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Trojans are heading for Rose Bowl for the third year in a row after avenging last year's upset. Dorrell might be finished.

December 02, 2007|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The contrast in their exit strategies told the story better than perhaps anything that happened on the Coliseum field Saturday afternoon.

Embattled UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell stared stonily ahead, a phalanx of security officers trailing in his wake as he made his way to the tunnel and the possible end of his tenure with the Bruins.

A few minutes later, a grinning USC Coach Pete Carroll bounded toward the locker room, a brief stop on his way to another season-ending date for the Trojans in the Rose Bowl.

"We were in command the whole time," a beaming Carroll said without breaking stride.

Eighth-ranked USC's 24-7 victory over the Bruins before 91,553 avenged last year's crushing upset to its cross-town rivals and earned the Trojans a share of their sixth consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title.

"We own L.A. again," said Trojans quarterback John David Booty, one of 23 seniors who played their final game at the Coliseum.

USC improved to 10-2 overall and will learn its New Year's Day opponent when the final Bowl Championship Series standings are released today.

It will be the sixth consecutive BCS bowl game appearance for USC, a destiny that appeared out of reach after losses to Stanford and Oregon. But the Trojans finished the season with a four-game winning streak.

"The last six years, I think is proof in the pudding that that we find a way to come back on top because we have the makeup of a champion," senior defensive end Lawrence Jackson said.

Last year, the Trojans finished the season with a victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, a consolation prize after UCLA kept them from playing for the national title. The Bruins' 13-9 victory was thought to be a building block for Dorrell, who had 20 starters back.

But injury-plagued UCLA lost three fumbles and also had a pass intercepted against the Trojans to finish 6-6 and 5-4 in the Pac-10.

"We had too many turnovers, and against a team like this, it's catastrophic," said Dorrell, who declined to comment on his future.

USC did not capitalize on every UCLA miscue, but it was not necessary thanks to a defense that Carroll described as perhaps his best at USC. The Trojans manhandled UCLA the same way they dominated Oregon State, California and Arizona State.

USC held UCLA to a season-low 168 yards, sacking Bruins quarterback Patrick Cowan four times for 31 yards in losses and leaving the Bruins with only 12 net rushing yards. UCLA did not convert any of its 11 third-down situations.

"[UCLA] said last year we played without heart," Jackson said. "Theirs was gone after the first series. It didn't feel like much of a fight."

While USC stifled the Bruins, the Trojans amassed 437 yards, 231 on the ground.

"Our-big time players were missing tackles," Bruins defensive end Bruce Davis said. "As much as I'd like to think that I'm Superman and that we're invincible, we're not. We're human. We bleed the same blood everyone else bleeds. We breathe the same air. We make mistakes."

Said UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker: "They could have put 55 points on us today. I was happy they didn't run the score up. . . . If they would have cashed in [the turnovers] it would have been an ugly game."

It was Walker who had devised the strategy that flummoxed the Trojans last season. And USC had spent 12 long months being reminded of their 55-yard rushing performance against the Bruins.

"We were maybe a little embarrassed about what happened last year," offensive line coach Pat Ruel said.

Freshman tailback Joe McKnight rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown, sophomore Stafon Johnson ran for 73 yards and senior Chauncey Washington gained 66 yards and scored a touchdown.

"We didn't want that taste in our mouth from last year," Johnson said. "If anything was to happen and, God forbid, we lost this game, we didn't want it to be on the running backs."

Booty also erased the memory of last year's game against UCLA when a potential game-winning pass was tipped and intercepted in the final minutes.

Booty completed 21 of 36 passes for 206 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Booty's game-clinching touchdown pass to Fred Davis in the fourth quarter came after Dorrell made what proved to be the game's pivotal decision.

USC had taken a 17-0 second-quarter lead on touchdown runs by McKnight and Washington and a 46-yard field goal by David Buehler. The Bruins pulled to within 10 points when Dominique Johnson made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch with seven seconds left in the half.

UCLA remained within striking distance despite a third quarter that featured a fumble by Bruins receiver Brandon Breazell, a fumble by McKnight and an interception by USC cornerback Terrell Thomas within 80 seconds.

After Thomas' interception at the Bruins' 43, the Trojans drove toward the end zone and faced a third-and-goal from the two. Johnson was stopped short, and tackle Sam Baker was called for holding.

Rather than declining the penalty and forcing the Trojans into a fourth-down situation, Dorrell opted to take the penalty, later explaining that backing USC up gave the Bruins' defense more space to operate.

On the next play, Booty hit Davis over the middle and the tight end escaped the grasp of linebacker Christian Taylor en route to the end zone and a 24-7 lead.

"We had a great call and we missed a tackle," Dorrell said. "We had everybody covered. We were there to make the play and Christian Taylor didn't make the play. If we make the tackle there, it's fourth and six."

Instead, the game was essentially over.

USC players left the locker room uncertain who their Rose Bowl opponent would be. But they were looking forward to playing in Pasadena for the third year in a row.

"We were all talking about how we're tired of going to the Rose Bowl," Thomas said. "But you know what?

"Let's go."


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