USC v UCLA redux

This year’s installment of the cross-town rivalry was a bit boring.  USC showed its 2009-signature lack of offense, again, scoring nothing until late in the 4th quarter.  It was USC’s defense that really won this game, scoring twice and holding that 14-7 lead until the offense finally broke through.  UCLA looked schizophrenic on offense, whereas USC was its 2009 ineffectual norm.

The boredom ended late in the game with 52 seconds left.  USC had the ball with a 21-7 lead, and attempted to run out the clock by having the (caretaker) quarterback take a knee.  This put UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel in a tough spot.  He’s got 3 timeouts left, which means that if he takes them all and stops USC, he can get at least one more possession.  This game in particular is important to both teams’ recruiting efforts in Southern California.  Many, many would-be recruits are at this game.  So, I get that UCLA can’t exactly just give up.  That said, I interpreted this as something of a dare from Rick Neuheisel.  I’ve heard the guy in interviews on Dan Patrick‘s radio show, and it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t like Pete Carroll.  If you just read what he says, it all reads as polite and professional.  But, hearing him makes it clear why UCLA was so comfortable putting Neuheisel’s mug on its “The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over” billboards.

So, Neuheisel has painted himself into a corner.  He’s cultivated this persona of wanting to challenge/needle Pete Carroll, but I also think he likes it.  He calls time-out.  The crowd in the Coliseum rains down boos.  Pete Carroll is animated.  He takes Neuheisel’s dare and one ups him on the next play:  play-action fake, long pass down the field for a score.  The USC team is fired up, doing their (annoying, IMO) pre-game “fire-it-up” bounce thing.  Inexplicably, this is reported as “taunting”.  I watched the game.  This isn’t taunting.  That makes no sense.  Ever see a USC practice?  I have.  They do the same (annoying) thing.  Who are they taunting then?  Answer:  nobody, because it’s not taunting, you morons.  What some individual players did (making faces, etc) was taunting, but the press has reported this as some team-orchestrated taunting ritual, which just isn’t the case.  USC wasn’t the team that cleared its bench afterward & postured itself across midfield — that was UCLA.  Does it suck to have your rival beat you?  Yes it does.  I would know.  I was at USC when the eight year drought against UCLA was going on (and thankfully ended in 1999).  It happens.  UCLA ran up the score when they could.  That’s the nature of the rivalry.  But USC didn’t try to start a fight, and they didn’t whine about it afterward.  (Ok, actually, I did whine about it in 1996, when at the Rose Bowl, the UCLA fans cheered and celebrated when UCLA managed to injure USC quarterback Brad Otton, eventually leading to an overtime loss for USC after leading 38-17).  Rick Neuheisel actually seems to get that, since he’s not whining about it.  But, the UCLA fans should grow the hell up.  It didn’t particularly bother me when Stanford attempted to run up the score on USC this year, because I figure that over time, that’s just going to bite them in the rear — who is more likely to step on the other team’s throat in coming years?  Yeah, nice win this year, great team for Stanford, but that doesn’t bother me.  As a side note, I’ll take criticism from UCLA fans about “classlessness” approximately never.  Both teams have boorish fans, to be sure, but my opinion about the height of UCLA-fan classiness stems from an incident in 1996 (after the aforementioned overtime win for UCLA).  I watched some bratty UCLA fans actually push an older guy in USC regalia to the ground in the parking lot as he attempted to get in his car.  Seriously.  YOU JUST WON.  And yet, you’re pushing a geezer on the ground.  I’m sure that some drunken USC fan has done boorish crap before, too.  But don’t lecture me as though UCLA is some pinnacle of sportsmanship and good-natured competition, and that this incident somehow mars what is otherwise a high-brow affair.

Would I have preferred that Pete Carroll take the high road & rush the ball instead?  Yeah, definitely.  After all, this is supposedly “tailback U”.  But, USC’s definitely down this year (for them), and so I can’t entirely fault Pete Carroll for ripping one down the field when he saw the chance.  Despite his focus on defense, the dude likes offense (he’s commented about how it was “fun again” last year when Sanchez was throwing TDs left and right), and there hasn’t been any this year.  It was a gamble, but what really was on the line?  It’s not like this was the Rose Bowl and the national championship was at stake on a 4th-and-2 against UT.  (D’oh — still, that was statistically the right call).  I do hope that both teams cool down a bit before next year, however.

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