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Trojans give the Bruins something they can feed on

USC's 20-16 loss to Notre Dame was exactly what UCLA needed heading into rivalry week.

November 27, 2010|T.J. Simers

UCLA hasn't had a better game all season long.

The game plan was perfect, the final outcome both thrilling and meaningful for what it means to the Bruins in the week ahead.

This is exactly what UCLA needed, a glimmer of hope as it prepares for the only meaningful thing left in this 2010 season, beating USC.

If a crummy team like Notre Dame can pull it off, why not UCLA, which probably doesn't have to worry now about USC going crazy on offense?

In the Bruins' last five losses, the opponents had averaged almost 40 points a game, so how good it must have felt to sit there in Westwood watching next week's opponent go nowhere.

The USC offense, being given Notre Dame turnover after Notre Dame turnover, could score only one touchdown under the shaky leadership of quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Mustain gets credit for the Trojans' only touchdown, but it came on a quarterback sneak — on fourth down.

UCLA knows what it's like to play with a backup quarterback, but apparently the Trojans do not.

Maybe the outcome is different if the Trojans' wide receivers catch the ball down the stretch, but UCLA's wide receivers will tell you, it's not that easy.

This was terrible, a miserable loss in the rain to Notre Dame in the Trojans' final home game of the season, and now the critics will shift their attention to Lane Kiffin and the back-to-back inexcusable losses suffered by the Trojans.

UCLA might even look good now by way of comparison. OK, so I exaggerate.

Next week's game became meaningless when Arizona State crushed UCLA, but now it takes on some significance if the Bruins believe the Trojans are really vulnerable.

A Bruins win would be devastating to USC, the Trojans under Kiffin ending the season with three straight losses.

And just imagine what it would mean for a crummy team like UCLA looking for anything positive to build on.

Coach Rick Neuheisel has already bested a team coached by Kiffin, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly now able to say the same thing. A few others as well.

And as offense-minded as Kiffin is supposed to be, he has to be wondering now what it takes to score more than one touchdown a game.

Notre Dame jumped ahead 13-3, but as crummy teams know, it's only a matter of time before they self-destruct. Just ask UCLA, and what it means to take a 17-0 lead.

USC turned an interception into a field goal to begin the third quarter. A fumble led to the Trojans' touchdown, and then an interception allowed USC to take a 16-13 lead.

If the Trojans can play defense, they win, but as fans have learned this season, they cannot.

Notre Dame went 77 yards in seven plays to score, and then the Trojans started dropping the ball. No such problem, though, for Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, who intercepted a Mustain pass at the goal line, folks going crazy in Westwood.

It almost makes next week's meaningless game between UCLA and USC worth watching.

USC INTRODUCED its seniors before the game, Kiffin greeting each one of them with a handshake and hug before they ran onto the field. It will be interesting next week in the Rose Bowl, when the Bruins say their goodbyes if Norm Chow runs out and hugs Neuheisel.

MUSTAIN WENT to practice the past four years hoping for the chance one day to start for the Trojans. He got it Saturday, and will no doubt want to keep the game's program as a keepsake — the one with a very nice picture of Barkley on the cover.

NOTRE DAME began every game this season on offense — until Saturday, the Trojans taking the kick off. But that allowed Notre Dame to begin the second half on offense with a 13-3 lead.

So much for dream scenarios, three plays later USC intercepting a pass and turning it into a 23-yard Joe Houston field goal.

ON NOTRE DAME'S second offensive play, quarterback Tommy Rees completed a pass to a diving Robby Toma for seven yards, the public address announcer noting, "no defense.''

That's the way it's gone much of the season for USC, although in this case the announcer was referring to the fact no one was going to be credited with a tackle.

KICKER DAVID RUFFER, 20 for 22 in his Notre Dame career on field-goal attempts, hit the left upright to miss an extra point just before halftime. As good as Ruffer might be from long distance, he's now 43 for 48 in extra points.

KIFFIN CLOSED the Trojans' Thursday practice because a reporter for the Orange County Register didn't abide by the commonly accepted practice of not writing about team strategy. The Trojans had running back Dillon Baxter taking the direct snap from center and then had him throwing the ball.

Kiffin must have concluded no one reads the Register because he went ahead and tried to surprise Notre Dame by having Baxter throw the ball. The Trojans gained four yards.

WHAT A relief USC is on probation. Had USC been eligible for a bowl game invite, the loss to Notre Dame might have cost the Trojans a visit to San Diego to play in the Holiday Bowl — placing them instead in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

It's a good thing the Trojans are on probation all right. Just imagine UCLA's incentive if the Trojans were going to get the chance to Fight Hunger instead of them.

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