'We're better than we played,' USC Coach Steve Sarkisian says

'We're better than we played,' USC Coach Steve Sarkisian says
USC quarterback Cody Kessler breaks free from UCLA defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa to avoid a sack in the fourth quarter. The Bruins beat the Trojans, 38-20, on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC has not defeated UCLA since 2011, when the Trojans humiliated the Bruins, 50-0.

Since then, the Bruins have repeatedly embarrassed USC and shifted the momentum in the series.


Despite a 38-20 defeat that extended the Trojans' losing streak against UCLA to three games, first-year USC Coach Steve Sarkisian does not see a gap growing between the programs.

"I know the scoreboard says that," he said Sunday night during a teleconference with reporters. "We didn't play good [Saturday] night. That's the bottom line."

Sarkisian acknowledged the UCLA game's importance to USC's program, the university and Trojans fans. But in the aftermath of the loss to one rival, he will not feel extra pressure on Saturday against Notre Dame, he said.

"I feel the same pressure every week," he said, adding, "I want to win everything we're doing, so whether it's Notre Dame or UCLA or Cal or Stanford, they all mean the same."

Notre Dame is 7-4 and has lost its last three games, including Saturday's 31-28 defeat by Louisville. But the Fighting Irish have not lost to USC at the Coliseum since 2008.

If USC wants to end that streak, it will have to fix the problems that plagued the Trojans against UCLA.

USC made mistakes "that we haven't made at some positions in over a month," Sarkisian said.

The Trojans running game was once again stagnant, the offensive line allowed UCLA to pressure quarterback Cody Kessler, and the Trojans' secondary struggled, especially the safeties.

"I feel for our players, feel for our fans that we didn't perform to the best of our ability," Sarkisian said. "Because we're better than we played."

UCLA, which entered the game with only 16 sacks, got to Kessler six times and tipped several passes.

"This offense is all progression," Kessler said, "and when I get to my first progression there is already a guy in the backfield and it is hard to get to the second and third without having to take off and trying to make something happen.

"[UCLA] did a really good job of having to make me take off and not sit in the pocket."

Sarkisian said there were remedies to aid the offensive line.

"We can help them with scheme," Sarkisian said. "I think Cody can help them by getting rid of the football sooner than he did and not have to present some of those looks, and they also need to help themselves."


Shaw returns

Senior Josh Shaw played on special teams and as a nickel back and cornerback in his first action since being reinstated after a 10-game suspension.

Sarkisian said Shaw, who made one tackle, played "fine" and appeared to be in "decent shape."

"Playing football is a lot different than training for football, so conditioning became a little bit of a factor there, especially with some of the tempo that we were getting faced with defensively," Sarkisian said.

As Shaw improves, he will play more in rotation with Kevon Seymour and Adoree' Jackson, Sarkisian said.

Quick hits

Tight end Bryce Dixon, who had been suspended against California because of what Sarkisian described as a "student conduct issue" had been cleared Thursday afternoon to play against UCLA, Sarkisian said. Dixon caught one pass for 12 yards. ... Tailback Javorius Allen, who entered the UCLA game as the Pac-12 Conference's leading rusher, fell to third after gaining only 60 yards. Paul Perkins of the Bruins is first, Utah's Devontae Booker second.

Twitter: @latimesklein

Correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.