On a field into which pranksters had burned, “USC 1,” Trojan quarterback Rodney Peete etched his name permanently into USC lore Saturday before a crowd of 100,741 at the Rose Bowl.
Peete, who was diagnosed last week as having the measles and spent 2 nights at St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach, led the Trojans to a 31-22 victory over UCLA that put USC into the Rose Bowl game for an unprecedented 26th time.
The Trojans will meet Big Ten champion Michigan on Jan. 2.
USC also stayed on track to win its ninth national championship. The second-ranked Trojans (10-0 overall and 8-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference) will meet No. 1-ranked Notre Dame (10-0) next Saturday at the Coliseum.
UCLA accepted an invitation to the Cotton Bowl as a consolation prize for losing in this series for the ninth consecutive time when a Rose Bowl berth was on the line for both teams. The Bruins (9-2, 6-2) will meet unbeaten Arkansas of the Southwest Conference Jan. 2 at Dallas.
Statistically, Peete was outplayed by UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman in what was billed as a showdown for the Heisman Trophy.
Peete completed 16 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 1 touchdown and also scored a touchdown on a day when Aikman established career highs for completions and attempts--he was 32 of 48--and passed for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But three times after driving the Bruins inside USC’s 30-yard line in the first half, including twice when UCLA moved inside the Trojan 10, Aikman was unable to get them into the end zone.
Each time, UCLA settled for a field goal by Alfredo Velasco.
Meanwhile, Peete drove USC to 3 first-half touchdowns, making the key plays as the Trojans took advantage of good field position.
But Aikman completed 6 consecutive passes for 72 yards in UCLA’s last possession of the half, connecting with wide receiver Reggie Moore on a 10-yard scoring throw to cut the Trojan lead to 21-16 with 32 seconds left.
Peete, however, came back after halftime and made the big plays again, directing USC to a third-quarter touchdown--a 3-yard run by Aaron Emanuel--that made it 28-16.
After that, “our defense really took charge,” said USC Coach Larry Smith, who will take the Trojans to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive season.
The Trojans’ hopes for a second trip to Pasadena this season seemed in jeopardy last week when Peete contracted the measles.
But Peete, who checked into the hospital Tuesday for 2 nights of rest, said he believed all along that he would be able to play, although he said that on Tuesday, he “ached all over and could barely walk around.”
He missed on 4 of his first 5 passes but said he was not discouraged.
His only concern, he said, was his voice, which was hoarse.
“I was a little worried that I might not be loud enough for our players to hear me,” he said.
Otherwise, “I felt pretty good,” he said. “I got a little more tired than usual. I think that was because I had the week off and didn’t really practice. Early, I wasn’t in the rhythm, and I wasn’t throwing like I normally can. But as the game went on, I felt more comfortable.”
Said Smith: “If that wasn’t a Heisman Trophy performance, I don’t know what is.”
Shortly before the game, it still wasn’t known whether Peete, who had run through a light workout Friday, would play. After pregame warm-ups, he jogged slowly off the field, with reporter Mike Adamle of ABCat his side.
But not more than a couple of minutes later, a roar went up from the USC cheering section when Peete was named as a starter.
UCLA got the ball first and drove to the first of Velasco’s field goals, moving to the USC 29 before Aikman’s pass on third-and-3 was batted down by Trojan cornerback Chris Hale, who stepped in front of wide receiver David Keating. Velasco made a 46-yard kick.
The Trojan supporters, part of the largest crowd for a USC-UCLA game since the teams drew 102,548 in 1954, roared again as Peete ran onto the field for USC’s first possession. But, after completing a first-down pass to John Jackson, Peete missed badly on 3 consecutive passes, and USC was forced to punt.
Peete said he wasn’t concerned.
“I always feel like I’m going to come back and complete the next one,” he said.
A punt return for minus-4 yards by Darryl Henley put UCLA in a hole at the Bruin 7. The Bruins found themselves in even deeper trouble when Aikman, on third-and-10, was sacked for a 6-yard loss by linebacker Michael Williams.
Harold Barkate made a 56-yard punt out of the end zone, but a 21-yard return by Scott Lockwood put USC at the Bruins’ 36-yard line.
Peete’s second-down pass was tipped by linebacker Craig Davis and almost intercepted by Henley, but on third down, Peete threaded a 16-yard pass into double coverage, finding Erik Affholter along the right sideline.
The Trojans used 4 running plays to score from the 17. The last 4 yards were covered by Emanuel, who carried 27 times for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Then Aikman had the Bruins on the move again, but his pass to Keating on third-and-9 at the USC 33 sailed through the arms of the wide receiver, and Velasco was about 10 yards short on a 50-yard field-goal attempt.
Peete was getting warm now.
He took the Trojans from their 33 to the UCLA 29, completing passes of 13 yards to Jackson and 15 yards to Affholter along the way.
On third-and-3 at the 29, he passed along the right sideline to Affholter. Cornerback Eric Turner dived in vain at the ball. Affholter turned quickly after catching it, making a move to get around Henley, the Bruins’ other cornerback, and carrying it into the end zone.
With UCLA trailing, 14-3, in the second quarter, Aikman drove UCLA to the USC 9, but with Williams bearing down on him, he threw incomplete on third down and Velasco came on to kick a 27-yard field goal.
Aikman and the Bruins got to the USC 7 on their next possession, but Moore was unable to make a diving catch of Aikman’s third-down pass into the near left corner of the end zone.
“I put the ball where it had to be put for him to have a chance to make the catch,” Aikman said of Moore, who was covered by cornerback Chris Hale.
Moore, though, couldn’t hang onto it and Velasco trotted out for the fourth time in the first 25 minutes. The junior kicker’s 25-yard field goal made it 14-9 with 6:07 left in the half.
Aikman couldn’t explain UCLA’s inability to score a touchdown. “That’s been the story with us pretty much for the last 4 or 5 weeks,” he said.
Three weeks ago, UCLA lost to Washington State, 34-30, after it failed to score in 4 plays from the Cougar 6-yard line in the last 44 seconds.
Ricky Ervins returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards and USC then moved 39 yards in 8 plays to increase its lead to 21-9. A 13-yard pass from Peete to tight end Paul Green set up the touchdown, which was scored by Peete on a quarterback sneak from 1 yard out.
After Aikman then drove UCLA to its only first-half touchdown, his halftime statistics included 20-of-28 passing for 202 yards.
Understandly, though, the numbers meant little to him.
“It’s probably as good as I’ve ever felt throwing the ball,” he said. “But it wasn’t enough. It’s no consolation to me that I played well. We still lost the game. The offense didn’t score enough points to win.
“I came out here to get to the Rose Bowl and I didn’t do it. And that hurts.”
At halftime, though, the Bruins trailed only 21-16.
But after their first possession of the second half netted only 6 yards and included a dropped pass by tailback Brian Brown, who accounted for 59 of UCLA’s 73 rushing yards, they had to contend again with Peete.
The Trojan quarterback completed 3 straight passes, including a 7-yard play to Jackson that made USC 7 of 10 on third-down conversions. A 30-yard pass over the middle to Green put the Trojans at the UCLA 8. Two plays later, Emanuel scored his second touchdown on a 3-yard run up the middle.
At that point, Peete had completed 12 of 21 passes for 163 yards and USC led, 28-16, with 8:16 left in the third quarter. He completed only 4 of 7 passes for 26 yards the rest of the way as the Trojans stuck mostly to the ground in an effort to run down the clock.
Emanuel carried 21 times in the second half for 100 yards.
“I knew the time would come where he’d run out of gas a little bit,” Smith said of Peete. “In the fourth quarter, we would have liked to have thrown it a couple of times, but he said, ‘No, let’s run it.’ ”
That, apparently, was the only concession to Peete’s illness.
And by then the Trojan defense had taken control.
Ernest Spears intercepted an Aikman pass to end one UCLA possession, then Tim Ryan sacked the Bruin quarterback to effectively end the next.
Smith made a curious move on the second play of the fourth quarter, electing to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Trojan 33. Peete was thrown back by the UCLA defenders on a running attempt, but kept his feet and circled around the right end of the line for 2 yards.
“In a game like this, you’ve got to have you know what to go after it,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be aggressive.”
Said Peete: “I just knew I had to get outside.”
USC held the ball for almost 4 more minutes, but its possession ended when Quin Rodriguez missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt.
Rodriguez later made a 21-yard attempt to give the Trojans a 31-16 lead with 2:50 remaining. USC had been forced to punt, but after fielding a kick by Chris Sperle, UCLA’s Henley was hit by Hale as Henley attempted to hand the ball off to teammate Marcus Turner on a reverse.
Aikman completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brendan McCracken with 1:41 left, but his pass to Mike Farr on a 2-point conversion attempt fell incomplete and USC recovered an the Bruins’ onside kick.
Peete was ushered into the interview room not long afterward, but reporters were given only about 10 minutes with him.
He had to go home and get his rest for Notre Dame.
Troy Aikman’s 2 touchdown passes gave him 23 for the season, surpassing the school record of 21 established by Tom Ramsey in 1982. Aikman also established a school record with 32 completions, surpassing the previous record of 29, which was set by Ramsey against Arizona in 1982. . . . Only two larger crowds have ever seen a USC-UCLA game. . . . USC leads the series, 33-19-6, and has won 3 of the last 4 meetings. The Trojans are 14-5-1 against UCLA both teams were playing for a Rose Bowl berth.
USC is 18-7 in the Rose Bowl game, but had been 0-3 against UCLA in the Arroyo Seco. . . . USC has gone into the UCLA game unbeaten 11 times, winning 9, losing 1 and tying 1. . . . UCLA Coach Terry Donahue is 0-4 against USC when a Rose Bowl berth has been on the line for both teams.
USC’s Erik Affholter caught 3 passes to increase his career total to 113, equaling a school record he shares with Hank Norman. His season total of 58 receptions is a school record, eclipsing the old mark of 56, which was established by Jeff Simmons in 1982. . . . If it’s any consolation: In the annual Blood Bowl, the staff of the Daily Bruin beat the Daily Trojan, 13-7.