Matt Kalil, No. 73 in 2008 class
Kalil came out of uber talented Servite High in Anaheim, California, in 2008 as a lock for USC with his older brother, Ryan Kalil, having played for the Trojans and had a very successful college career. The youngest of two brothers, Kalil, chose the Trojans over Notre Dame, and was a member of a USC class that included Tyron Smith, Nick Perry, Jurrell Casey, Khaled Holmes, Malik Jackson and Wes Horton. Kalil's father, Frank Kalil, played college football at Arkansas and Arizona.
Kalil redshirted as a freshman in 2008 due in part to sprained knee. He spent his redshirt freshman season as a backup tackle with one start.
It was the 2010 season in which Kalil became a full-time starter, logging 13 starts at left tackle earning All-Pac 12 mention.
His fifth and final season in Los Angeles was a First-team All-American performance at left tackle. In addition to being selected to All-American teams, he also took home the 2011 Morris Trophy, which is awarded to the best lineman on the West Coast. He was the third straight USC player to win the award following Charles Brown in 2009 and Tyron Smith in 2010.
Kalil was selected fourth overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2012 NFL draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and has started every game for the Vikings since being drafted.
Honorable mention: Devonte Fields, No. 73 in the 2012 class. Fields was on his way to All-American status before off the field issues led to suspensions. As a freshman, the Arlington Martin High product started all 13 games that ended with Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors by the coaches after recording 53 tackles, 18,5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Fields selected the hometown Horned Frogs over Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
1. A hop, skip and jump away ... from the end zone
The race is on for which Pac-12 freshman running back will have the most impressive season -- Arizona's Nick Wilson or Oregon's Royce Freeman. Wilson is averaging six yards per carry and has 35 more rushing yards this season while Freeman has accounted for four more rushing touchdowns than Wilson. But, Wilson is the one that found his way onto the play of the week vote this week after busting out a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Utah. He hopped his way through the line of scrimmage before outmaneuvering a diving Justin Thomas and finding his way to the end zone. The score gave the Wildcats a 28-10 lead over the Utes.
2. Hard(ison) making it look easy
Marcus Hardison recorded his first career interception against Notre Dame a few weeks ago, but he didn't return that one at all. But against Washington State, Hardison managed to not only pick off Luke Falk, but to then ramble and run 12 yards before being taken down. The interception came at a crucial time for the Sun Devils, too. Hardison picked off Falk on his first pass attempt after ASU had cut Washington State's lead to seven. The Arizona State offense followed up Hardison's athletic play with a quick scoring drive to even out the score at 21.
3. Darren's derrière
In the postgame media conference on Saturday, quarterback Marcus Mariota said he'd remember redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington's pass because it represented the ideal that even when you're down you don't stop working, you follow through with your play/what you're doing. That's super poetic, Marcus, but we liked this play just because it was ridiculous. Carrington almost made the play the first time around, spinning halfway around and trying to snatch the pass with his right hand. But he ended up with his backside on the ground but kept his eye on the ball and allowed it to fall into his chest to make the catch. So, the final catch was either much more difficult or much easier than his initial attempt depending on how you look at it.
4. A 9.0 for the landing, a 10.0 for the pick
With the Bruins up by just three in the second quarter, linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off a tipped Cody Kessler pass that ended up turning the game in UCLA's favor. It was a diving interception and we're still not entirely sure how Kendricks was able to stay in bounds. “It has to be indisputable evidence to overturn it,” Mora told the Los Angeles Daily News. “And he kept his feet up. I'm pretty sure he wasn't conscious of it. It was just a very athletic play by him.” The Bruins ended up making the best of Kendricks' pick and marching down the field, eating up some clock and extending their lead to 10.
5. Lights, Cameron, Action
With the Sun Devils trailing by 14, sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith connected with Taylor Kelly for a diving, 42-yard touchdown catch. Smith outran freshman defensive back Charleston White before making the play, his sixth touchdown catch of the year, and one the Sun Devils needed badly after digging themselves a hole early against the Cougars. Smith finished the day with two touchdowns and 131 yards -- the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
1. Jarrett Stidham, QB
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 39
As much as we’d all like to ask Pat Haden that question today, chances are the Trojans’ athletic director won’t be making any public comments for a while.
Can you blame him?
Haden, after all, is the one who hired Steve Sarkisian, and in light of what transpired at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, that decision has a chance to rank right up there with Mike Garrett’s frantic rush to name Lane Kiffin the coach after Pete Carroll left for the NFL.
When you really think about it, that’s how USC’s embarrassing 38-20 mauling of a loss to UCLA can best be described -- it was pure Kiffin-esque.
No, this game wasn’t about lack of talent. It was about lack of A) Good decision-making (going for it on fourth-and-2 at the 5 instead of taking the field goal early? Really?) B) Poise, C) Discipline and D) The ability to make adjustments at halftime. And all of that reflects directly on the underachieving guy being paid somewhere between $3 million and $4 million a year to be the head coach.
Sarkisian not only oversees the entire operation, he also calls the offensive plays. And in the chess match that played out in Pasadena on Saturday, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone consistently came up with daring, creative calls, while Sark never could seem to solve a Bruins defense that had been something less than spectacular for most of the season.
Ironically, Jim Mora’s team repeatedly bruised the Trojans with bubble screens, blocking them beautifully and executing them better than bubble screen-crazy USC ever has. Live by the bubble screen and die by the bubble screen, huh, guys?
As much criticism as Sarkisian will get for this performance, he certainly wasn’t the only one who failed miserably.
" Quarterback Cody Kessler looked rattled and uncomfortable from the start, and things only deteriorated from there once USC’s blockers up front were completely overrun by the Bruins’ defensive line. Kessler regularly lights it up against the marshmallows on the schedule, but he has yet to win a big-time game and is now 0-3 against UCLA and Notre Dame.
" Nelson Agholor fumbled one punt to set up a Bruins’touchdown and failed to hold on to what appeared to be a catchable 25 yard pass in the end zone. He spent the rest of the evening surrounded by blue-clad defenders who limited him to three receptions for 24 yards.
" Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox seemed so consumed with stopping UCLA’s brilliant Brett Hundley from hurting the Trojans with his runs, he opened up all sorts of passing lanes for the Bruins’ underrated receivers. And then Hundley topped it off by faking Su'a Cravens out of his cleats to score unmolested on a 17-yard read-option sprint for UCLA’s final touchdown.
" Leonard Williams was something less than his usual overpowering self, and he and Gerald Bowman were called for consecutive 15-yard personal fouls on the Bruins’ last touchdown drive. Sure, they were frustrated, but Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels can relate. It was strictly a case of being dumb and dumber.
Recruiting-wise, this was a game bound to turn the late momentum toward Westwood. All of those blue-chip kids who were vacillating between USC and UCLA have to know that the Bruins, not the Trojans, are the team on the rise nationally. And the only LA coach who has proven himself at this point is Mora.
So now USC, at 7-4 -- hmmmm, does that record sound familiar to you longtime Sark watchers out there? -- gets to play Notre Dame in a game featuring two teams teetering on the precipice of disastrous seasons. Brian Kelly’s lurching Irish have lost three in a row and four of their last five.
It is difficult to remember when a matchup in this once-storied series ever came up feeling more empty and irrelevant.
After that, a Trojans team that conceivably could be 7-5 will be invited to one of those low-level postseason events. The game will have some sort of commercial label to it, but rest assured, no one will be fooled.
Call it the You-Get-What-You-Deserve Bowl.
Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.
The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
- Oregon 2-3
- UCLA 9-10
- Arizona 12-12
- ASU 13-13
As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll.
- Adam Jude of the Seattle Times
- Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera
- Michael Lev of the Orange County Register
- Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News
- Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News
In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.
His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.
Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.
- Some more on Arizona moving up in the polls.
- As noted above, there is plenty at stake in the Territorial Cup.
- Stanford owns the axe. And Cal.
- The MacIntyres are getting to spend a lot of time together.
- The Ducks enter Civil War week with momentum.
- Some notes from Mike Riley's Sunday call with the media.
- Another opinion piece on the Big Game ... though not a differing one from the Cal link.
- UCLA's receivers stepped up big against USC.
- Five observations from USC's loss to UCLA.
- Utah wasn't able to handle the big play against Arizona.
- Washington showed resiliency with its win over Oregon State.
- Some final thoughts from WSU's loss to Arizona State.
The gap between the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide narrowed after another close call by Florida State, which beat Boston College 20-17 on a field goal in the waning seconds.
Florida State received 37 first-place votes and 1,458 points, down six first-place votes and 18 points from last week. Alabama has 21 first-place votes 1,445 points. No. 3 Oregon received two first-place votes, one more than last week.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Rose Bowl after the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) were defeated 38-20 by the UCLA Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) Saturday.
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:
For openers: “I’m going to start by saying UCLA played a very good football game. Some of the keys to the ballgame were pretty clear -- their ability to extend drives, the third-down efficiency, 9-for-16, and then their efficiency in the red zone, 5-for-6. I felt like they did a nice job on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Over time that took a toll on us. We couldn't get off the field.”
On the perimeter game: “The perimeter screen game really hurt us. The ball got on the perimeter for them, and they really got yards and chunks in the screen game, which took its toll. It was a real swing in the game with the turnover there in the second quarter. They took advantage of it -- the score right at the end of the half. Then they came right back out and got another seven to start the second half. Then we go three-and-out and they get seven more. [That] really was the entire ball game.”
On bouncing back to face Notre Dame: “It’s going to be a unique challenge for us. We have to get back up on the horse, and when there’s this level of disappointment that’s going to take great leadership. That starts with me getting these guys prepared to play Notre Dame next Saturday night.”
UCLA head coach Jim Mora comments:
On the meaning of the victory over USC: “It just confirms what I have believed in all along. It’s not close to finished, but we are moving in the right direction.”
On the USC rivalry: “When I got here, I didn’t think much of it. I just have a lot of respect for Sark, obviously. That guy gave me an opportunity, along with [UCLA athletic director] Dan [Guerrero] and Chancellor Block. I just have a lot of respect for Sark and what he is trying to do over there. I don’t know about the rivalry. That is not how my mind works. I just work day to day.”
On defending the Trojans: “To me, it is about stopping the run first, eliminating big plays second and getting after the quarterback third. But you don’t want to let things get down the field on us. Nelson Agholor is special. I said the same thing about [Marqise] Lee two years ago. [Nelson is] a great football player. You have to tackle him and you can’t let him get loose.”
More notes and anecdotes:
Key(s) to victory: UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley passed for three touchdowns (326 yards through the air) and rushed for another, while the Bruins defense dominated a subdued Trojans offense in a decisive 38-20 victory that gave the Blue and Gold their third consecutive win over the Men of Troy.
Let’s get physical: On the physical aspect of the game, Mora said, “UCLA is a physical football team. I don’t think there was anything extra. We felt like if we let it get to where it was extra, we thought that it could get away from us, emotionally. We held it together emotionally, and USC did the exact same thing. That is a credit to our staff and to their staff. That is a credit to their players and to our players. It was good, hard-fought football by two teams dying to get after each other.”
The offensive implosion: The Trojans scored 20 points against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 35.2 points per game.
Kessler comments: On UCLA’s defensive dominance, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “They did a really good job of game-planning us. They got a lot of pressure on us and they had a great pass rush.”
Defensive leak: The Trojans defense allowed 38 points to the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 23.3 points per game.
The strong safety speaks: Trojans senior strong safety Gerald Bowman had his opinion of the game and the UCLA offense. Bowman said, “We have to step it up. I think a turning point was our missed tackles. We were doing our jobs, but we just didn’t finish. We have to learn to finish. They were running their offensive tempo pretty fast.”
Quarterback pressure: Kessler was sacked six times by the UCLA defense, while the Trojans sacked Hundley just twice.
Offensive recession: The Trojans had 276 yards in total offense against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were averaging 458.0 offensive yards per game.
Fast start: Before the UCLA game, the Trojans had outscored opponents 129-22 in the first quarter. On Saturday night in the first quarter, the Men of Troy were outscored 14-7.
Getting on line: Afterward, Trojans starting sophomore offensive tackle Zach Banner said, “This one hurts. It’s our rivals. Seeing Cody get sacked, I personally feel like I let my team down.”
More defensive issues: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 461 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were allowing 396.8 yards per game.
Through the Hayes: On his defense’s performance, Trojans senior linebacker Hayes Pullard said, “Nobody could have predicted this game before and looked into the future. I always tip my cap to Brett (Hundley). He’s a physical runner and a very skilled athlete.”
Rush-hour jam: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 62 yards. Prior to the Bruins game, the Men of Troy were averaging 163.1 yards rushing per game.
Tough going: Trojans standout junior tailback Javorius Allen managed just 60 yards rushing with a long carry of 12 yards.
On the mark: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 135 net yards rushing. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 135.1 yards rushing per game.
Counting the house: The announced attendance was 82,431, which is short of a Rose Bowl sellout (91,136).
Below the passing norm: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans passed for 214 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 294.9 passing yards per game.
The evaluation: On the turning point to this season, senior tight end Randall Telfer, who didn’t catch a pass on Saturday night, said, “The tide for us turned at the start of the season when we thought we could be special. We had the hype and the expectations. It has become strange and shocking. As for UCLA, they have a lot of heart and energy and they have managed to put together a complete team.”
Air defense breakdown: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans defense allowed 326 passing yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 261.7 yards per game.
Action Jackson: Outside the Trojans locker room after the game, USC true freshman corner sensation Adoree' Jackson said, “We messed up on tackles. We made a couple of mistakes, especially on my end. I was surprised by the game, and I thought we were going to get the ‘W.’ UCLA just executed better than us.”
Flag improvement: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans were penalized five times for 49 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 83.2 yards in penalties per game.
A second opinion: Assessing the game following its conclusion, Trojans junior linebacker Anthony Sarao said, “We failed to execute. We had a great game plan coming in. It’s not about a magical defense. It’s about players. I’ll say this: We never laid down.”
Top tacklers: Pullard led the Trojans defense with nine tackles, followed by sophomore free safety Leon McQuay with seven tackles.
Injury report: There were no reported injuries.
Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance included reps from the Rams, Raiders, Cowboys, Dolphins, Panthers, Jaguars, Colts, Falcons, Bengals and Bears.
Bowling alley: Representatives from the Alamo, Holiday and Sun Bowls were in attendance to watch the Trojans and Bruins.
Next game: The Trojans will host the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame next Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum. Kickoff time will be 12:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised on Fox.
PASADENA, Calif. -- The transfer of sports ownership in Los Angeles is trickier than it is in most cities.
In other municipalities, you can close a deal in a day or transfer it from year to year like a pink slip without much debate.
Win, and it’s yours. You own it. You run it. No debate about it.
Los Angeles, however, is different.
Ownership of the city with respect to its various sports isn’t so much an annual transaction as almost a generational one that doesn’t change hands overnight. As crazy as it might sound, head-to-head results don’t mean as much in the long term as national accomplishments.
On Saturday, UCLA defeated USC 38-20 and claimed a third straight win in the crosstown rivalry. It represents the Bruins’ longest win streak in the series since they claimed eight straight from 1991 to 1998. Not only has UCLA beaten USC three straight seasons, but each one has also been by double digits. The Bruins have scored at least 35 points in three straight games against the Trojans for the first time in the rivalry’s 85-year history.
Last year, UCLA coach Jim Mora pumped his fists after beating USC at the Coliseum and screamed, “We own this town!”
There is no doubt UCLA is the better football team in Los Angeles and has been for three years now. If Los Angeles were just any other city, these results would make Los Angeles a UCLA football town.
By that reasoning, such recent dominance also would make Los Angeles a Clippers town. The Clippers have beaten the Lakers four straight times and eight times in their past nine meetings and thumped them by an average margin of 35.5 points during their final three meetings the past season.
But Los Angeles is not any other city.
Despite what outsiders might think, L.A. isn’t as fickle as the weather or ever-changing standings. Teams don’t relinquish ownership of this city after three years when they’ve been running things for more than 50 years.
Winning Los Angeles will always be far more difficult than winning a division or a championship. Have a great season, and you can claim one of those, but winning Los Angeles will always take more than a good season or three. It takes sustained success over decades -- the kind of sustained success great enough to change rooting interests passed down through generations.
This season’s USC team is the last to be impacted by the three-year NCAA penalty that caps the annual roster at a maximum of 75 scholarship players and the yearly scholarship signees to 15, which is 10 fewer than the NCAA maximum in both cases. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that UCLA’s three-year run has coincided with USC’s punishment, but the Bruins certainly have taken advantage on and off the field, as well, in recruiting during this time period.
Mora and Hundley have enjoyed unprecedented success at UCLA over the past three years. Not only have they beaten USC three straight seasons, but Saturday’s win also locked up the ninth win of the Bruins’ season. Never before in the story of UCLA football (dating back to 1919), have the Bruins won at least nine games in three straight seasons.
But unless UCLA can beat Stanford next week and Oregon the following (they haven’t beaten both in the same season since 2007), they will finish this three-year run without a conference title and without a trip to the Rose Bowl or a BCS quality bowl. The Bruins’ most recent conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl were in 1998, and their most recent Rose Bowl win was 1985.
Los Angeles is a city owned and run by the teams that win championships. It’s the only kind of currency this town recognizes. Head-to-head battles and win streaks are nice, but they are quickly forgotten when trophy cases accumulate dust. The same goes for empty seats in the crowd. As good as UCLA has been these past three seasons, they Bruins have been hard-pressed to get the Rose Bowl filled to capacity.
The Rose Bowl seats 92,542, but the most recent time a UCLA home game cracked 90,000 was in 2006, when a 7-6 UCLA squad spoiled USC’s shot at playing in the national championship. Saturday’s game drew 82,431 in Pasadena, which meant there were about 10,000 empty seats for the showdown between No. 9 UCLA and No. 19 USC.
USC has 11 national championships and six Heisman trophy winners, and 483 Trojans have been taken in the NFL draft -- second only to Notre Dame. From 2002 to 2008, USC enjoyed seven straight 11-win seasons, conference championships and BCS bowls and won two national championships. The Trojans also beat UCLA in 12 of 13 games from 1999 to 2011, culminating in a 50-0 win at the Coliseum. Sure, it’s old news and nothing more than a history lesson, but it’s what Los Angeles recognizes and respects.
Likewise, L.A. sports fans respect the Lakers’ 16 NBA championships, UCLA’s 11 national championships in college basketball and the Dodgers’ six World Series titles. Yes, their crosstown rivals might get the better of them from time to time, but until that translates into something more than bragging rights, ownership of Los Angeles won't change hands.
South Division picture clearer: With UCLA's 38-20 whipping of USC and Arizona's 42-10 bludgeoning of Utah, the Trojans and Utes are out of the South Division race. So it comes down to UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State on the final weekend of the regular season to see who plays North Division champion Oregon on Dec. 5 for the Pac-12 title. UCLA controls its fate: It wins the South if it beats Stanford on Friday. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup on Friday is the Pac-12 champion. Funny thing: Both games are 12:30 PT kicks, so they will be contested simultaneously, which means the Sun Devils and Wildcats likely will be doing some scoreboard watching during their rivalry game.
This is the biggest Territorial Cup in a long time: Arizona and Arizona State, both 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12, will meet in the Territorial Cup as ranked teams for the first time since 1986. The most recent time both teams had at least nine wins was 1975 (ASU 10-0, Arizona 9-1). The South Division is still undecided. Next Friday, with everyone stuffed with turkey, this will be great fun in Tucson. Big question, though: Will Arizona QB Anu Solomon, who left the Wildcats' win over Utah with a lower-leg injury, be available?
Newly bowl eligible: Stanford's 38-17 win over Cal and Washington's 37-13 win over Oregon State made each team bowl-eligible and gave the Pac-12 eight eligible teams. Cal and Oregon State still can become bowl-eligible on the final weekend. Cal needs to beat BYU at home on Saturday, while the Beavers need to end their six-game losing streak in the Civl War against state Oregon.
Cal is much better, but Stanford still rules the Big Game: Cal and Stanford entered the Big Game with matching 5-5 records, but the Cardinal made a dominant statement and won their fifth in a row in the series. That means no Stanford senior will experience life without The Axe. Entering the game, it was a matchup of a good offense (Cal) versus a good defense (Stanford) and a bad offense (Stanford) versus a bad defense (Cal). We learned Stanford's good defense is better than Cal's good offense, and its bad offense is better than Cal's bad defense.
Washington State's freshman QB Luke Falk has lots of potential, but he hasn't yet arrived: Falk was impressive coming off the bench to replace an injured Connor Halliday against USC and had a brilliant starting debut at Oregon State and a strong start at Arizona State, when the Cougs jumped ahead 21-7 against the Sun Devils. But things went haywire thereafter, and Falk started looking like a freshman. He committed five turnovers (four picks and a fumble) in a game the Cougars lost 52-31. He threw for 601 yards and three TDs, and he has shown plenty of good things that point to a strong future running Mike Leach's offense. But the performance in Sun Devil Stadium showed he's still got ways to go, which really shouldn't be surprising.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Naturally, UCLA coach Jim Mora would have preferred his Bruins be a pristine 11-0, having already locked up the Pac-12 South ahead of next week’s season finale against Stanford.
But let’s be honest. When you hoist your sails in Pac-12 waters, you’re going to hit a couple of rocks.
UCLA took on water midway through the season with back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon, and the national media just assumed the S.S. Bruin was unsalvageable.
But the Bruins bailed the water out. And five wins later -- including their most recent 38-20 pasting of USC Saturday night -- No. 9 UCLA once again finds itself hanging around for a spot in the College Football Playoff. And while swallowing a pair of home losses never sits well, perhaps the silver lining of the mid-season defeats is that the national media turned its oppressive stare away from Westwood, giving the Bruins the space they needed to grow into the team that throttled its rivals at the Rose Bowl Saturday night.
Saturday night, UCLA looked every bit the dominant team many thought it would be when the Bruins were tapped as the No. 7 team in the country in the preseason. The defense was vicious -- sacking USC quarterback Cody Kessler six times and picking up eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Trojans, who averaged 35.2 points per game coming into the game, were held to just 20 points.
Offensively, quarterback Brett Hundley shook off an early pick-six and ended up 22-of-31 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a 15-yard score.
And let’s not overlook the fact that the Bruins are now 3-0 against USC in the Mora era. To boot, all three wins have come by 10 points or more. The last time that happened was 1953-55, a time period that saw the Bruins win the UPI national championship in 1954.
Mora took all of two sentences to relish the significance of the win.
“We don’t bask in moments,” he said. “We’ll just move on to the next moment.”
The next moment involves a Stanford squad that is 3-0 against Mora. With a victory Friday the Bruins will clinch the Pac-12 South and face the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If they lose, then Saturday’s Territorial Cup between Arizona State and Arizona will determine the division champion.
Schematically, the Bruins didn’t make any drastic overhauls when they hit their two-game skid. They took the leash off Hundley and gave him more freedom to run. And they put more of an emphasis on their base offense. But for the most part, the UCLA team Saturday -- from an X's and O's standpoint -- was the same that won Aug. 30 at Virginia.
“Those two losses feel like 100 years ago,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not [upset] that we lost both. I think we’ve seen the offensive line really improve over the last month. And the glass half full is that maybe we’re a better football team because of those losses. The kids refocused, and we went back to our base, and we figured we’d just get good at what we do.”
It sounds simple enough. The result has been a spike in the national rankings and UCLA’s second win over a top-20 team in its last five games. And the Bruins are sure to climb again when the new rankings are released Tuesday, given their win over the No. 19 Trojans and Ole Miss’ loss to Arkansas.
Of course, just like when his team was ranked No. 7 in the preseason, Mora was in no mood to talk about the playoff.
“I talk about the Pac-12 championship,” he said. “We have to win Friday. If we can win Friday, we will have another shot to win the Pac-12 championship. I don’t talk about that other stuff.”
And yet the “other stuff” can’t be ignored. Because if the Bruins were to win the conference, it would include a win over (likely) No. 2 Oregon and give them a compelling case for being the best two-loss team in the country. And if a conference championship counts for something -- as the selection committee claims -- the Bruins would have a very strong argument for inclusion.
UCLA eliminated USC from the Pac-12 South race with a lopsided 38-20 win at the Rose Bowl. It marks the first three-game winning streak in the series for the Bruins since 1996-98.
How the game was won: After USC (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) took a 7-0 lead, UCLA (9-2, 6-2) basically did whatever it wanted. The Bruins led 24-14 at halftime and extended the lead to 38-14 in the third quarter before coasting to the win.
Game ball goes to: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley finished 22-of-31 for 326 yards three touchdowns passes to move to 3-0 in his career against the Trojans -- the first Bruins quarterback since Cade McNown with such a record. Hundley also rushed for a touchdown and passed McNown to become UCLA's career leader in total offense.
What it means: UCLA can lock up the Pac-12 South with a win against Stanford next week at home. It would be the Bruins' third appearance in the title game since it was introduced in 2011 -- the most of any Pac-12 team. USC could have clinched the division on Saturday with a win and an Arizona State loss to Washington State, but instead are no longer in contention.
Playoff implication: UCLA is a serious threat for a playoff berth. If the Bruins win out, they would be 11-2 (including a potential revenge win against Oregon). Would that be enough to convince the committee they deserve a shot? Who knows, but they would have to be seriously considered. Their résumé would include five wins against teams that are currently ranked by the committee and both losses are also to ranked teams. That compares favorably to, say, Ohio State, which has one bad loss (Virginia Tech) and counts Minnesota as one of its best two wins.
Best play: UCLA's Thomas Duarte caught a 57-yard pass from Hundley in the first quarter, which set the tone for the type of night it would be.
What's next: UCLA hosts newly bowl-eligible Stanford (6-5, 4-4) next week and USC will host reeling Notre Dame (7-4).
3:30 PM ET 13 Arizona State 11 Arizona 3:30 PM ET Stanford 8 UCLA