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THE RIVALRY/ No. 7 USC 52, No. 25 UCLA 21

52 Stickup for Trojans

After routing Bruins, Palmer and Co. need their help for Rose Bowl berth/ UCS turns early UCLA mistakes into fourth win in a row in series

November 24, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Go back into USC history, deeper than Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert on quick-strike scoring routes.

Thumb through the pages of the Trojan record book like Carson Palmer flipping passes past befuddled UCLA defenders.

There it is. The last time USC defeated UCLA in successive seasons by such a mountain of a margin was 1929 and 1930, under legendary Coach Howard Jones, in the first two games of the series.

Now add this to the lore, a thoroughly one-sided 52-21 Trojan victory Saturday at the Rose Bowl, one year after a 27-0 drubbing of their cross-town rivals.

The victory was the sixth in a row for No. 7 USC (9-2, 7-1) and fourth in a row against UCLA. The Trojans would win the Pacific 10 Conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth if UCLA beats Washington State on Dec. 7, and their bowl championship series hopes are also alive.

"I hope the BCS is looking at us, I hope we get a shot," said Palmer, the Trojan senior quarterback. "This is a great accomplishment. To beat UCLA so convincingly twice in a row, that's unheard of."

At least since the leather-helmet era more than 70 years ago, when USC beat UCLA, 76-0 and 52-0. Scores such as that in a rivalry such as this are unheard of any more.

But two years into his tenure, Trojan Coach Pete Carroll is doing an admirable job of keeping up with the Joneses.

"I'm jealous of our freshmen," Palmer said. "Before they leave here, they are going to play in the BCS championship game. They are going to do a lot of special things under Coach Carroll."

Palmer is cramming his share of special achievements into a senior year that has him in Heisman Trophy contention. He passed for four touchdowns against No. 25 UCLA (7-4, 4-3), including two in the first five minutes.

The first came one play after Tab Perry fumbled the opening kickoff -- the first of five Bruin turnovers. Kelly faked cornerback Matt Ware with an inside move and broke free in the corner for a 34-yard touchdown.

Palmer completed five in a row on the next Trojan possession and Colbert ran past cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. to haul in a long pass for a 51-yard score that gave his quarterback the Pacific 10 Conference career yardage record.

The Trojan defense was efficient as well, forcing a punt situation after giving up a 32-yard gain on a screen pass to Tyler Ebell. But the punt never occurred because the snap by Rusty Williams sailed over the head of Nate Fikse, setting up USC on the Bruin 23-yard line.

Palmer scrambled for 22 yards and Justin Fargas scored from one yard to stretch the lead to 21-0 with 5:42 left in the first quarter.

For USC, the start was unforgettable.

"I think they gave up right when we took the ball from them three times and went right down the field," USC cornerback Marcell Allmond said. "When a team scores 21 points to nothing in the first five minutes, it puts a knife in somebody's back."

For UCLA, the start was unfathomable.

The game was shaping up as worse than last year's debacle in which a dispirited Bruin squad stopped playing hard, an experience so disturbing that Coach Bob Toledo refused to discuss it this week.

But this time the Bruins fought back, marching 89 yards and scoring on a seven-yard run by Manuel White early in the second quarter. Freshman quarterback Drew Olson found a rhythm, completing three of three passes for 58 yards during the drive.

The Bruin defense held and UCLA got the ball back at its six.

"I thought we were back in the game," Ebell said.

Inexplicably, however, Toledo pulled Olson in favor of fellow freshman Matt Moore, who fumbled the first two snaps. He picked up the first and handed it to Ebell, who gained eight yards. But defensive tackle Mike Patterson recovered the second, and Palmer soon hit Malaefou MacKenzie with a two-yard touchdown pass for a 28-7 lead.

"We thought he could handle the snap and make the play," Toledo said of inserting Moore. "Why not? Our plan was to play him. We think he's an excellent football player. We had him warmed up. He took snaps on the sideline. That one play obviously contributed, but that's not what lost us the football game."

On the field, Ebell was dismayed.

"I thought it was weird," he said. "Drew finally got some confidence and it was odd to see Matt go in, even though he can do the job too."

Neither quarterback was particularly effective. And neither was Ebell, who was held to 56 yards in 12 carries, the first time he has had fewer than 100 since becoming the starter seven games ago.

Olson completed eight of 17 passes for 121 yards, was sacked three times, fumbled once and had a pass intercepted for the first time. Moore was seven of 11 for 64 yards, including a touchdown pass to White late in the fourth quarter.

Any thoughts UCLA had of mounting a comeback were dashed when USC opened the third quarter by moving 80 yards in four plays. Palmer hit Kelly with a 41-yard pass and Colbert scampered 34 yards on a reverse for the touchdown.

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