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USC-UCLA game underlined strengths and flaws of two struggling programs

The 8-5 Trojans stayed true to form in their 28-14 victory Saturday night, with spasms of solid offense interspersed with questionable decision-making, and late-game defensive struggles. The 4-8 Bruins were what they've been all season — just not very good.

December 05, 2010|By Gary Klein and Chris Foster

USC's season-ending victory over UCLA was a microcosm of the season.

For both teams.

USC showed in its 28-14 victory that it was capable of a dominant rushing attack, as it had done sporadically in 12 previous games.

Quarterback Matt Barkley gritted through an uneven performance on an injured left ankle, looking sharp at times on passes to freshman standout Robert Woods but also showing that his decision-making is still a work in progress.

And the Trojans' defense took advantage of turnovers, as it had done occasionally, but stayed true to form with a requisite last-minute lapse that allowed the Bruins to trim the final margin.

It all added up to an 8-5 overall record and a second consecutive 5-4 finish in Pacific 10 Conference for a program that is not bowl eligible this season and next, pending an appearance before the NCAA's Infractions Appeal Committee next month.

Coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged a "sense of relief" that his first season USC season was complete but lamented the loss of 15 bowl practices that would have allowed the Trojans to begin preparing for next season.

"Looking at the positive, it gives us more time to focus on recruiting, which obviously is a big need as we've seen throughout this season," Kiffin said. "We'll go out and make sure that we repair this roster so this never happens again."

Athletic Director Pat Haden said the Trojans did not have to look far to find reinforcements on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. As the home team Saturday night, UCLA hosted several recruits who have been offered scholarships by both programs.

"I hope it gives them pause about where they're going to head," Haden said. "We need big ol' bodies."

Whether Kiffin makes any changes on his staff remains to be seen. USC finished ranked 28th nationally on offense and 83rd on defense among 120 major college teams. USC was 109th in pass defense.

"We'd like to have everybody back so we can continue into a second year," Kiffin said. "I think you always grow as a staff and learn about each other and start to work better in this profession, or in any profession, with time."

At UCLA, staff movement seems imminent.

The problems that plagued the Bruins throughout the season were on display against USC.

UCLA gave up more than 200 yards rushing for the eighth time, all losses. Penalties at key moments ended scoring opportunities. The offense could not find rhythm in the passing game and gave up the ball three times on turnovers.

Coach Rick Neuheisel used the word "valiant" to describe the effort of the Bruins' defense and sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut.

But UCLA finished 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-10.

"I've got to look hard at how we are going to turn the corner," said Neuheisel, who is 15-22 in three seasons with the Bruins, including an 0-3 record against USC. "But some of the things that have plagued us continue to plague us.

"Those are hard decisions and hard analysis, but it's absolutely mandatory that I do it."

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow will come under scrutiny despite the Bruins' having operated most of the season without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who fought injuries before having knee surgery, and with an offensive line that was deficient in pass protection. The Bruins ranked 99th in total offense, 116th in passing, 34th in rushing and 104th in scoring.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough opened the season with only three players who were starters in 2009 and ended up using three freshmen on the defensive front. The Bruins ranked 95th in total defense, 85th in scoring defense, 108th in rushing defense.

Neuheisel is not expected to make any moves until after the recruiting period ends Dec. 20. Chow had a two-year contract extension approved two weeks ago, Bullough a one-year extension last summer.

Neuheisel praised his players for having "absolutely zero quit" against the Trojans, but it sounded as if he were talking about the entire program when he said:

"I could never ask for better people to be around. But as a group of people we have to perform at a higher level to compete with the teams that are, obviously, ahead of us.

"We have to figure out the formula to get that done."

gary.klein@latimes.com

chris.foster@latimes

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