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IMHO Sunday: Comparisons

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC columnist

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

 The comparison: Is Steve Sarkisian the Trojans football version of former UCLA head basketball coach Steve Lavin? Both are likeable guys, slick talkers that get along with everybody, recruited well but could only take a program to a certain level. For Lavin, he could never take the historic Bruins basketball program any further than the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. For Sarkisian, the Trojans are headed to another minor bowl game, which could be considered as football’s version of the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen at best.

The comparison – Part 2: It would be premature to say that Sark is “Lav” because Lavin was UCLA’s basketball coach for seven years before he was shown the exit door in Pauley Pavilion. Sark hasn’t even completed his first season to be fair. However, one thing all Trojans fans will agree, Sarkisian has to right the cardinal and gold ship quickly and won’t be given seven years to prove he can guide one of college football’s most storied programs.

The comparison – Part 3: One difference between Sarkisian and Lavin is that current UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero didn’t hire Lavin as his basketball coach but quickly fired him upon his arrival in Westwood. Trojans athletic director Pat Haden fired Sark’s predecessor, Lane Kiffin, and elected to hire Sarkisian in a very controversial move.

FYI: Trojans athletic director Pat Haden was nowhere to be seen after the Trojans resounding loss to the Bruins.

Scary thought: The final score of 38-20 could have been worse had the Bruins not fumbled deep in USC territory in the fourth quarter. How would you have liked a 45-20 final, Trojans fan? You got the feeling standing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter that the Bruins could have scored at will and that Cody Kessler was nothing more than human target practice for the Bruins ferocious defensive front.

The new dawn: Okay, it time for the reality check. At the moment, UCLA does own L.A. and it’s not even debatable. Much stronger, more disciplined, better coached, the Bruins third win over the Trojans is no longer a fluke. The Trojans have issues on offense, defense, and special teams. In the first quarter alone there were two Trojans special teams blunders and two secondary breakdowns that led to UCLA touchdowns.

 Tough day: Trojans sophomore free safety Leon McQuay lll was the apparent target of UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, as McQuay was burned for all three of Brett Hundley’s passing touchdowns.

Quarantined: Following the game, the media was off limits in talking with Leon McQuay, who was escorted out of the Rose Bowl by Trojans media officials.

The reality: Remember, only two of the Trojans three touchdowns were a result of the offense, the other was a Pick-6 from linebacker Anthony Sarao in the first quarter. In fact, the Trojans second offensive touchdown was with just 3:08 remaining in the game. Not good, my friends.

The reality – Part 2: After UCLA opened up a 14-7 first quarter lead, the Bruins went on to outscore the Trojans 24-13 the rest of the game.

Alarming: To see, again, the Trojans being physically handled on both sides of the line of scrimmage is very alarming. So much for the new strength program, but then again the excuse will be scholarship numbers. Right?

The consensus: In listening to the Trojans players after the game, they all seemed to agree that the Bruins play with unbridled enthusiasm and energy. That comes from UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr., who has done to an extent what Pete Carroll did to the Trojans in terms of being competitive and being an extension of the their coach’s personality.

Eye roller: It was a real eye roller at the end of the first quarter when Steve Sarkisian went for it on 4th-and-goal at the UCLA 2-yard line. Sark elected to go for it instead of a field goal. The Trojans surprisingly gave the ball to Buck Allen off the right side that was stopped at the UCLA 5-yard line. It seemed like a field goal was a no-brainer, which would have completed the first quarter 14-10 in favor of UCLA.

Self-reflection: Is it me or does it already feel like the Steve Sarkisian era is already in its third season and not the first?

The passion: Wow, that was some beating that Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler took from being sacked six times and when he wasn’t being sacked, he was being knocked down or harassed relentlessly. He looked totally drained while talking to the media outside the Trojans locker room.

And now from the peristyle end…

 Holiday bowling: According to a San Diego source, the Holiday Bowl has one of its potential match-up possibilities the Trojans and Wisconsin. That would be one heckeva historical reunion. The 1963 Rose Bowl Game between the Men of Troy and the Wisconsin Badgers is one of the all-time Rose Bowls.

FYI: The Holiday Bowl will be held on Saturday, Dec. 27, at 5 p.m. PST. and I was told on Saturday that other candidates to play in the Holiday Bowl from the Pac-12 include UCLA, ASU, and Arizona. It appears that the likely opposition will come from the Big Ten.

 Both sides now: And we’re not talking about Judy Collins signature song from times gone by, but one thing one could say about the reinstatement of Josh Shaw is that a case could be made for bringing him or not bringing him back. Shaw played on Saturday but was basically a non-factor.

Whew: At least UCLA didn’t play in those awful home uniforms they wore for homecoming against Arizona.

Hush-hush: You may have heard that UCLA will honor quarterback Troy Aikman during next Friday’s Stanford game in the Rose Bowl. Aikman never beat the Trojans in his two-season UCLA career.

Say what: Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel may be a distinguished former UCLA quarterback and not-so-distinguished head coach, but when he says the two best Bruins quarterbacks ever are Troy Aikman, who never beat the Trojans as mentioned, and Brett Hundley, he is apparently not a Bruins historian. At last check, UCLA QB Cade McNown never lost to the Men of Troy, and Bruins QB Gary Beban is the Bruins QB lone Heisman Trophy winner, who actually took his team to the Rose Bowl. Bottom line:

Ticket trouble:
Saturday night’s game did not sell out and questions abound: Was it because both teams haven’t yet really lived up to their predictions? Is playing a night game at the Rose Bowl a turnoff when the game is on national television? Is it because USC draws better than UCLA? Would most Trojans fans rather watch the game live at the Coliseum? What is known is that the Trojans turned back to UCLA a large number of unsold tickets from its allotment.

Carmageddon: No question that getting into the Rose Bowl on Saturday was one of the worst experiences we’ve had and that includes New Year’s Day. Even longtime UCLA observers that work UCLA games say had trouble getting into the Arroyo Seco and they don’t know why.

The post-game show…

 Radio waves: As expected, the Trojans post-game radio show was full of venom and outrage over the final score between the crosstown rivals. Even the Trojans moderators had trouble trying to put the usual lipstick on the pig.

 A rose is a rose: I like the new recognition red brick area in front of Rose Bowl entrance Gate A. Red bricks in the shape of a rose are featured with some very familiar Rose Bowl names on them and there is outer section with additional names.

A basic truth: How many of the current UCLA starters would have been Trojans if not for the NCAA’s draconian sanctions?

Sudden Sam: Future Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold of San Clemente (Calif.) High, who will play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-America Game, threw five touchdown passes against Tustin (Calif.) Foothill High to lead the Tritons to a 56-6 victory in the second round of the CIF Southwest Division playoffs. Sam passed for 286 yards, rushed for 93, and one TD.

The final word: You hear and/or probably know families that are that proverbial “house divided” when it comes to the USC/UCLA rivalry. It doesn’t get more specific knowing that USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s sisters went to UCLA and UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr.’s daughter, a freshman at USC, is in a social media photo face-painted cardinal and gold, wearing a USC sweatshirt, and both hands displaying the famed Trojans two-fingered “Fight On” sign.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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