Maybe a year without bowl games wasn't such a bad idea for USC and UCLA. There was little the Bruins and Trojans did Saturday night at the Rose Bowl that seemed to scream "encore."
But what an evening of gaffes did was reaffirm the pecking order in the city. USC, as it has done 11 times after the last 12 meetings, will spend the year on top of the L.A. heap following a 28-14 victory over UCLA.
Allen Bradford finished his Trojans' career with a career night, scoring the Trojans final two touchdowns to keep the "victory bell" in South Los Angeles.
Bradford had 212 yards rushing, including a 73-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes 31 seconds left, and also scored 47-yard pass play on which he did most of the work to give USC a 21-7 lead with 11:17 left.
It was a triumphant finish to a career that never seemed to hit full speed.
"It's a nice way to finish up," Bradford said. "Even when times got hard I continued to push through. Every rock thrown in my way became a steppingstone."
A game that was loaded with mistakes remained close until USC quarterback Matt Barkley barely got a short pass over UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Akeem Ayers. Bradford caught the ball in the backfield, leaped one UCLA defender and sprinted down the sidelines to put USC up by two touchdowns.
"This has been a long season and a long off-season," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said. "[Our fans] have gone through a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with them. To finish off this way is obviously big for our fans and this city."
The Bruins (4-8 overall, 2-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play) were going nowhere, having been eliminated from contention for a bowl game for the second time in three seasons under Coach Rick Neuheisel.
The Trojans (8-5, 5-4) were disqualified from bowl a bid even before the season began, as NCAA doled out a two-year bowl ban, pending an appeal.
That left Saturday's game as the finale for both teams, with the Trojans ending a two-game losing streak and getting the feel-good moment at the end.
"It helps," Kiffin said. "It's still disappointing. If you look back, there were so many games that we should have won, so many games that were just handed away."
The possibility of major shake-ups on the UCLA coaching staff have not been quashed by Neuheisel, who has repeatedly said that he will "evaluate" things when the season ends, whether being asked about the "pistol" offense, offensive coordinator Norm Chow or defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough.
"For me, on the plays I could have done better, it wasn't coaching," linebacker Akeem Ayers said. "It was me missing a tackle or had a mental error. It was on us players."
It was again Saturday.
The Bruins turned the ball over three times. They also quashed a possible scoring drive in the second quarter.
UCLA had moved inside the USC 20-yard line on the drive, but tackle Mike Harris was called for holding and tight end Cory Harkey was penalized on the next play for a false start. Two plays later, Johnathan Franklin went into the line and was stripped of the ball.
Malcolm Smith picked it up and sprinted 68 yards for a 14-7 USC lead with 2:31 left in the half.
Chow said the Bruins' mistakes cost them in that sequence at the end of the first half. "In the first half we played OK. In the second half we dropped the ball a couple of times and didn't make anything happen."
USC, however, kept the Bruins in the game.
Barkley had two passes intercepted in the third quarter. Richard Brehaut, not to be outdone, had a pass intercepted and threw the ball away on pitch play, resulting in a fumble.
All of that happened within a 10-minute stretch.
Still, despite the Bruins' mistakes, USC had trouble putting them away, mainly because of the Trojans' decision to forgo field goals.
The Trojans drove to the UCLA 22-yard line on their first drive and chose to go for it on fourth-and-one. Marc Tyler was stopped for a one-yard loss.
In the second quarter, USC drove from its own five-yard line and appeared to take the lead when Robert Woods beat Aaron Hester over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown pass. But Kristofer O'Dowd was called for holding.
On fourth and 10, the Trojans went with a gadget play out of a field-goal formation. But, under pressure, Mitch Mustain's pass was wild.
"This is a difficult, bitter loss for us," Neuheisel said."We certainly had chances and plenty of opportunities."
What finally turned the tide for the Trojans was Bradford, who started for the first time since the Oct. 16 game against California. He had 100 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, 41 on the touchdown drive that put the Trojans ahead, 21-7.
His UCLA counterpart, Franklin, had 109 yards rushing, 59 yards on a touchdown that tied the score, 7-7, in the first quarter.