Rivalry’s Key Plays Are All Drama, Not Comedy
The series’ rich history of dramatic plays is a big part of what makes the USC-UCLA rivalry so special.
Fans of either program can recall where they were when O.J. Simpson weaved through the Bruin defense for a game-winning 64-yard touchdown run in 1967, or when Karl Morgan sacked Scott Tinsley to send UCLA to the Rose Bowl in 1982.
My memories go back only so far, but here’s my list of five memorable plays over the last half of the 73-year-old series:
No. 5 -- It’s understandable if former USC quarterback Rob Johnson gets a little queasy when he thinks about playing UCLA.
After throwing incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt in a 38-37 loss to the Bruins in 1992, Johnson had a chance to redeem himself the next season -- only to come up short again before 93,458 at the Coliseum.
On third and goal from the UCLA two-yard line, with the Trojans down by six points, Johnson tried to force a play called “Bruin Pass” into the end zone. Strong safety Marvin Goodwin intercepted with 50 seconds remaining, protecting the Bruins’ 27-21 victory, which ended UCLA’s 10-game losing streak to USC when the Rose Bowl was on the line for both schools.
“I said before the season, this would not be a successful season if we didn’t beat UCLA,” Johnson said after the game, which sent the Trojans to the Freedom Bowl. “It wasn’t a successful season.”
No. 4 -- In 1987, USC defeated UCLA, 17-13, on a juggling end zone catch by Erik Affholter for a 33-yard touchdown with 7:59 to play in front of 92,516 at the Coliseum. But Affholter would not have had a chance to be a hero if not for a first-class hustle play by USC quarterback Rodney Peete on the last play of the second quarter.
With UCLA ahead, 10-0, the Trojans were on the move, but Peete threw an interception on first and goal from the Bruin five-yard line. Peete was trying to hit Ken Henry in the left corner of the end zone, but the ball was deflected by UCLA linebacker Marvcus Patton into the hands of safety Eric Turner
“I saw the end zone,” said Turner, a former high school track standout. “I saw daylight. I thought I was gone.”
But just when it looked as if Turner would score a back-breaking touchdown for UCLA, Peete ran him down as the clock ticked down to 0:00 and made the tackle at the USC 11-yard line.
No. 3 -- UCLA running back Skip Hicks will always be remembered for ending the highest-scoring game of the rivalry with his overtime touchdown run in 1996 in front of 80,644 at the Rose Bowl. But the Bruins would not have won, 48-41, in double overtime if not for a key defensive play by Danjuan Magee and Kusanti Abdul-Salaam.
USC had led, 38-21, early in the fourth quarter and still had a seven-point lead and the ball in UCLA territory with only 2:49 remaining. But on first down, Magee ripped the ball out of the hands of USC running back LaVale Woods. When UCLA’s Phillip Ward failed to pick up the fumble, Abdul-Salaam did and returned it 11 yards to the UCLA 44. Four plays later, Hicks ran 11 yards to tie the score at 38 with 39 seconds remaining, setting the stage for his game-winning 25-yard run in overtime, which extended UCLA’s winning streak over USC to six games.
No. 2 -- Former USC Coach John McKay said this about Simpson’s fourth-quarter touchdown run against the Bruins in 1967: “It was a five-yard run that turned into something else. It was one of the greatest runs that I’ve ever seen.”
Simpson’s historic run before 90,722 at the Coliseum was triggered by USC fullback Danny Scott’s textbook block. On third and eight from the USC 36, Trojan quarterback Steve Sogge called an audible for a basic run, with Simpson following Scott into the left side of the line.
Scott, a transfer from Cerritos College, made sure the play was a success when he crushed UCLA linebacker Don Manning past the line of scrimmage, springing Simpson into the Bruins’ secondary.
No. 1 -- You can pretty much count on a trick play whenever USC and UCLA meet, and the Trojans took it to a new level in 1981 before 89,432 at the Coliseum.
USC nose guard George Achica became the hero of the game when he ended UCLA’s Rose Bowl dreams by blocking Norm Johnson’s 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired, preserving a 22-21 Trojan victory. But the play that sticks in the mind occurred earlier, when USC Coach John Robinson dug deep into his playbook to come up with a flanker-reverse pass.
With UCLA ahead, 7-6, in the second quarter, USC quarterback John Mazur handed off to tailback Marcus Allen, who gave the ball to wide receiver Tim White. With the defense scrambling to recover, White completed a pass to Jeff Simmons for 48 yards to the UCLA seven-yard line.
That was part of a long line of unusual plays both teams have used over the years. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Just one more reason why the USC-UCLA series is always something special.
Oh, by the way, White, a former high school quarterback who completed all four of his passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in his USC career, is my brother.