USC Preview

It's an unusual game, with both teams having nothing to play for but bragging rights. So much will be determined by whether USC quarterback Matt Barkley plays and how effective he is. But the match-ups are by far the closest they've been in many years...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA hosts USC Saturday at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 PST, with the game televised across the nation by FSN, with Barry Thompkins, Petros Papadakis and Rebecca Haarlow the commentators.

-- UCLA is 4-7 and 2-6 in the Pac-10, while USC is 7-5 and 4-4.

-- It's the last game of the season for both teams. USC is ineligible for a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, and UCLA didn't achieve a qualifying six wins for bowl eligibility.

-- It's the 80th meeting between the two schools in football, which dates back to 1929, with USC holding a lead of 44-28-7.

-- Since the start of the 1980s, the series edge goes to USC by a 15-14-1 margin.

-- UCLA is 8-6 at the Rose Bowl against USC.

-- The UCLA-USC rivalry is naturally a heated endeavor between two schools 13 miles apart, with each of its respective students and alumni sharing a city and pretty hating each other.

-- And for a rivalry that hasn't meant much in recent years in terms of championships, bowl games and rankings, and for this year's game that doesn't offer its victor anything more than bragging rights, it's still managed to garner some considerable ill will. In last year's match-up between the two schools, a game USC won, 28-7, the Trojans clearly had the game in hand, leading 21-7 with about a minute remaining. UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel called timeouts instead of allowing the clock to run out, so then-USC head Coach Pete Carroll called for a play-action pass that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown, which angered the UCLA sideline.

-- USC students definitely have the edge in terms of pranks in the last couple of years. Trojans succeeded in painting the Bruin bear statue in the main campus quad red and yellow last year during rivalry week. This week, on Monday, it's believed they dumped red paint into the fountain in front of Powell Library on UCLA's campus.

-- UCLA will say good-bye to 17 seniors, who will each be playing in their last college game as a Bruin.

-- USC's record of 7-5 this season is its worse since 2001, which was Pete Carroll's first season at USC.

-- This is, of course, the first season for USC under the helm of controversial, 35-year-old Lane Kiffin. Kiffin came to USC from Tennessee, where he spent one season, and was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for a season and a third before that. Previous to that he was USC's offensive coordinator. He committed a number of smaller NCAA violations while at Tennessee, and then left the program after one season, which resulted in hundreds of Tennessee students and fans rioting in anger rather than protest. Kiffin has a history of making offending remarks, including falsely accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations, and telling a recruit that if he picked a rival school he'd "end up pumping gas for the rest of his life." His college coaching record is 14-11, and his record with the Raiders was 5-15, being fired four games into his second season. Raider owner Al Davis, at the televised news conference announcing the firing, called Kiffin "a flat-out liar" and said he was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization." Kiffin's father, Monte Kiffin, is a long-respected defensive mind who earned his reputation in the NFL and is USC's defensive coordinator.

-- The winner of the UCLA-USC game gets year-long possession of the Victory Bell, a 295-pound locomotive bell. It was originally owned by UCLA in 1939, but USC students stole it in 1941, and hid it in a variety of locations for a year, which led to controversy. In 1942 the bell resurfaced and, by agreement from both schools, became the trophy given to the game's winner.

-- Since 1949, UCLA and USC traditionally faced each other every year in the their blue and red home jerseys – until 1982, when an NCAA rule required visiting teams to wear white. For the next 26 years, both teams adhered to the rule, until 2008, when UCLA and USC agreed to return to the home-jersey tradition. In that game, USC was the visiting team and was charged with a timeout. UCLA then responded by calling a timeout to make things even. In 2009, the NCAA lifted the rule prohibiting opposing teams from wearing their home jerseys. Last season, UCLA wore its throwback jerseys for the game.

-- UCLA place kicker Kai Forbath is currently tied with John Lee for the all-time UCLA career record for field goals at 85. He is two field goals away from tying the NCAA record of 87 set by Billy Bennett of Georgia in 2000-2003.

-- UCLA, when it is unranked, is 12-24-5 against USC. UCLA is also 6-11-4 when neither team is ranked by the AP.

-- New USC head coaches are 4-5-1 in their first meeting against UCLA.

-- Neuheisel is 1-0 against Kiffin, having beating Tennessee last season, 19-15, in Knoxville when Kiffin was coach of the Volunteers.

-- Two UCLA players have brothers at USC. Freshman running back Malcolm Jones' brother is USC safety Marshall Jones, and the brother freshman safety of Tevin McDonald (who is redshirting) is Trojan safety T.J. McDonald.

-- Three of UCLA's assistant coaches – offensive coordinator Norm Chow, running backs coach Wayne Moses and offensive line coach Bob Palcic – previously coached at USC.

-- USC is currently a 6-point favorite.

-- The weather for Saturday at the Rose Bowl calls for a high of 73 degrees and partly cloudy, with a game-time temperature of 60 degrees.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE

What if UCLA's offense went against its defense? After the showing the UCLA offense had against Arizona State you'd probably give a nod to UCLA's offense over UCLA's defense.

Well, that's about what it's going to be like when UCLA's offense faces USC's defense. USC's D is really similar -- or similarly bad – to UCLA's defense.

USC might be a little better against the run, but worse against the pass, which might make the match-up even more favorable for UCLA.

What's interesting, though, is that USC's defense has been hit a bit by injury and inexperience, particularly in its secondary, but it still will have its original starters from the beginning of the season in its front seven.

Up front, USC just simply hasn't been near as dominant as its been in the last decade. Its defense under Pete Carroll was consistently one of the best against the run in the country, but this year it's ranked just 49th in the nation, giving up 141 yards per game. And it's been eroding as the season has progressed. After it yielded a whopping 311 yards rushing to Oregon in late October, it's been slipping. Last week was a low point when it allowed 147 yards on the ground against Notre Dame, which is the 115th-ranked team in the country for rushing, averaging just 75 yards per game. Against Oregon State the week before it allowed 174 yards, and OSU is one of the worst running teams in the conference, averaging just 122 yards per game.

UCLA, being the 4th best rushing team in the Pac-10, averaging 179 yards per game, should be a considerable challenge for USC's front seven.

Junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (6-1, 305) is considered an elite talent, and he's had a good year statistically, with 65 tackles, 10 for loss, and a team-leading 4.5 sacks. Junior tackle Da'John Harris (6-4, 305) didn't practice Wednesday, apparently suffering from a knee injury. Junior defensive end Armond Armstead (6-5, 295) could move inside to replace Harris if he can't go. The defensive ends would then be sophomores Wes Horton (6-5, 260) and Nick Perry (6-3, 250), who have had fairly disappointing seasons, given some of the pre-season hype. They've combined for just 8 sacks. USC is actually averaging less sacks per game than UCLA (2.16 compared to 2.18), and is 7th in the Pac-10 in sacks per game, which is extraordinary given how USC has mounted such a great, aggressive pass rush in recent years, and these are still Carroll's recruits on the DL.
Linebacker Devon Kennard.


The linebacking unit had had its ups and downs, having some good games, but then looking like it couldn't make a tackle in others. Sophomore middle linebacker Devon Kennard (6-3, 250) has had a pretty good season, second on the team in tackles with 72, and doing a fairly good job at plugging the middle. He beat out junior Chris Galippo (6-2, 250) at the beginning of the season, but Galippo still plays extensively. Neither are particularly quick compared to USC middle linebackers of recent history. Senior weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith (6-1, 225) might be the best all around ‘backer, with the best quickness among the group. Senior strongsider Michael Morgan (6-4, 220) is solid, but unspectacular.

Where USC has been particular thin is in its secondary. USC has lost so many bodies due to injury and roster defections it's difficult to keep track exactly who is who week to week. Sophomore free safety T.J. McDonald is probably the team's best defensive player, but he's out for the game after suffering a sprained shoulder against Notre Dame. Replacing him looks to be a walk-on, sophomore Tony Burnett (6-1, 195), who actually made 10 tackles last week against the Irish. Starting free safety Jawanza Starling has missed the last three games with ankle and hamstring injuries and has been limited in practice this week. Junior Marshall Jones (5-11, 185) has been his replacement. Senior cornerback Shareece Wright (5-11, 185) and true freshman cornerback Nickell Robey (5-8, 165) are healthy, but have no scholarship back-ups at the position. The guy projected to start at the beginning of the season, Torin Harris, is out and so is Brian Baucham, who is the first off the bench. So, USC looks to have only three scholarship defensive backs available to play.

UCLA's offense is coming off its best performance of the season last week against Arizona State. Quarterback Richard Brehaut had a career-best day, throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns, and looking the most comfortable he ever has. He made some definite steps forward against ASU, with improved decision-making and showing more of a capability of creating plays.

UCLA's rushing game, after exploding to start the season, has settled into steady production. Last week against the Sun Devils it did enough to balance the offense and keep ASU having to defend against both the pass and the run. Johnathan Franklin went over the 1,000-yard mark last week, having gained 1082 on the season, being UCLA's first to do so since Chris Markey in 2006.
Nelson Rosario.


Perhaps one of the biggest keys to UCLA's success throwing the ball last week was the return to form of wide receiver Nelson Rosario. After being out for a month due to a high ankle sprain, he was the closest he's been to 100% last week against ASU, and it showed. He was dominant in his ability to go up and get balls against smaller DBs, hauling in nine catches. It also helped that Taylor Embree also had a big day, getting nine receptions himself. A key could be matching up the 6-5 Rosario against the 5-8 true freshman Robey. That's a nine-inch difference, if you're doing the math.

It's an interesting turn of events, since, in the last decade it always seemed like UCLA had the 5-9 cornerback who had to go up against the 6-5 USC receiver.

Advantage: UCLA. When's the last time, in this annual preview, we picked UCLA's offense over USC's defense? It's probably not a sign of UCLA's offense making enormous strides but USC's defense dropping off so considerably. This is not a Pete Carroll USC defense.

In fact, USC Defensive Coordinator Monty Kiffin has gotten some criticism this season for playing more of a prevent defensive style than Carroll's more aggressive type. It has seen a fall-off in pressure on the quarterback, which has put a tremendous amount of pressure on USC's depleted secondary, and that hasn't been exactly a formula for success. With its secondary so vulnerable, USC will have to put pressure on Brehaut to be successful.

Last week against ASU, however, the UCLA offensive play-calling was almost revolutionary in its creativity, in so many aspects – mixing the pass and the run, utilizing new plays, being imaginative in terms of down and distance, etc. It really contributed to Brehaut actually getting good time to throw, which was the biggest key in his break-out game. USC hasn't put much more pressure on the quarterback than ASU this season, but you'd have to expect they'll get to Brehaut more than the Sun Devils did. It will be interesting to see if the UCLA play-calling continues to be dynamic and, subsequently, give Brehaut a better chance to succeed.

If you just looked at the stats, you'd have to say that USC's defense would probably have an edge. All they'd had to do is stack the box and try to take away UCLA's running game. But the combination of UCLA's offensive performance against ASU and USC's situation with its secondary give you enough evidence to envision UCLA being able to gain yards and put up points against USC.

USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Of course, the biggest factor in the game is the health and availability of USC quarterback Matt Barkley (6-2, 220). Barkley has said he's going to play, and Lane Kiffin has said he'd be ready, but some observers are skeptical. He's practiced on a limited basis this week, but has gotten incrementally better at being able to move on the high ankle sprain. We're anticipating that he'll play, but be pretty limited in his mobility. There will also be the rust factor, having missed last week's game against Notre Dame and a great deal of time at practice. So, all in all, Barkley will probably get time, but perhaps a limited amount and it could be questionable just how effective he'll be when he's in the game.
Receiver Robert Woods.


Without Barkley, which USC has been for the last 6 quarters, it really shows just how important a quarterback is to an offense. With Barkley, USC's offense is very effective, with the quarterback able to execute and make the plays to keep drives moving. Without Barkley, the quarterback has been senior Mitch Mustain (6-2, 200), who has struggled considerably and, in doing so, has pretty much shut down the USC offense. Mustain has continued to take the majority of the snaps in practice this week, so you'd have to anticipate he's going to play a fairly good portion of the game, at least. Since scoring 21 points in the first half of the Arizona game, USC has scored 26 points in the last 10 quarters, and much of that has to do with the ineffectiveness of Mustain. He has really struggled on intermediate to longer throws, and even short throws under pressure. It has limited USC's offense to mostly a very short passing game, which has allowed defenses the last two weeks to cheat up and crowd the line of scrimmage.

Probably the best remnant of the dominating USC teams of the last decade on this year's team has been its powerful rushing attack, which is gaining 183 yards per game. USC's running backs have been exceptional, led by junior Marc Tyler (5-11, 230), who has run for 868 yards and a 5.3 yard-per-carry average. Senior Allen Bradford gets a good share of the carries, too, and between the two of them they've gained 1450 yards on the season. There isn't much of a drop-off either if they go to senior C.J. Gable (5-0, 205) or even true freshman Dillon Baxter (6-0, 195).

USC's rushing game, though, has ground to a halt a bit in its last two losses, gaining just a total of 200 yards against Notre Dame and Oregon State, two pretty ordinary rush defenses. Both the ND and OSU, with Mustain at quarterback, were able to key more on the USC running game and stack the box.

The USC offensive line has gotten generally mixed reviews on the season. The feeling is that they were putting together a good season and then really under-achieved in recent weeks, when they couldn't provide enough running room for the USC offense to sustain drives. It doesn't help that their best OL, right tackle Tyron Smith, looks to be out with a knee injury, having not practiced this week. Senior center Kristopher O'Dowd (6-5, 300) is a good anchor. The OL has been very good, in providing pass protection, allowing just 17 sacks on the season, and not allowing one against Notre Dame last week. With Barkley taking snaps, and the offensive line giving him so much time, it's generally been a very effective combination for the season – until recently when it was Mustain taking the snaps.

If there's another aspect of this year's USC team that harkens back to the Pete Carroll years it would be the talent at wide receiver. Probably the freshman of the year in the Pac-10 is Robert Woods (6-1, 285), who has plainly been phenomenal, leading the team in receptions (61) and yards (729). Senior Ronald Johnson (6-0, 185) has also had an all-conference kind of season, and the two of them together make for the best receiver tandem in the conference. In the last two weeks, however, they've been held to 0 touchdown catches, when they had combined for 14 up until then.

Senior David Ausberry (6-4, 235) is a receiver/tight end hybrid that USC likes to use to find favorable match-ups, and they throw a few times per game to senior fullback Stanley Havili (6-1, 225), who has a good enough burst to break one.

UCLA's defense is in pretty poor shape. It reached perhaps a low-point of the season last week when it gave up 595 yards to Arizona State. It got to the point that at no time in the game did you think the UCLA defense could stop ASU's offense, unless there was a turnover or a natural disaster.
Akeem Ayers.


UCLA's is young up front and it's just not getting effective play against the run. It's looking so desperately for some answers that it appears senior Reginald Stokes and sophomore Damien Holmes will get more time at the d-end spots than freshmen Owagbe Odighizuwa and Keenan Graham.

What's been particularly disappointing has been the second-half-of-the-season performance by Akeem Ayers, the defensive end/linebacker. He started out 2010 on fire, looking like a very good bet to be a first-team All-American, and he has since gone relatively silent. It's a bit of a mystery why; he's been a bit nicked up, and opposing offenses have schemed away him from some, but not to the point it would be entirely responsible for the drop-off.

UCLA's secondary got absolutely torched last week against Arizona State. ASU's quarterbacks threw for 384 yards, on 28-of-39 passing (71% completion rate), and four touchdowns. If Barkley is healthy you could pretty much expect him to do about the same.

In fact, USC's offense, with a healthy Barkley, would look just about the same against UCLA's defense as Arizona State's offense did. With Mustain, it would look more like Houston.

Advantage: Even. It's a difficult call, because there's no way to know, really, how much Barkley will play and how effective he can be because of his injury and rust. If Barkley performs like the guy who threw for 352 yards and 5 touchdowns against Cal then UCLA's defense has no chance. But if UCLA gets the Mustain from last week against Notre Dame, when he completed 54% of his passes, threw for 177 yards on 37 attempts and got picked off once, then UCLA has the advantage.

If you think Barkley will play some and not be as effective as he is when he's completely healthy, you'd have to say it might even out things with the Bruin defense.

What's interesting is that USC's play-calling has gone drastically conservative with Mustain at quarterback. Kiffin, who calls the plays, doesn't have much confidence in Mustain, so he's giving him mostly short passes and relying on his running game. But, as we said, that has allowed opposing defenses to cheat up and crowd the line of scrimmage, and help to take away USC's potent rushing attack.

On the other hand, even with Mustain, if Kiffin sees that UCLA Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough isn't blitzing much, and Mustain has time, he could try to take some hits down the field. Bullough's lack of aggressiveness in blitzing could be the exact antidote to get Mustain in a groove.

SPECIAL TEAMS

It's definitely a mixed bag when considering the special teams of these two squads. USC has gotten good punt and kick-off returns for the season, and UCLA's coverage teams have seemingly eroded as the season has gone by. Last week the Bruins gave up a touchdown on a kick-off return that really broke open the game for ASU. Woods is USC's kick-off returner and he's returned one for a touchdown and looks like a threat every time he catches the ball. Johnson returns punts, and he also has a return for a touchdown, and looks equally as dangerous.

Last week, after UCLA's kick-off returner Josh Smith looked ineffective, Ricky Marvray was put in to return one, and returned it 53 yards.

UCLA does, though, have the superior kicking game. Place-kicker Kai Forbath, as we said above, is on the cusp of setting school and national records. Punter Jeff Locke is second in the conference, averaging 45.7 per punt, but he's been alarmingly short on his kick-offs in recent games, which could be lethal with Woods returning them.

USC's place-kicker, Joe Houston, is unreliable and has limited range, with only one field goal from beyond 40 yards, and having missed four from 20 to 40 yards. USC punter Jacob Harfman is last in the Pac-10 in punting, averaging 40.9 per punt.

PREDICTION

It's unusual circumstances for the game, with absolutely nothing at stake but bragging rights and, perhaps, a positive note to end the season.

While you'd think it shouldn't take much to get a team up to play its heated rival, motivation might very well be a factor. You'd have to say there's more reason to believe that USC might not care as much about this game, since they're on probation with no chance at a post-season bowl, which is unusual for them. UCLA is far more accustomed to be playing with no chance at a post-season berth.

While it is just across town, there is still a home-field advantage in this rivalry. UCLA has clearly played USC better at the Rose Bowl than at the Coliseum.

As we've said a few times, so much comes down to whether Barkley will play, and if he'll be effective. If he has no ill effects from the injury, USC wins it. If he's hampered a bit, or if he doesn't play much at all and the quarterback duties go to Mustain, UCLA has a very good chance to win it.

Either way, neither defense is probably going to be able to stop the other team's offense. If Mustain plays most of the game for USC, UCLA would probably stop USC's offense <i>a couple of times</i>, enough to win. With these two defenses, it would be a surprise if this weren't a high-scoring game, especially since it now looks like there is very little chance of rain.

One big factor: UCLA likes to turn over the ball, and USC is good at forcing turnovers. That's good for a handful of Trojan points.

We'll predict that Barkley either won't play much, or won't be in his true form, and that will be enough to enable UCLA's defense to get a few stops. But it will probably come down to whoever has the ball last.

UCLA 44
USC 42


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