-- UCLA travels across town to take on rival USC Saturday, with the game kicking off at 7:00 p.m. It will be televised nationally by FSN with Craig Bolerjack and Joe Klatt in the booth.
-- USC is ranked 10th by AP, but isn't eligible to be ranked USA Today due to NCAA sanctions.
-- USC is 9-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play. The sit atop the Pac-12 South, one game head of UCLA (6-5, 5-3). But, of course, if USC did win the Pac-12 South it is ineligible to play in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game due to NCAA sanctions.
-- UCLA, if it beats USC, will win the Pac-12 South outright, and play in the championship game next Saturday.
-- If UCLA loses to USC, it can still "back in" to the Pac-12 Championship Game. It would take a loss by Utah against Colorado in Salt Lake City. That's regardless of what Arizona State does against Cal.
-- If UCLA loses to USC and Utah beats Colorado, and Arizona State beats Cal, the Sun Devils win the three-way tiebreaker and go to the Pac-12 Championship game.
-- It is the 81st meeting between the two schools in football, with USC leads the all-time series, 45-28-7, which dates back to 1929. UCLA has lost the last four meetings, and 11 of the last 12.
-- Before that run, UCLA won eight in a row (from 1991 to 1998), which is the longest streak in the rivalry.
-- In 1998, after UCLA had won eight in a row, it was narrowing the gap in the all-time series, when it stood at 34-27-7.
-- Of course, UCLA's one lone win in the last 12 years was in 2006, when it beat the #2-ranked Trojans, 13-9, and knocked them out of the BCS Championship Game.
-- Very rarely in recent years has the UCLA-USC game had bigger meaning beyond just city championship bragging rights. This year it will be instrumental in deciding the Pac-12 South champion.
-- USC has a 24-11-2 record against the Bruins when the Rose Bowl was on the line for at least one of the teams.
-- UCLA has not won at the Coliseum in 14 years, since 1997, which was Cade McNown's junior year.
-- That 0-6 mark on the road against USC is only UCLA's second-worst consecutive road record ever in its history against any conference opponent. UCLA actually lost 10 games in a road on the road against Washington, not winning a game in Seattle from 1958 to 1978.
-- In games played at the Coliseum, USC owns a 38-20-7 edge.
-- USC is coached by Lane Kiffin, who is in his second year at the helm. Kiffin is just 36 years old, and has probably had his best year as a head coach this season, leading the sanction-affected Trojans to a 9-2 record, his best at either USC or Tennessee. He is probably a candidate for some post-season honors, including Pac-12 Coach of the Year. The one-time USC offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, Kiffin was hired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where he struggled for two seasons, before being hired at Tennessee in 2009. In his one season at Tennessee, Kiffin went 7-6, left abruptly when he was offered the USC job, and got the Volunteers under NCAA investigations for rules violations.
-- The winner of the UCLA-USC football game is awarded the Victory Bell. The 295-pound bell was originally from a Southern Pacific freight locomotive that was given to the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939. USC students then stole it in 1941, and was kept at an unknown location until, a year later, the student body presidents of both schools signed an agreement that the winner of the football game would keep possession for the next year. Whenever there is a new winner in the rivalry, the support structure of the bell is painted in that school's colors.
-- When Kevin Prince starts in this year's USC game, it will mark the fifth time in a row UCLA has started a new quarterback in the rivalry game. 2010: Richard Brehaut; 2009: Kevin Prince; 2008: Kevin Craft; and 2007: Patrick Cowan.
-- Running back Johnathan Franklin moved to 10th on the all-time school rushing list after gaining 162 yards against Colorado. He has a total of 2,550 yards, passing Maurice Jones-Drew (2,503), and is just 33 yards short of Kevin Nelson (2,583). If he stays on this track and avoids injury, he will have a chance to surpass the all-time career rushing record set by Gaston Green of 3,731 yards.
-- The longtime tradition of the crosstown rivalry was for UCLA and USC to wear its home jerseys in the game. That tradition was forced into a 26-year hiatus, starting in 1982 when the NCAA enacted rules that required all visiting teams to wear white. UCLA and USC agreed to violate the rule in 2008, and then the NCAA rescinded it in 2009. So, since 2008 UCLA and USC have upheld the tradition of playing in their home jerseys for the last three meetings.
-- UCLA, however, this season, plays on wearing alternate jerseys this Saturday, that consist of a white helmet, white jerseys and white paints. Initially, before the season, USC was considering a plan to wear alternate black jerseys, but sources tell us that USC Athletic Director Pat Haden nixed the idea. UCLA, though, has gone through with its plan to wear the white alternate jerseys.
-- Since USC is not allowed to play in any post-season game, this will be the Trojans' last game of the season. It also means it's the last game, and last home game, for 23 USC seniors.
-- The game will be only the eighth time in the all-time series that it was played at night.
-- It's the 15th time the UCLA-USC game is being played on Thanksgiving weekend (in addition, it was played twice on Thanksgiving Day, in 1936 and 1939).
-- There are two families that have a son playing for each program. UCLA safety Tevin McDonald's brother is USC safety T.J. McDonald, and UCLA running back Malcolm Jones's brother is USC safety Marshall Jones.
-- USC is 25-12-5 against unranked UCLA teams (one win was later vacated due to NCAA penalty). When a ranked UCLA team played an unranked UCLA squad, the Trojans are 13-6-2.
-- In the 82-year history of the rivalry, an unranked UCLA team has only beaten a ranked USC team twice. It happened in 1995, when unranked UCLA beat the #11-ranked Trojans, 24-20. And it happened just once before UCLA moved out of the Coliseum, in 1959 when UCLA beat #4-ranked USC, 10-3.
-- The weather forecast for Saturday is a high of 71 degrees, with a projected temperature in the 50s at game time.
-- According to sources, it very well could be the last game for Rick Neuheisel as UCLA's head coach.
USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
In its last four games, USC's offense has averaged just about 40 points and 470 yards per game.
And that wasn't against slouches. Two of those games came against the then-#6 and then-#4 teams in the country.
The Trojans have really put it together offensively as the season has progressed, with a balanced pro-style attack that can beat you through the air or the ground.
Perhaps the most definitive indicator for this game is rushing capability. UCLA needs to be able to out-run you to win. The Bruins are 10-1 in games this season when they've out-gained their opponent on the ground (the only exception was against Houston in the season opener). In UCLA's six wins, it's allowing 141 yards per game; in its five losses, 280 yards.
Pretty much if the opposing offense can run it will beat UCLA.
The Trojans are good – not great – running the ball, and have gotten consistently better.
UCLA's rushing defense is comparable to Colorado's (181 yards compared to 191 yards per game). In it's 42-17 win over the Buffaloes in Boulder three weeks ago, USC ran for 243 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry.
USC's running game is driven by a two-headed tailback attack, with the traditional thunder and lightning options. Curtis McNeal (JR, 5-7, 190), who has run for 908 yards on the season and averageS 6.6 yards per carry, is the small, scat-back type. McNeal's is a pretty impressive story; Pete Carroll recruited him, really, as an after-thought, and Lane Kiffin came close to dropping him from the program last year. Even though he's diminutive, he really is the workhorse of the backfield. He injured his knee this week in practice but it's not presumed to be serious. This was supposed to be the year of Marc Tyler (SR, 5-11, 230), but he didn't take advantage of his opportunity to be the go-to guy, was hit by a couple of injuries, and now is mostly second-fiddle to McNeal. He has almost as many carries as NcNeal on the season, and he combines the ability to break tackles with a good burst. Those two will the vast majority of the carries. USC will also go to its two freshmen, D.J. Morgan (FR, 5-10, 190) and Amir Carlisle (FR, 5-10, 180), who are lean, quick ball carriers. Another freshman, former receiver George Farmer (FR, 6-1, 205) has been converted to tailback, and they, naturally, have been trying to throw to him out in the flat. Fullback Rhett Ellison (SR, 6-5, 250) is a converted tight end and, of course, they like to throw to him out of the backfield, and he's a very good blocker out of the I.
The running game – and the passing game, for that matter – has really succeeded because of the development of USC's offensive line. Going into the season there were some question marks, having lost three starters from last season, and the talent and depth was definitely down from years past. But the O-line found its guys and has miraculously been injury-free all season. It is led by a guy considered one of the best tackles in the country, Matt Kalil (JR, 6-7, 295), but veteran center Khaled Holmes (JR, 6-4, 310) has been critical in his consistency inside, where USC had to replace two starters. Kalil has been slowed a bit by some stingers recently, though.
|Receiver Robert Woods.|
Of course, USC's marquee guys have been two of its receivers and its quarterback. And no matter how dyed-in-the-wool of a Bruin fan you are, there is no disputing just how good quarterback Matt Barkley (JR, 6-2, 220) and receivers Robert Woods (SO, 6-1, 180) and Marqise Lee (FR, 6-0, 190) are.
Woods is on the verge of setting the all-time conference record for receptions in a season, being just four away from Keyshawn Johnson's 103. Woods has been dominant at times this season, literally taking over games with his ability to make a catch on what seemingly feels like every other down, even though the opposing defense knows Barkley is going to him.
The only thing that has slowed the rate of Woods' catches-per-game has been the spectacular emergence of Lee. Woods was so good you didn't think anyone could overshadow him, but Lee has succeeded in doing that in the second half of his true freshman season. He's still raw, and can make freshman mistakes, but Lee looks exactly like what a true-freshman-future-NFL-player should look like – too big, fast and elusive for college players to hold him down. He'll not only blow by defenders going deep, but he's very tough in underneath routes and gaining yards after the catch. USC now wants to get the ball in Lee's hands anyway it can, even going to him out of the Wildcat last week against Oregon.
USC truly might have the best 1-2 receiver combo in the nation.
Those two guys are so good the other receivers on USC just don't touch the ball very much. Brandon Carswell (SR, 6-1, 190) and Brice Butler (JR, 6-4, 195) are pretty talented but only catch maybe a couple of passes between the two of them per game.
The Trojans do like their tight ends, and will go to them consistently. Randall Telfair (FR, 6-4, 230) is a dependable target, and Xavier Grimble (SO, 6-6, 305) has the athleticism and talent to be a star. Ellison, too, can still line up as a tight end.
Then there's Barkley, who has, in the shadow of Stanford's Andrew Luck, developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He has thrown for 3,105 yards and 33 touchdowns (against just 7 interceptions), and completed 68% of his passes, for an efficiency rating (155.62) that has him ranked 13th in the country. He has gone from a young kid who had a strong arm, to a well-rounded quarterback that is exceptionally good at checking down and finding the open receiver. When you have both Woods and Lee in the pattern, someone has to have man coverage, and Barkley is very good at finding whomever that is on every passing down. When you watch him play a full game, he'll make all of the requisite throws, but he'll also make 3 or 4 in a game that are uncanny, where you just don't know how he did it.
UCLA's defense simply hasn't faced an offense with this much talent this year. Stanford's offense doesn't have USC's array of talent. While the Bruins' D has been better in the last half of the season, it's faced only one good offense – Arizona State's, which, we now see, was getting ready to crater. If you throw out the Oregon State game, since the Beavers could be the worst team in the conference, UCLA's defense has been atrocious on the road against Houston, Stanford, Arizona and Utah.
While USC is going to get its yards passing the ball, and you won't be able to keep Woods and Lee out of the endzone, whether UCLA's defense gets steamrolled or not will be up to its rushing defense. It's been better in the second half of the season, except for the little aberration last week against Utah in the snow, and it now has its biggest challenge of the year.
UCLA will be without veteran linebacker Sean Westgate, but that will give his younger and more talented counterpart, Eric Kendricks, more opportunity. Westgate's apparent advantage over Kendricks is in pass coverage, so we'll see if there's a drop-off with Kendricks getting more snaps.
UCLA's secondary isn't 100%. Cornerback Sheldon Price hasn't been the same since coming back from his knee injury. UCLA looks like it moved Aaron Hester to the field corner because of it. Veteran safety Tony Dye was out for half the season due to stingers, and looks rusty. Safety Alex Mascarenas, who was UCLA's #1 nickel back at the start of the season, tried to come back from a concussion but is now out again. Andrew Abbott, UCLA's best defensive back, missed practice yesterday because of the flu.
It's not tough to envision Woods and Lee running through UCLA's secondary. But, as I said, the aspect of the match-up that could be what does in UCLA's defense consistently is USC's running backs cutting big swaths of yardage out of UCLA's rushing defense. We'd have to think that's going to be the case, since UCLA hasn't really been able to stop a good rushing offense yet this season.
Kiffin calls the plays for USC, and has done a very good job, especially last week against Oregon. He's very good at spreading the field, trying to get his immensely talented skill guys the ball in space. He'll roll out Barkley, let him survey the field and find good match-ups. He utilizes a very straight-forward power running game to loosen up the middle and set up passing downs. And then he'll go to play action for the death blow.
UCLA will have to play completely out character, on the road, to stop this from happening.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE
If it's all about match-ups, then the outlook isn't great for UCLA's offense. As I said above, for UCLA to win it needs to out-gain you on the ground.
USC's rushing defense is one of the best in the conference, allowing just 110 yards rushing per game. And it's been getting better as the season has progressed. You might not think allowing Oregon 209 yards on the ground is good, but that was essentially shutting them down since the Ducks are averaging 284 yards per game and are the fifth-best rushing offense in the nation. Washington, the week before, gained 46 yards against USC, and they average 152 rushing yards per game.
|Defensive end Nick Perry.|
The defensive line is led by probably the best defensive end in the conference, Nick Perry (JR, 6-3, 250), who has posted some very impressive stats on the season. He has 51 tackles, which is the second best for a defensive lineman in the conference; 13 tackles for loss, which is third in the conference; and 9.5 sacks, which is #1 in the conference. He is quick and athletic, and near-impossible to keep out of your backfield with just one blocker. On the other side is either Wes Horton (JR, 6-5, 265) or Devon Kennard (JR, 6-3, 250), depending on the down and distance, with Kennard more of the pass rush specialist. Horton, though, is also good at disrupting plays in the backfield, with 7 tackles for loss. Inside, veteran DaJohn Harris (SR, 6-4, 310) has grown into being a steady force, but has nursed an injured ankle in the last few weeks. The other DT is another vet, Christian Tupou (SR, 6-2, 300), who has come back from a year-ending knee injury a year ago to be a team leader.
USC's linebackers, which were much maligned coming into the season, have really been the biggest surprise of the season for the Trojans. The two guys who have led the charge have been two redshirt freshmen in their first role as starters, Hayes Pullard (FR, 6-0, 225) and Dion Bailey (FR, 6-0, 200). Pullard has emerged as one of the best young linebackers in the Pac-12, seemingly all over the field last week in USC's big win over Oregon, and second on the team in tackles with 72. He's matched in his motor by his running mate, Bailey, who was moved from safety to linebacker out of need before the season, and has made that move look brilliant, leading the team in tackles with 76. He's essentially a safety playing linebacker, and what he lacks in bulk he makes up for in quickness. Bailey tweaked an ankle against Oregon last week, but is supposedly okay for Saturday's game. The middle linebacker is a true freshman, Lamar Dawson (FR, 6-2, 235), who beat out a struggling senior, Chris Galippo (SR, 6-2, 250).
Clearly the weak link in USC's defense is its secondary, particularly its corners. Nickell Robey (SO, 5-8, 165) is the typical over-achieving little corner. Despite having talent and speed he's limited by his size, and can present USC some match-up problems when opposing offenses have a number of big receivers. Torin Harris (SO, 6-0, 180) is the true other starter but he's been limited all season by injury and a shaky Isiah Wiley (JR, 6-1, 185) has stepped in to replace him. Free safety T.J. McDonald (JR, 6-3, 205) hasn't really lived up to his hype, but he's still good, while strong safety Jawanza Starling (JR, 6-1, 195) has been dependable.
UCLA's quarterback, Kevin Prince, is coming off perhaps his best all-around performance as a Bruin, executing the position in the Pistol to perfection against Colorado last week. His running ability this season has been a difference-maker, and he seems to have taken another step in his passing abilities, being very efficient against the Buffs.
UCLA, of course, is going to be predominantly about running the ball, and its two running backs, Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, could be playing the best ball of their careers.
A big indication of whether UCLA feels it will need some help run blocking is how it utilizes tight end Joseph Fauria. When UCLA has it in his game plan to throw to him, he's been a force in every game. But there have been times when Fauria has disappeared from UCLA's passing attack, mostly because the UCLA offensive brain trust feels it needs another blocker along the line of scrimmage. If UCLA is looking to Fauria as a receiver it will, at least, indicate that the Bruins are going to try to let it loose; if not, expect UCLA to be very conservative. It would be a shame if UCLA can't fully unfurl its passing game, since one of its biggest match-up advantages is in its big receivers, like Fauria (6-8), Nelson Rosario (6-4) and Anthony Barr (6-4). At the very least, watch for UCLA to try to get Rosario out on an island against USC's corners.
USC stacked the box last week against Oregon, so you can fully expect the Trojans to do it again against a far more one-dimensional UCLA offense. It's going to be that same familiar concept – USC is going to try to limit UCLA's running game and make Kevin Prince's arm beat them.
Given UCLA's offensive game-planning history, when going up against a formidable defense, the game plan tends to go conservative. So, expect the Bruins to dedicate itself to establishing its rushing game, even when USC is dedicating 9 guys in the box to shutting it down.
Perhaps an accurate preview of what could transpire would be UCLA's trip to Stanford earlier in the year, since the Cardinal have a comparable rushing defense to USC's. The Bruins gained 141 yards on the ground that day, not nearly enough to own possession of the ball (25:43 to 34:17) and keep Stanford's offense off the field.
The zone read and Prince threatening to tuck and run is going to have to open it up for the Bruins, give them a little element of surprise, and keep USC stretched out and not able to stuff up the running lanes from tackle to tackle. USC's defense, though, has many good athletes that fly around well and seemingly should match up against Prince running the ball.
Here's the crux of it for UCLA's offense: It's been atrocious on the road against any team with a good rushing defense. It, then, effectively places a huge burden on UCLA's passing game, which is a tough proposition for it in a hostile environment.
USC's kicker Andre Hedari could be in line to be named first team all-Pac-12 at the end of the season. He's 15 of 17 on the season, with a range out to about 50 yards. He's also perfect in his PATs. USC's punter, Kyle Negrete, hasn't been as successful, averaging a fairly mediocre 39 yards per punt.
Robert Woods, even though he hasn't returned a kick for a touchdown this season, always seems like a threat do it. He and Robey are the punt returners.
USC has shown it can go into its bag for some special teams trickery, especially a few weeks back on a fake punt when Negrete ran 35 yards on a key play in USC's win over Washington.
There are, of course, many intangibles in this game.
There are conference race implications weighing in the balance, with UCLA able to put itself in a position to win the Pac-12 South. However, it's significant to note: If Utah loses its games Friday against Colorado, UCLA wouldn't even have to beat USC to go to the Pac-12 Championship game. If Utah wins, UCLA needs to beat USC to have a chance.
There are intangibles simply because it's UCLA/USC.
There are plenty of intangibles for USC. In a year in which they're banned from post-season play, they have put together a very good season at 9-2 and a top ten national ranking. While you might think they don't have much to play for, that's not the feeling over at USC; after overcoming all the adversity and putting together a successful season, they are of the mindset that a loss to UCLA would erase all of their accomplishments.
But what probably will have the biggest impact on the game is that, despite it only being 13 miles from UCLA's campus, playing at the Coliseum against USC is still a road game. UCLA simply is a bad road team, traditionally against USC and this season in general. UCLA hasn't won in the Coliseum since 1997 – 14 years ago. This season, if you throw out the win over a bad Oregon State team, UCLA is 0-4 on the road, and, in its road conference games, has averaged losing by 29 points. In those three games it rushed for 141, 37 and 149 yards, far below its average and far below the total it will need to beat USC.
For UCLA to win this game it will either have to defy all conventional wisdom and be dominant in its rushing game against USC's rushing defense. Or UCLA will really have to defy everything we have come to know it to be, throw caution to the wind, open up the offense and throw the ball to exploit USC's passing defense, which is its most vulnerable element.
I feel it's unlikely either of these two scenarios will happen.