UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker did not sugarcoat the Bruins’ challenge Saturday against No. 2 USC. All week he told his players that it was going to be their biggest test of the season, and to stop the Trojans, they had to make four fourth-down stops if they wanted to win.
That’s because of USC Coach Pete Carroll’s history of going for first downs instead of kicking. It turned out to be one of the keys of the game.
“They’re just arrogant and that’s their style,” UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis said about the Trojans’ fourth-down propensities. “They thought they were just going to run over us on their way to the national championship. I don’t think so.”
Here’s a look at three key defensive plays that helped UCLA defeat USC, 13-9:
UCLA’s fourth-down stop No. 1
The first time USC had the ball, the Trojans drove down the field against UCLA’s attacking defense into the Bruins’ territory. But it was anything but easy.
John David Booty was under pressure every time he dropped back to pass and UCLA’s defense showed that it was not afraid to crowd the Trojans’ top two receivers, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. The strategy helped slow USC’s drive, and after Booty threw an incompletion on third and one from the UCLA 31, Carroll decided to go for a first down rather than try a long field-goal attempt.
“We always feel that we can get it done, no matter what the situation when we go for it on fourth downs,” USC offensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “We kept thinking that something big was going to happen for us all game.”
The Bruins proved ready for the task when USC called on junior running back Chauncey Washington. Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell charged in and strong safety Chris Horton finished the tackle as UCLA stuffed Washington for no gain in a play that was similar to USC’s fourth-down failure against Texas in last season’s national championship game.
“We just believed that we could shut them down,” said Harwell, who finished with three tackles and was a force along the line of scrimmage all game. “We were confident that we could get it done even though no one else seemed to believe in us.”
Harwell and Horton’s big defensive play sent a message to the Trojans that UCLA was not rolling over this year.
“It was so great to see the defense stop them,” offensive guard Shannon Tevaga said. “We knew from the get-go that our D was different than last year, when they just thrashed us [66-19]. To see them do their thing was just great.”
UCLA’s fourth-down stop No. 2
Trailing, 10-9, at the start of the fourth quarter, USC found itself with another fourth-down decision.
With the ball at the Bruins’ 36, the Trojans needed two yards for a first down but didn’t get it when middle linebacker Christian Taylor shot into the backfield to help stop freshman running back C.J. Gable for a four-yard loss on a sweep to the short side of the field.
“We called a defense that had guys coming from the outside, and our ends were inside and they had no place to run,” Davis said. “Our linebackers were just flowing. We just took out one entire side and he had nowhere to go. Then we just made the play.”
Taylor’s play spoke volumes about Walker’s schemes against the Trojans. Throughout the game, he seemed to have USC’s number when it needed a big play.
“We just weren’t able to finish,” USC center Ryan Kalil said.
UCLA’s game-clinching play
After USC turned to a no-huddle offense late in the fourth quarter, the Trojans moved the ball to the UCLA 20 when Booty made his biggest mistake of the game.
On third and four, UCLA senior outside linebacker Eric McNeal deflected and intercepted Booty’s pass intended for Smith with 1:10 remaining to clinch UCLA’s first win over USC since 1998.
“We were just determined,” Harwell said. “I think we ran every defense that we had.”