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Friday, December 2, 2011
Top 10 moments, No. 6: The fourth down TD

By Pedro Moura

We’re doing an ongoing series of the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season. No. 10 was Robert Woods’ four-yard touchdown grab against Oregon. No. 9 was Curtis McNeal‘s 79-yard touchdown run against Washington. No. 8 was Woods‘ 14-yard catch in the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game in October. Moment No. 7 was three Matt Barkley record-breaking moments in one.

Here, then, is moment No. 6: Barkley's three-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Rhett Ellison against UCLA.

Let's get this out of the way: There are a ton of plays that can represent the Trojans' 50-0 victory over the Bruins.

But there's only one that best shows the extent to which USC really dominated UCLA, eliminating them from game contention minutes past kickoff and even toying with the Bruins at times. That was this one.

Already up 22-0 halfway through the second quarter at the Coliseum, Lane Kiffin and the Trojans faced a fourth-and-goal at the UCLA 3-yard line after back-to-back Barkley passes fell incomplete for the only time the entire game.

It was assumed, then, that the Trojans would call on Andre Heidari to convert the chip-shot 20-yard field goal and take the points and the 25-0 lead. But they didn't.

They called, instead, on Barkley and Co. to run the infamous swinging-gate play that mostly failed throughout the year on two-point conversion attempts. From the 3, Barkley took the snap from Chris Pousson and took off to the right, looking at either Heidari on a swing pass of sorts or tight end Xavier Grimble on a short fade.

When three defenders bunched to that side of the field, one more headed over and linebacker Patrick Larimore approached on the pass-rush, Barkley stopped in his tracks and moved left, avoiding Larimore even as Pousson missed the block. Then he ran forward, to about the 5-yard line, and delivered an awkward-but-on-target pass to an open Ellison in the back of the end zone, falling to his knees in the process.

It was a unique play, and one that sent two not-so-hidden messages to UCLA and the college football world. For one, the Trojans were not going to let up in this game, no matter how big their lead. And, for two, Kiffin still likes his special-teams swinging-gate plays, and he doesn't care what the rest of the country thinks about them.

If the opposition doesn't show the right look in response, USC will continue to go for two -- or, in this case, go for the touchdown on fourth down. He and special teams coach John Baxter have repeated that all year. They proved it true against the Bruins.

Another funny note: Barkley actually had two of his tight ends open in the back of the end zone when he threw the pass: Ellison and freshman Randall Telfer. It was a bit fitting, then, that he chose to throw to Ellison, considering the Trojans tried a direct-snap play to him on fourth down of their first drive against Cal in October and it failed miserably.

This one worked out well.

Check back Monday for moment No. 5 from the Colorado game.