PASADENA, Calif. (AP)—Southern California has reached all its goals to this point. Although the Trojans were pushed by crosstown rival UCLA, they made sure they’ll get a shot at the one that remains.
Reggie Bush had two long touchdown runs, Ryan Killeen kicked five field goals and No. 1 USC held off the Bruins 29-24 Saturday to virtually lock up an Orange Bowl bid to play for the Bowl Championship Series title.
“They started No. 1 and finished No. 1,” said Keith Tribble, the chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl. “It’s not official, but you can draw the conclusions. It’s 99.9 percent certain for them. USC knows how to finish. It’s the sign of a champion.”
Moments after the game, USC fans in both end zones tossed oranges on the field as the Trojans celebrated. Bush climbed the band director’s ladder near the south end zone, waved a Trojan sword and held a sign reading, “No. 1, Trojans Orange Bowl-bound.”
It wasn’t USC’s best performance—and Heisman Trophy contender Matt Leinart was held in check—but it should be enough.
The final BCS standings and bowl pairings will be announced Sunday. As Tribble pointed out, the Trojans (12-0, 8-0 Pac-10) have been ranked No. 1 all season in both The Associated Press Top 25 and coaches polls and, most importantly, the BCS standings.
“I don’t see how they couldn’t take us,” Leinart said. “We’re in great position, and I think they’d be crazy to keep us out.”
USC was left out last winter, when it finished atop both polls after the regular season but was third in the final BCS standings. The Trojans won the AP national championship and LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the BCS title.
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve done everything we could do, regardless of how it turns out. Going wire to wire is challenging.
“Whether it’s the Orange Bowl or not, I don’t know. I don’t really care. I just enjoyed today.”
The Trojans completed the fifth perfect regular season in school history and first since 1972, when they won the national championship. It also was USC’s 15th straight Pac-10 triumph and 21st consecutive win overall. The Trojans have won 32 of their last 33 games.
Bush gained a career-high 204 yards on 15 carries—most on a 65-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play and an 81-yard dash midway through the second quarter.
It was just the second game in which the explosive sophomore has rushed for more than 100 yards. He also had six receptions for 73 yards.
“I think I might have shaken up the votes a little bit,” he said, referring to the Heisman balloting.
Bush’s candidacy seemed to dwindle in recent weeks, mainly because he doesn’t have the numbers of the other leading contenders—such as Leinart.
The junior left-hander completed his first 10 passes for 64 yards. He wound up 24-of-34 for 242 yards with one interception and no touchdowns—the first time in 25 career starts he has failed to throw at least one TD pass. USC is 24-1 in his starts.
“(Bush) was huge returning the ball, running the ball and catching the ball,” Leinart said. “We weren’t able to put a lot of points up, they did a good job defensively, but we have so many weapons.”
Carroll became the first Trojans coach to beat Notre Dame and UCLA—USC’s biggest rivals—in three straight seasons.
USC has beaten the Bruins six straight times—its longest winning streak in the series, which they lead 40-27-7.
“I’m disappointed about today, but I’m excited about our future,” second-year UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. “It wasn’t our best effort. But you know what? I’ll take it against the best team in the country.”
Drew Olson completed 20 of 34 passes for 278 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions for UCLA (6-5, 4-4), which will play in the Insight Bowl or the Las Vegas Bowl. The Bruins were limited to 17 yards on 25 rushes.
“This effort did not make our season. If we had won, it would have,” UCLA receiver Tab Perry.
On Bush’s first scoring run, he faked out Matt Clark near the UCLA 10 before somersaulting into the end zone and spiking the ball to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Killeen’s 37-yard field goal on USC’s second possession made it 10-0, and it appeared the rout was on.
Craig Bragg’s school-record 96-yard punt return early in the second quarter cut USC’s lead to 10-7. Bragg broke Kermit Alexander’s 43-year-old record by two yards.
The Bruins then blew an opportunity to tie or take the lead. Chris Horton blocked Tom Malone’s punt, giving UCLA the ball at the USC 19. But the Trojans held, and Justin Medlock missed a 39-yard field goal.
Bush scored his second touchdown two plays later to give USC a 17-7 lead. He broke two tackles to get into the clear, and once he did, nobody was going to catch the speedster.
“I have no advice in terms of stopping him,” Dorrell said. “No one has been able to stop him yet. Good luck.”
UCLA drew within seven points on Medlock’s 43-yard field goal, but Killeen kicked a 42-yarder with 9 seconds left before halftime and a 34-yarder midway through the third period.
The Bruins responded by going 81 yards on seven plays, scoring on Manuel White’s 9-yard run to make it 23-17. Killeen’s second fourth-quarter field goal — set up by Lofa Tatupu’s interception—made it 29-17.
UCLA drew within five with 2:20 to play on Olson’s 4-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis on fourth-and-2.
The Bruins got one final chance when Spencer Havner recovered a fumble by Bush at the UCLA 14 with 53 seconds left, but Jason Leach intercepted Olson on the next play.