Before Pete Carroll was Pete Carroll, he had to beat USC’s hated rival.
In his first season, Carroll’s Trojans had stumbled badly at the start, losing three of the first four games, but they were on a roll going into that UCLA game in 2001. Remember, Carroll wasn’t the most popular choice, coming off two failed runs in the NFL, when athletic director Mike Garrett hired him.
His program may never have launched to the heights it eventually reached without a rousing 27-0 victory over a favored UCLA team that year.
“It went through my mind that this doesn’t happen in the NFL,” Carroll said afterward. “It had nothing to do with UCLA. It had to do with us. We’ve got to be the best 6-5 team in the nation.”
Carson Palmer passed for 180 yards in that game, but it was the defense that ruled the day. The Trojans smothered UCLA, holding the Bruins to 114 yards of offense.
It was a bad ending for a UCLA team that had reached No. 4 in the country, but was playing without star tailback DeShaun Foster, who had been declared ineligible after being caught driving a sport-utility vehicle leased to actor-director Eric Laneuville. Quarterback Cory Paus played in the game despite reports surfacing of a drunken driving charge in the days leading up to the game.
Trojans receiver Keary Colbert later played four seasons with Foster on the Carolina Panthers and thinks the Bruins were deflated playing without their best player.
“He was a key performer for them and I know from playing with him what a leader he is,” Colbert said. “He was also a great running back.”
Just a couple of years earlier, USC had snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins. It had won the 1999 and 2000 games and Carroll talked to his team before the game of starting a new streak. USC wouldn’t lose a game in the rivalry -- at least not on the field -- until the 13-9 game in 2006. Two of the Trojans’ victories were later vacated by NCAA sanctions.
“I just remember Coach Carroll making mention of wanting to continue the streak and wanting to start something since it was his first year,” Colbert said. “It was basically about owning the city.”
That game was a hesitant first step to what turned into a full-scale sprint. Under Carroll, the Trojans won two national championships -- though one was forfeited by sanctions -- and played in seven straight BCS bowl games. It began the following season with an 11-2 year that culminated in a blowout win over Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
“Once guys bought in and realized we did have something special going, it was fun,” Colbert said.