by Garry Paskwietz:
In his post-game press conference, Steve Sarkisian began by congratulating the Bruins on the victory, and then he began rattling off some of the key reasons why he felt UCLA won the game.
There was the fact that they were able to extend drives, they had a good third-down conversion rate, 5 of 6 efficiency in the red zone, a good job on the line of scrimmage. All those things are true and they all contributed to the final result but they are not the reason for the loss. The reality is that the Trojans got beat, and they got beat in a fashion by the Bruins that simply doesn’t happen too often.
As to the reasons for that happening, they are being well discussed on the message boards right now. A rivalry game where the opposing coaching staff appeared to be a step ahead in preparation, game planning and adjustments. Missed opportunities that included a critical mistake on a muffed punt return, the inability to capitalize on a bad punt snap by the Bruins at their goal line, and a huge momentum swing late in the second quarter that began with the decision to go for it on fourth down, unsuccessfully, rather than taking the points with a field goal.
Those weren’t the only issues in the game, of course, There was a defensive performance by Leon McQuay that will, unfortunately, be remembered for a long time. One of the lasting images from this game was the sight of McQuay leaving the USC locker room after the game and heading up the tunnel with a look on his face that told me he felt the weight of what happened. There was also a performance by the Trojan offensive line that will not soon be forgotten either. The stats say Cody Kessler was sacked six times but that doesn’t tell the story of the kind of pressure he was under all night. And in addition to the muffed punt, Agholor also had an opportunity for a touchdown catch that while it would have been a tough catch, it’s the kind of play that can be the difference in an emotional rivalry game, and there’s nobody you want in that situation more than your team captain and hardest worker. But the play didn’t get made.
As for the impact of this game on Sarkisian and his staff, it wasn’t the impression they were looking to make. There was so much that could have been captured with this game, win or lose, if the Trojans had come out and laid everything on the line and played with a sense of purpose that reflected the rivalry setting. Instead, there are more questions about these coaches now than ever before. And while I understand the realities that come with the current reduced roster, what took place last night isn’t something that gets explained away because of a lack of bodies. Not when you have Ronnie Lott talking in the post-game radio show about a lack of hustle or when you have Darrell Rideaux talking in our podcast about a defense being in disarray. This is a rivalry that Sarkisian has seen before, and the fact that he “gets” USC and the importance of games like this is one of the reasons Pat Haden cited for hiring him but it’s a pretty consensus opinion today between fans and former players alike that whatever level of preparation the Trojans brought to this game wasn’t enough to match UCLA, and that’s a very bitter pill to swallow for anyone wearing cardinal and gold.