblance of patience. "We couldn't generate anything," Toledo said. "We were too far behind to keep running the football and we weren't running well anyway."

So Paus began dropping back on almost every play and the numbers began to pile up against UCLA.

By evening's end, the Bruins totaled only 114 yards of offense, a mere 28 of those on the ground. They fumbled the ball away once and threw three interceptions and had a punt blocked.

Paus completed only seven of 15 passes for 45 yards, and two of those interceptions, before being replaced in the fourth quarter.

"It was a pretty tough game for the offense and for me," the quarterback said. "USC was throwing a lot of heat at us."

The Trojan offense all but finished things off in the third quarter. Palmer, who passed for an efficient 180 yards and a touchdown, ran the option and pitched to tailback Chris Howard. The Trojans had planned to use the freshman as a counterpoint to starter Sunny Byrd, a straight-ahead grinder, but had waited.

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