Are You Ready For The Salvage Bowl?
They’ve played the USC-UCLA game for a lot of reasons down through the years.
But they haven’t played many when both teams were simply trying to salvage something from the season.
That’s what we’ll have on Saturday in the Rose Bowl on what figures to be a cold December night in more ways than one. The Bruins and Trojans are struggling through disappointing years, and about the only incentive they have left is to knock off their crosstown rivals.
USC is not allowed to participate in a bowl game, and UCLA hasn’t won enough games to sneak into one. So here they are, getting ready to play for none, not all, of the marbles.
Are you excited yet? Don’t worry, not too many are.
Much of the gloss had come off the Bruins weeks ago, but for the Trojans everything turned in these last two sickly weeks. After traveling to Arizona and punching out an impressive physical victory over a good Wildcats team, Lane Kiffin’s group was 7-3 and looking as if it were headed for a possible 10-3 finish. Not overwhelming, maybe, but somewhat remarkable under the difficult circumstances.
Then they went to Oregon State, where it somehow always feels like Halloween for them. The usual horror show followed and they left with a 35-7 loss that was difficult to explain.
This past Saturday’s upset by Notre Dame was not as shocking, but in some ways, was even more perplexing.
Sure, Matt Barkley was out and Mitch Mustain was making the first start of his USC career at quarterback. But that doesn’t explain why Kiffin has gone so conservative with the offense. If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought Jeremy Bates was back calling plays these past two weeks.
The creativity, the aggressiveness, the penchant for throwing deep, it’s all been missing. It wasn’t until things got desperate late in the fourth quarter that Kiffin allowed Mustain, who has always thrown the deep ball beautifully in practice, was allowed to pass downfield on Saturday. He hit Robert Woods for one 34-yard play, then would have had the dramatic, game-winning, 53-yard toss to Ronald Johnson if the senior wideout hadn’t uncharacteristically dropped the ball.
The point is, where were those plays in the first three quarters? I remember only one other long throw that fell incomplete. The rest of the time it was all that horizontal stuff, the bubble screens etc. that make four or five yards a pop.
The irony of Saturday night is that the defense that has been the biggest weakness of the team all season played its best game of the year. Only the offense couldn’t keep up. The line didn’t block well, the running game disappeared and Kiffin didn’t have a) the courage or b) the confidence to open up the passing game.
The result was a loss to a Notre Dame team that never will be mistaken for an Oregon or Auburn. This is the same Irish bunch that lost earlier this season to Tulsa, for crying out loud. They played better this night, though, and they deserved to win.
Two weeks ago, USC would have been going into the UCLA game a two-touchdown favorite. Now, suddenly, Trojan fans are squirming, worried that the way this team has lost focus of late, it might not even be good enough to beat a Bruins team that just coughed up 595 yards to Arizona State.
Yeah, ready or not, here it comes, folks. The Salvage Bowl.
Some quick hits after the best football weekend yet:
Cam Newton not only led Auburn to that amazing comeback victory over Alabama, he locked up the Heisman Trophy . . .
Whether he’ll still have it or not in a few months remains to be seen. For the sake of college football’s integrity, you sure hope so . . .
Who is this Dwayne Bowe, and how did he suddenly get to be so dominant for the Chiefs? . . .
Wisconsin and Stanford might be playing the best football of anybody right now. Too bad they probably won’t get a chance to meet in the Rose Bowl . . .
Guess Matt Ryan and the Falcons are for real, huh? . . .
Man, I felt sorry for that Boise State kicker . . .
Right now, today, all records aside, the Chargers look like the best team in the NFL . . .
What about Da Bears? Give offensive coordinator Mike Martz credit. He seems to have made Jay Cutler into a solid NFL quarterback . . .
Nothing wrong with Peyton Manning that a halfway decent running game wouldn’t cure . . .
Is it just me, or was there an epidemic of dropped passes this weekend? . . .
UCLA’s defensive woes masked the fact that Richard Brehaut easily had the best passing day of any Bruins quarterback in years at ASU . . .
You think boxing promoter Bob Arum has called Houston’s Andre Johnson yet? If he hasn’t, he should . . .
— STEVE BISHEFF