In Rick Neuheisel’s first season as the head coach at UCLA a few years ago, the school made headlines, when it took out a full page newspaper ad proclaiming the “monopoly” on Los Angeles football was now over.
In Jim Mora’s first season as head coach at UCLA this season, he made his own headlines by proving that the monopoly is in fact over. It came directly and emphatically Saturday, with a dominating 38-28 Bruins win over cross-town rival USC.
When discussing the game and reflecting back on everything that happened at the Rose Bowl, we could begin this recap by sharing any number of stats which might show you how dominating the Bruins were Saturday. We could discuss Brett Hundley’s 234 yards passing or Johnathan Franklin’s 171 yards on the ground. We could talk about the three turnovers UCLA’s defense forced.
But the simple truth is that this game wasn’t about stats, but instead attitude. UCLA had a lot of it, and USC not nearly enough, and it was the Bruins’ attitude which was the difference in this game.
That attitude literally started on the very first play of the game.
The play came when Trojans’ quarterback Matt Barkley dropped back in the pocket, surveyed the field… and threw a pass, right into the hands of UCLA’s Aaron Hester for an interception. Four plays and 17 yards later the Bruins punched in a touchdown to go up 7-0, and by the end of the first quarter the score stood at 17-0 with UCLA ahead. The Trojans eventually cut the lead to 24-14 before the half and got as close as 24-20 in the second half, but could never do enough to overtake the Bruins. A Franklin touchdown run with a little more than four minutes to go sealed the win.
But for those who watched this game, it really was much more than simply a “win” for UCLA. For one it clinched the Pac-12 South title and their second straight trip to the conference championship game for the Bruins. And unlike last year (when USC was ineligible for the postseason), there is little doubt who the best team in the division is.
More importantly though, the victory for UCLA really did feel like a turning of the tide in Los Angeles football. Maybe the monopoly really is over after all.
Starting with the Trojans, we all know it’s been a tough year them, and frankly, it’s hard to say where the problems start and end. Looking across the board, it’s hard to name anyone besides Marqise Lee who has actually exceeded expectations, let alone met them. Matt Barkley hasn’t been a Heisman Trophy contender since Week 2. The defense has given at least 38 points in three of their last four games. The offensive line has been terrible. Robert Woods hasn’t even come close to putting up the number he did last year.
Meaning that when looking at the big picture, not only has USC been the most disappointing team of 2012, you could argue that they might be one of the most disappointing teams in modern college football history. And you have to wonder if change is coming at Troy. Now, it was announced at Saturday’s press conference that Lane Kiffin’s job is safe, and that he’s already been assured by Athletic Director Pat Haden that he’ll be back in 2012. At the same time, you have to wonder if the rest of his staff will be back with him. That starts with defensive coordinator (and Lane’s dad), Monte Kiffin, who has come under fire all over Los Angeles, for his inability to adjust to the spread offenses across the Pac-12.
Meanwhile across town, you’ve got to wonder if this is the start of something really special for this UCLA football program. At 9-2 this season, they’ve surpassed all logical expectations, and the best may still be yet to come. The Bruins will host Stanford next week, and will be a real threat to whoever they play (be it Stanford or Oregon) in that Pac-12 Championship Game the following weekend as well.
More importantly, it’s not just the change in the record books, but the change in attitude which is most notable. We always hear coaches claim they’re going to “change the culture” at a school, only that’s exactly what Mora has done in Westwood. It started in the spring, extended to fall camp in the scorching desert of San Bernadino and extended throughout the season. But there’s little doubt that this is now one of the toughest teams in college football. UCLA doesn’t just beat opponents. They beat them up too.
And there was one play which was truly indicative Saturday.
We already talked about Barkley’s interception to start the game, but how about Barkley’s last play of the afternoon as well? It came on the Trojans’ second to last drive, when Barkley dropped back in the pocket, and got knocked silly by UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Barkley took the sack, but he also took a brutal hit, and was knocked out of the game. It’s safe to say that after achieving a personal high against UCLA in a 50-0 win last year, Barkley’s career against the Bruins ended with a whimper.
So too did his team’s afternoon.
And you’ve got to wonder if it’s a sign of things to come for both teams.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.