The plan was simple for UCLA. The Bruins were to use extreme caution in punt situations, with USC's Adoree' Jackson awaiting those kicks Saturday.
"We were trying to keep it away from him or make him move to catch it," Coach Jim Mora said. "We did a nice job other than that one."
That one cost the Bruins.
Jackson fielded a short kick at the 42-yard line. Linebacker Cameron Judge hurled his body at Jackson, but shoved him instead of wrapping him up. Jackson flew down the sideline for a touchdown, giving USC a 20-14 lead just before halftime.
It was the turning point in USC's 40-21 victory.
"We went down and started pressing after the punt return," running back Paul Perkins said. "Against a good team like USC, you can't press."
It was Jackson's second punt return for a touchdown in as many weeks.
Mora said the problem was the Bruins were losing the field position tussle. Josh Rosen was sacked for a 14-yard loss on third down, leaving the Bruins at the nine-yard line before the punt to Jackson.
"We didn't get the kick we wanted," Mora said, adding, "There was a questionable clip on the side, but they didn't call it."
But Mora credited Jackson.
"The more times that guy touches it, that's playing with poison," Mora said. "I thought we did a real good job on him except for that play. But those 'except for' plays are always the difference."
Perkins did everything in his power to get the Bruins a victory.
Perkins, a junior, finished with 95 yards rushing and caught five passes for 36 yards. He made an extra effort to get the Bruins their first touchdown.
Perkins was bumped by linebacker Michael Hutchings, but didn't go down. He righted himself and scooted 19 yards for a touchdown that put UCLA ahead, 7-3, in the first quarter. Perkins had a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Bruins a 21-20 lead.
"I was going all out for the team," Perkins said. "It sounds like a cliche, be we have a lot of seniors getting ready to leave. I had to do my hardest for them."
No one UCLA signed after the 2011 recruiting class had lost to USC, which ended a losing streak against the Bruins at three games.
"It sucks because it's the rivalry," senior receiver Jordan Payton said. "That's just the way it goes."
Payton tried to give the loss some perspective. Losing to USC was going to look bad because "it's the only game anyone knows about."
But, he said, "a loss is loss. They all hurt. I guess this one hurts more because I know the guys over there in the other locker room."
Rosen had a streak of passes without an interception ended at 246 when cornerback Iman Marshall picked off a throw in the third quarter.
Rosen said the streak, a UCLA record, mattered little to him.