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Click here for the post-game press conference.
The stage was perfectly set. Three-time Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest had the Coliseum in a frenzy as the Trojans took the field with two months of momentum behind them. But after a couple frenetic series by both teams, UCLA settled into a rhythm and the Trojans' energy level fizzled. "There was great energy in the beginning of the first half," said defensive captain Hayes Pullard. "We wanted to maintain that energy, but we got a little flat. We lost our energy and our fire that we had early in the game." Unable to ride the emotional wave that carried the Trojans to six wins under Ed Orgeron, USC broke down in all facets of the game. "All three phases were disappointing tonight. I take full responsibility," said Orgeron.
Quick on the Draw
Led by sophomore QB Brett Hundley, the Bruins lit up the scoreboard for their highest output in the Coliseum since 1970. Hundley completed 18/27 passes for 208 yards, but he really controlled the game on the ground with 80 yards on 13 carries. When in doubt, UCLA OC Noel Mazzone dialed up a QB draw, and Hundley was too big and fast too take down. "We were not able to stop him on third down," said Orgeron. "We had some defenses called to stop the draw, and he still made it. He was just on fire tonight, and we didn't do a good job of stopping him." Pullard described Hundley as a "phenomenal athlete."
Two Missing Fingers
As the metaphor goes, an offensive line is five fingers that come together to form a powerful fist. Unfortunately, the Trojans lost center Marcus Martin on the third offensive play of the game to a left knee injury. "It is always hard when you lose a guy," said RT Kevin Graf. "You feed off each other. The offensive line is the only position that you need everybody doing the right thing at the right time. When you lose your center who is making all the calls, it is definitely hard, but Abe [Markowitz] came in and stepped up and did a great job." Later in the game, OG Aundrey Walker was carted off with a broken ankle. The Bruins' defensive line took advantage with six sacks.
Thanks to an unusually poor performance on special teams, UCLA played with advantageous field position seemingly the entire night. Bruins return man Ishmael Adams averaged 43 yards per kickoff return squashing USC's momentum after both touchdown drives. USC punter Kris Albarado, who has been expert at pinning the opponent deep all season, averaged only 33.5 yards per punt and put only one inside the 20. "Tonight was not their best game, but when you look at the overall body of work, they have been pretty good," said Orgeron. On the other side, USC was forced to drive the length of the field throughout.
"See Ya Later"
This was not the storybook ending for the 2013 USC senior class. Nevertheless, they will be missed by teammates and coaches alike. Orgeron cannot even bring himself to say "goodbye", instead opting for "see ya later". "We just wish we could have gotten it done for them tonight, but we didn't execute, no excuse," he said. After a disappointing loss, it is hard to appreciate the scope of the occasion. "This is a very special place. This school means a ton to me," said Graf. "It's just sad that this is the way it ended."
In a show of support for Ed Orgeron, the team formed a pregame O at midfield inviting the interim head coach into the center of the circle. It was a cool moment, which signified once again the effect that he has had on these Trojans. "I didn't know what they were doing," admitted Orgeron. "These guys have been tremendous. We have just grown together as a family, and they have accepted me as a member of the family." While Orgeron has emphasized bringing the fun back to USC football, he also made it clear to the team that losing to both rivals in the same season for the second consecutive year is not good enough. "This has been a great eight weeks. This has been a wonderful journey, and they've gotten better," said Orgeron. "But as a football team, you need to understand that you need to beat UCLA and Notre Dame."
(Photos by John McGillen)
Not Over Yet
While the head coaching decision will be the biggest news in December, the Trojans still have one more game to play. Even if the bowl is not considered elite, Pullard does not expect a repeat of the Sun Bowl. He explained that this is a "different mindset and different team" which is "just trying to use this loss as motivation and try to get ready for this bowl game."
Here are the game highlights...