Feeling Like a Fifth Wheel

Times Staff Writer

As if UCLA's 47-22 loss to USC wasn't humiliating enough, the Bruins were serenaded by Trojan fans as they walked off the Coliseum field Saturday with chants of "Five more years! Five more years!"

Several Bruins said they tuned the fans out as they headed up the tunnel to their locker room, but senior defensive end Dave Ball couldn't help but notice.

Ball came to UCLA in 1999 with visions of victories over USC -- the Bruins had won the previous eight meetings, after all -- and of contending for Pacific 10 Conference championships and possibly national titles. He will leave with none of the above.

USC extended its win streak over UCLA to five games with Saturday's blowout, the last three Trojan victories coming by a combined score of 126-43, and the Bruin fifth-year seniors who entered school in 1999 will leave having never beaten USC.

"It's extreme bitterness and frustration," said Ball, who extended his UCLA single-season (16 1/2) and career (30 1/2) sack records with a sack Saturday. "Honestly, I feel like I'm a curse to this team. Someone cursed the class of 1999, or something. Each year, something has happened, and we lose. It's like there's a big voodoo doll or something."

Actually, Saturday's loss had a lot more to do with a big USC receiver. Mike Williams, the Trojans' 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore, chewed up the UCLA secondary with 11 receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense was supposed to be the Bruins' strength, but UCLA failed to put any pressure on Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart, who had plenty of time to dismantle UCLA by completing 23 of 32 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns in about three quarters of work.

"It's definitely going to bug me -- it's going to eat me alive," Bruin linebacker Brandon Chillar said of UCLA's futility against USC. "One of the biggest parts of coming to UCLA is you want to beat USC. I was told that on my recruiting trip here. It's disappointing. This is not what I envisioned doing when I came here."

Saturday's game was essentially over by the first play of the second quarter, when Leinart's four-yard touchdown pass to Williams gave USC a 21-0 lead. The Trojans needed 25 plays to consume 225 yards in a mere 10 minutes 1 second to complete their first three scoring drives.

USC had a 33-2 lead by halftime, at which point it had outgained UCLA, 346-36. The Bruins, whose once-promising regular season ended with four straight losses, had more yards in penalties (50) than offense.

USC was so dominant that Williams' services were not even needed in the second half. It was 40-2 midway through the third period when USC Coach Pete Carroll pulled Leinart for backup John David Booty.

There was no doubt the second-ranked Trojans were far superior to the Bruins this year, but UCLA must deal with a troubling question as it heads into an off-season that probably will follow an appearance in a lower-echelon bowl game: Is the disparity between Southern California's two major college football programs as wide as it seemed Saturday?

"That's a good question," Ball said, his voice beginning to crack with emotion. "That's the way it seems, but I'm telling you, Coach [Karl] Dorrell is going to show you guys something. They're going to turn it around. He's going to will this team to do it.

"They're going to get the players, and the old way of doing things is out. This is the last year of mediocrity, I'm telling you that right now. Knowing I'm not going to be able to join in that is tough, but it's going to happen."

Asked if he was concerned about what seems like a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the programs, Dorrell, the first-year coach, said, "I can't answer that right now....

"We put a lot of effort into what we did, we kept fighting, but we could not keep up, that's the bottom line," he added. "I have no answers as to why we're where we are and they're where they are. We have to use this as a measuring stick for our program, and right now, we have a lot of work to do."

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