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A Civic Lesson

Trojans conduct city business as usual, beating the Bruins in routine fashion and clinching Rose Bowl berth

December 07, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

The gash on Mark Sanchez's jaw, not quite as wide as the grin on his face, pretty much told the story.

The USC quarterback and his teammates came into the Rose Bowl on Saturday knowing they couldn't do much to shake up the rankings.

And they certainly couldn't reverse an early-season loss that by all accounts has cost them a spot in the national championship game.

So the fifth-ranked Trojans went about their business in what has become routine fashion, pounding out a 28-7 victory over UCLA in the annual cross-town rivalry and earning a return trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day.

"A couple scars, a couple bumps and bruises to prove it," Sanchez said. "That's what this game is all about."

It certainly wasn't about style points, not with USC taking a patient, at times unadventurous approach to their ninth win over the Bruins in the last 10 years and their seventh consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title.

"This game could have been in the 40s," Coach Pete Carroll said of the routine-looking final score. "We didn't have to do anything more."

USC (11-1) clinched its fourth consecutive Rose Bowl berth; the Trojans will face Big Ten champion Penn State on Jan. 1.

UCLA, meanwhile, wrapped up a 4-8 season under first-year Coach Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins suffered from an all-too-familiar inconsistency on offense, the ground game stuttering to 47 yards, quarterback Kevin Craft completing just 11 of 28 passes for 89 yards with an interception.

But the UCLA defense never gave up on an afternoon marked by hard, and occasionally late, hits.

"This is an emotional game," Neuheisel said of the rivalry. "I had forgotten just how emotional it is."

This year's edition offered hints of drama. The visiting Trojans wore cardinal, reviving a tradition that cost them a timeout, a penalty for dressing in home jerseys on the road. Neuheisel made good on his promise to immediately burn a UCLA timeout in return.

USC was also dealing with the impending departure of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who has accepted the head coaching post at Washington.

There was even some suspense on the field in the first few minutes.

When tailback C.J. Gable fumbled on USC's opening play -- he would be relegated to the sideline for the rest of the first half -- UCLA responded with a bit of trickery, a double-pass, receiver Dominique Johnson wobbling a 21-yard toss to a leaping Kahlil Bell for a touchdown.

How rough has it been for the Bruins? That was their longest touchdown this season.

Their 7-0 advantage lasted only 6 1/2 minutes before USC drove back downfield and Joe McKnight -- another in a deep stable of tailbacks -- ran 12 yards to tie the score.

The Trojans added two more touchdowns through the first and second quarters but it was routine stuff, blending a heavy dose of running with carefully selected passes.

Damian Williams, who later separated his shoulder, beat single coverage, racing around the corner for a 12-yard touchdown reception. Then tailback Stafon Johnson scored from two yards.

"They gave us some man-to-man looks and we tried to capitalize on that," receiver Patrick Turner said. "They really didn't throw too many things at us."

With the game slipping away, UCLA committed the first of several penalties for late and otherwise illegal shots at Sanchez, Carroll pleading with officials to eject the next Bruin who got flagged for hitting his quarterback.

Emotions continued to boil after halftime when the Trojans, leading, 21-7, started dancing to a song over the public address system. The UCLA bench took offense, players rushing onto the field, officials moving quickly to intercede.

It happened again when USC took the second-half kickoff and drove 66 yards, Turner beating safety coverage for an 18-yard touchdown catch. The Trojans celebrated on the field and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price led several of his teammates toward them.

"When you look at the records, it's kind of obvious they're the big kids on the hill," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "That doesn't mean our kids have to like it."

But emotion was all UCLA had to offer. With the score 28-7, USC calmly closed it out.

The score would have been more lopsided except that USC kicker David Buehler missed all three of his field-goal attempts. The final statistics were probably more reflective of how this game went.

USC outgained UCLA, 478 yards to 157. McKnight led the ground game, rushing 15 times for 99 yards, and Sanchez completed 18 of 33 passes for 269 yards along with his two touchdowns.

And what about the pounding he received? The nicks and bruises?

"I was just taking the hits," he said. "Trying to move on."

All in a day's work.


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