The setup: With no bowl game to advance to because of NCAA sanctions, the USC football team played its last game of the season at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. Both teams have had tough seasons as it was the first time since 2000 that both teams came into the match unranked.The story: All week leading up to the game, the big question was whether sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley would play after he sat out last game with a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Oregon State.The story after the game was the dominating performance turned in by senior running back Allen Bradford.Bradford has been in Kiffin’s doghouse the second half of this season due to fumbling issues, and had just 31 carries in his last seven games. But he got his last chance to make an impact in a Trojan uniform and he didn’t miss his opportunity.He carried the ball 28 times for 212 yards and a 73-yard touchdown that cemented the 28-14 victory for USC. Bradford also had a 47-yard reception which he caught in the backfield and ran all the way down the sideline for the score to put the game out of reach at 21-7.Bradford stole the show from Barkley, who did start but turned in a mediocre performance, going 15-for-26 for 198 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He didn’t seem hindered too much by the brace he wore on his left ankle as right from the beginning he was rolling out and moving around and at least one interception was because of a forced throw.Both teams struggled mightily offensively. There were five combined turnovers in the game and a few more of Barkley’s passes could have been interceptions.With neither offense performing well — UCLA’s quarterback Richard Brehaut went 20-for-35 for 230 yards, most of them coming on the final meaningless drive, with a touchdown and interception — it came down to which defense would help its team out. The Trojan’s unit was up to the task, as it was senior linebacker Malcolm Smith’s 68-yard fumble return for a touchdown that put USC up for good at 14-7. It was Smith’s second career pick-six against the Bruins, as he returned an interception 62 yards for a score last year.Smith also recovered fumble on the USC 39-yard line in the third quarter, two plays after Barkley threw his first interception.Baxter the quarterback: Freshman running back Dillon Baxter threw the first touchdown pass of the game, a five-yard strike to redshirt junior tight end Rhett Ellison who was wide open in the end zone. Baxter’s pass came out of the wildcat formation and was the second completed pass on the year in as many attempts for the former high school quarterback.Faking himself out: Senior kicker Joe Houston, who is 10-for-16 on field goals for the year, has been inconsistent but Kiffin’s decision to go for a fake field goal backfired in the second quarter and the game tied at seven.With USC lining up for a 35-yard field goal on fourth and 13, the Trojans lined up in a passing formation with Houston spread out wide but holder and senior quarterback Mitch Mustain’s pass was well short of its target as he was under heavy pressure.Kiffin also stuck with his trend of going for it continuously on fourth down. The Trojans went one-for-four on fourth downs during the game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold continues to rack up silverware after a breakout rookie season, this time being named first-team Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America on Monday.Darnold adds the accolade to his Rose Bowl offensive MVP, Archie Griffin Award and Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honor. He is the second USC signal-caller in history to be named to the team after Todd Marinovich in 1989.During a season that catapulted the 19-year-old into national relevance, Darnold racked up more than 3,000 passing yards to go with 31 touchdowns (and just 9 interceptions). His historic Rose Bowl performance was the cherry on top, as he threw for five scores and accounted for nearly 500 yards of offense. He didn’t throw a single incompletion as he led the fierce Trojan comeback in the fourth quarter.The FWAA also selected head coach Clay Helton as the First Year Co-Coach of the Year alongside Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuentes. Helton’s job security was under scrutiny after USC’s slow start to its 2016 campaign, but a nine-game winning streak to end the season (USC’s longest since 2008-09) put all doubts to rest.Achieving a famous Trojan trifecta for just the 13th time in the program’s history, Helton led his squad to wins over UCLA and Notre Dame this fall in addition to their Rose Bowl victory.Helton also coached his team to wins over both eventual Pac-12 finalists, Colorado and Washington — the latter of which was later selected to the College Football Playoff. In addition to his first-year coaching honors, Helton is a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, which will be handed out on Wednesday.