PASADENA, Calif. - The goal at Southern California is the same every year: Win the Pac-10 championship and play in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans always aspire to be national champions as well, but for the fourth year in a row, the Rose Bowl will just have to do after beating UCLA 28-7 Saturday.
Mark Sanchez passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns, USC’s hard-hitting defense stuffed UCLA at every turn, and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their ninth in 10 games between the crosstown rivals.
The win assured USC (11-1, 8-1 Pac-10) of an unprecedented seventh consecutive BCS bid, seven straight 11-win seasons and seven conference championships in a row. They’ll make a fourth straight appearance in the Rose Bowl game, against No. 6 Penn State.
“We did a good job,” USC linebacker Brian Cushing said. “It’s great to be Pac-10 champs again. It upsets me a little that two one-loss teams will go to the BCS championship game and we’ll be left out. But we will just have to see what happens.”
UCLA stunned USC 13-9 as a 13½-point underdog two years ago at the Rose Bowl, bouncing the Trojans out of the BCS championship game. The 33-point underdog Bruins (4-8, 3-6) inspired hopes for a repeat performance by taking a 7-0 lead in the opening four minutes of this game, but they were unable to pose a scoring threat after that, crossing midfield just once.
“To beat our rival team in their house, it feels awesome,” said Sanchez, who completed 18 of 33 passes with one interception. “I’m definitely going to have fun tonight, celebrating with friends and family. It’s just unfortunate that we won’t be in the national championship game.”
For some USC players, playing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day is just fine.
“It feels real good to continue the tradition of playing in another Rose Bowl. It’s always the thrill of a lifetime,” tailback Stafon Johnson said.
“It’s like a home game for us,” wide receiver Patrick Turner said. “We love representing the whole city.”
The Trojans rolled up 33 first downs and 478 yards of total offense while the Bruins had just seven first downs and gained only 157 yards against the national leader in total defense and scoring defense.
“I thought we had a terrific football season,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m really proud of the consistency. I’m proud that we kept the program on top of the conference. Defense was the key today.”
It’s been that way all season. The Trojans held nine of their 12 opponents to 10 points or less and outscored the opposition 342-56 in winning their last nine games after a 27-21 loss at Oregon State.
UCLA’s Kevin Craft completed 11 of 28 passes for 89 yards with one interception, and Kahlil Bell rushed for 36 yards on 14 carries.
“I thought our team played very hard and hung around,” first-year UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Unfortunately, some penalties and some things were happening with special teams that hadn’t happened all year long and reared their heads in the first half.
“We’ll get better. I see us with a year of time to develop our program with all the pieces in place.”
The Bruins lost eight games for the first time since 1963, when they went 2-8.
“Little things seemed to mess it up,” Craft said. “We should be better next year, when everybody comes back. We know what we must to do get better. Everyone can hardly wait to come back.”
For the first time in 26 years, both teams wore home jerseys in their annual matchup. That meant cardinal red for the visiting Trojans and powder blue for the host Bruins.
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