Second in a series: As part of the lead-up to the 2015 USC-UCLA game, we look back at some intriguing anniversaries that have aligned this year:
20 years ago: 1995
UCLA 24, USC 20
Terry Donahue’s fifth straight win as the Bruins coach over the Trojans was also the last time he would be on the sidelines, and he was carried off by his players, having posted the most victories in conference history. The No. 11 Trojans (8-2-1, 6-1-1) gave up 21 unanswered points in the first two quarters to the unranked Bruins (7-4, 4-4), playing without injured star tailback Karim Abdul-Jabbar. Sophomore split end Jim McElroy, who caught a TD pass from freshman Cade McNown for 57 yards, also threw one himself 35 yards to Kevin Jordan. USC scored with 3:30 left after a nine-minute drive, failed a two-point conversion, and never got the ball back. McNown ran 21 yards on a third-and-13 call in game’s final minute to secure the win.
“I might not act like it, but I’m absolutely beside myself,” Donahue said afterward. “It finally validates me as a coach in this city. It seems I could never get validated as a coach in some people’s minds.” Postscript: John Robinson’s USC team still went to the Rose Bowl as the conference champions and beat Northwestern. UCLA went to the Aloha Bowl in Donahue’s final game after a 20-year career and lost, finalizing his record in Westwood at 151-74-8 and three Rose Bowl wins in four trips.
25 years ago: 1990
USC 45, UCLA 42
“This wasn’t a football game,” wrote Phil Hersch of the Chicago Tribune. “This was Star Wars. This was how they must play in the Intergalactic Conference, with Thor at quarterback for the University of Southern Pluto, Captain Marvel calling signals for the University of Pluto at Los Angeles.” No. 19 USC (7-3-1, 5-2-1) and UCLA (5-6, 4-4) each scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, had three TDs scored in the last three minutes and saw four lead changes in the last 9:17. The capper was sophomore Todd Marinovich completing a 23-yard TD pass to freshman Johnnie Morton with 16 seconds left, which was just minutes after Morton made another remarkable diving TD catch in the corner of the end zone. Sophomore Tommy Maddox threw for a school-record 409 yards as the Bruins went ahead 42-38 with 1:19 to play on Kevin Smith’s 1-yard TD run. With 11 seconds left and UCLA at its own 39, Maddox had two more passes to try to win it, but both Hail Mary attempts were incomplete. Still, the Trojans’ victory was summed up by coach Larry Smith: “It was like a Rocky movie. It came down to who had the last punch.”
Here’s a video highlight clip:
30 years ago: 1985
USC 17, UCLA 13
The No. 8 Bruins (8-2-1, 6-2), riding a six-game win streak, could have been knocked out of the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl trip, but they were able to claim the Pac-10 title after Arizona State lost to Arizona. Trailing 13-10, Ted Tollner’s Trojans (5-5, 4-3), behind redshirt freshman Rodney Peete, decided not to go for a game-tying field goal on fourth down with 3:30 to play but went ahead on Peete’s 1-yard TD dive with 73 seconds left. Earlier, UCLA lost a chance to seal the win in the fourth quarter when Eric Ball fumbled on a dive into the end zone. “It wasn`t to be,” UCLA quarterback David Norrie said. “It was like someone from the heavens just said, ‘No’.” USC’s defense also recovered three UCLA fumbles inside the Trojan 20 and also picked off a pass. Postscript: Terry Donahue’s UCLA team went on to defeat No. 4 Iowa, 45-28, in the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 7.