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USC Bowls Over UCLA

The Trojans, looking for an unprecedented third straight championship, will meet the Texas Longhorns on Jan. 4 in a Pasadena showdown.

December 04, 2005|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

Forget all the hyperbole that swirled around the USC-UCLA football game last week, all the talk of a fierce battle between highly ranked rivals.

On a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, with the college football world watching, the Trojans showed why they have been ranked No. 1 all season and will now play in the Rose Bowl with a chance at an unprecedented third straight national championship.

They showed it with a dominant offensive line and tailback Reggie Bush twisting, turning and hurdling over tacklers, all of it adding up to a 66-19 victory over No. 11 UCLA before a sellout crowd of 92,000 at the Coliseum.

"We could tell from the get-go," said Bush, who cemented his standing as the Heisman Trophy favorite by rushing for 260 yards and two touchdowns. "If we executed, nobody could stop us."

The victory capped a 12-0 regular season and stretched USC's winning streak to 34 games. Combined with Texas' crushing 70-3 victory over Colorado in the Big 12 championship game, it also clarified the national picture.

No controversy will mar the bowl championship series ratings this year, not with Pasadena playing host to the only undefeated teams in the nation.

The No. 1 Trojans and No. 2 Longhorns will bring highpowered offenses -- Texas has its own Heisman candidate in quarterback Vince Young -- to a game on Jan. 4 that many fans have anticipated since September.

"This is what we hoped for," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "Our whole program is about the Rose Bowl."

The loss will probably send UCLA, at 9-2, to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, on Dec. 30, or possibly the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 29.

"I'm disappointed and embarrassed," UCLA quarterback Drew Olson said. "We came in to put up a good fight and the opposite happened."

Not since 1988 had the rivals met with such high rankings and only one loss between them.

It did not take long for USC to set the tone for the afternoon. On the second play from scrimmage, Bush ran right, jittering his way past one tackler and breaking free of another for a 28-yard gain.

That quickly, the crowd was chanting "Reggie, Reggie" and the junior was making another persuasive argument for the Heisman, which will be awarded to college football's best player next weekend.

His team needed a strong running effort because quarterback Matt Leinart -- last year's Heisman winner -- got off to a rocky start.

Leinart, who eschewed professional football to return for his senior season, was making his final appearance at the Coliseum, and the weight of the day overtook him.

"He was a mess, crying before the game," Carroll said.

The tears continued into his first few plays on the field, and Leinart struggled in the first half before settling down to pass for 233 yards and three touchdowns.

"It was very emotional," Leinart said.

It was that kind of day, fans of both teams arriving hours early, filling the grounds around the stadium with tailgate parties. Excitement over this game had tickets selling for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars above face value.

By kickoff, the stands were awash in Trojan cardinal, with sections of Bruin blue behind each end zone.

For USC, the victory completed a regular season marked by lopsided victories and heart-stopping comebacks.

The Trojans trailed at Oregon and Arizona State before charging back to win.

"These are games you like being in because it defines character and defines a champion," tailback LenDale White said at the time.

There was more character-building along the way.

At Notre Dame, Leinart capped a last-minute drive by twisting across the goal line on a quarterback sneak in the final seconds, giving his team a 34-31 victory in what is considered the best game of the season.

And two weeks ago, USC barely pulled out a 50-42 victory over Fresno State.

If nothing else, UCLA matched the Trojans for pure drama this fall. The Bruins started the season unranked but scored a string of early wins, including an impressive performance against traditional powerhouse Oklahoma.

Comeback victories over Washington, California and Washington State extended their run, leading to an improbable night at Stanford. The Bruins trailed by three touchdowns with barely seven minutes remaining but scored four rapid-fire touchdowns and won, 30-27, in overtime.

Even after they lost to Arizona, 52-14, the Bruins rebounded to defeat Arizona State and set up this cross-town game.

But there would be no room for theater Saturday, not with USC racing to the early lead, then piling it on.

The defense, which struggled at times this fall, was stifling.

The Trojans held UCLA running back Maurice Drew to 84 yards, sacked Olson five times and forced three fumbles. They stymied a Bruin offense that was scoring 40 points a game this season.

"They just brought it to us," UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis said.

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