USC Preview & Expectations

Looking at it overall it doesn't look good, and it gets worse when you analyze the UCLA/USC game from a matchup standpoint. What will the Bruins have to do to beat their crosstown rivals and spoil their national championship hopes?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA (6-5, 4-3) takes on #2-ranked USC (8-1, 5-1) for the 73rd time in history, dating back to 1929.

-- USC leads the series 38-27-7.

-- USC has won the last four meetings. And in recent years it's definitely been a case of streaks. Before USC's four-game winning streak, UCLA won eight in a row, the longest in the series. Before that, USC had a four-game winning run over UCLA.

-- USC has never beaten UCLA five straight times.

-- UCLA holds a 4-2-1 edge in the last seven meetings played at the Coliseum.

-- Last year in the Rose Bowl, USC beat UCLA 52-21. It was the most points USC had scored against UCLA since 1930, the second game in the series.

-- USC is coached by Pete Carroll, who is 26-9 at USC in his third year. After starting 2-5 at USC in 2001, he's gone 24-4 since, and is 9-0 in November.

-- It's the first game as UCLA head coach in the rivalry for Karl Dorrell. As a player, Dorrell was 3-1 against USC.

-- USC, of course, is ranked second by AP and USA Today/ESPN. However, much has been made of USC falling from #2 last week to #3 in the BCS rankings. If USC can't re-capture the #2 ranking in the BCS it will be shut out of the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl January 4th.

-- UCLA played its home games in the Coliseum until it moved to the Rose Bowl in 1981. 61 of the 72 games in the crosstown series have been played at the Rose Bowl.

-- The winner of the UCLA-USC game receives the Victory Bell for the year.

-- USC leads the Pac-10 in four of six major categories, which include scoring offense (40.7), rushing offense (172.6), scoring defense (17.5) and rushing defense (66.4). USC also leads the Pac-10 in punting (43.3), passing efficiency (158.2 rating), turnover margin (+15), and least sacks (12).

-- The game will be televised on ABC at 12:30.

EXPECTATIONS AND PREVIEW

Karl Dorrell and the UCLA Bruins have one final chance to redeem an otherwise disappointing season by beating their cross-town rivals, the Southern Cal Trojans.

Set aside (for a moment) will be the frustration over the play calling and the offense's inability to move the ball, and the embarrassment of the spectacular special team lapses that have produced highlight footage for many players and teams this year not sporting UCLA's blue and gold.

Set aside will be UCLA's disturbing three-year run of failing to compete as equals with the Pac-10's best programs during the killer November schedule crunch, calling into question the team's heart and character, not to mention the intentions of those guys who developed this schedule.

Instead, even the crankiest UCLA curmudgeon will have to experience joy on some level if UCLA is able to pull off the tremendous upset it will take to beat Troy on Saturday. Others of us may go on a euphoria-inspired bender we haven't seen the likes of since the Bruins won the NC in hoops in 1995.

Mike Williams (Getty)
On paper, this one isn't even close. Even the Oklahoma game didn't represent the statistical mismatch this game does, because the numbers now represent nearly a full season of play against mostly comparable competition.

Statistically, this Southern Cal team might be its best ever offensively: the 40.7 point average per game is second all-time only to the 1929 team that averaged 41.0 ppg. Over the last six games, Southern Cal is averaging 526.8 yards per game of total offense.

They've rushed for at least 195 yards in each of those six games. Three backs have each rushed for over 400 yards so far.

On the season, the Trojans have produced 16 plays of 40+ yards by eight different players, and have only lost 157 yards from scrimmage as a team. Southern Cal's QBs have only been sacked 12 times all year while being fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. (Drew Olson alone has lost 237 yards.)

Southern Cal combines the best in big play capability with low-risk steady ground gainers, and its current average of 6.6 yards per play is on track to be the best in school history (6.3 in 1979). Before the season started, most Bruin fans worried more about the potency of USC's defense than about the offense. However, Troy's D hasn't quite lived up to expectations, in part because injuries have limited some starters' PT and because the Trojans have experienced so much garbage time. Southern Cal is allowing 321 yards per game on D, but has created 32 turnovers (equal numbers of INTs and fumbles), delivered 36 sacks (good for #2 in the Pac-10), and is allowing only 66.4 yards per game rushing, a number which is substantially improved because of the 463 yards of losses Southern Cal has imposed on its opponents with sacks and tackles for loss.

The weak spot for Southern Cal this year has been its pass defense, which is allowing 255 ypg, well off UCLA's conference leading 196 ypg average, even though UCLA is permitting a 59.2% completion rate to USC's 54.4%. Five teams have thrown for more than 300 yards vs. Troy (4-1), while four teams have been held to less than 200 yards passing (4-0), including Notre Dame, Stanford and Arizona.

It's one thing to point at comparative scores that string together a series of flukes that support the idea that Army is better than Miami. But the Bruins and Trojans have 6 foes in common, which is plenty of grist for the analytical mill.

Southern Cal is 5 and 1, and the Bruins are 4 and 2 on the season vs. common opponents. Against the teams that beat the Bruins, Southern Cal dominated. Southern Cal thumped Wazzu 43-23 while the Cougs put the Bruins away early en route to a 31-13 win, and the Trojans demolished Stanford 44-21 while the Cardinal sent UCLA's season into a death spiral with a 21-14 upset.

Even the glimmer of hope Bruin fans might glean from beating Cal, the only team to beat Southern Cal this year, is dulled by the acknowledgement that the Bruins were vastly outplayed the day UCLA played Cal and would have lost if not for some fortuitous bounces, miskicks and stellar conditioning.

Beyond beating handily the teams that beat the Bruins, the Trojans have more decisively beaten the teams both schools have defeated: compare 45-0 to 24-21 wins over Arizona, 37-17 to 20-13 wins over ASU, and 45-23 to 46-16 wins over Washington, noting that UCLA was behind at halftime of that game 16-7.

The high-powered Southern Cal offense comes courtesy of a basic two-back, one TE, two WR set. However, the play calling is what sets Southern Cal's offense apart from most other teams that run a lot of basic formations. The Trojans seem to have a system in place that allows their O to run the optimal play against the set the D is showing. Play soft on all-world WR Mike Williams, and the Trojans have magically decided to run the quick hitch on that very play. Drop only six into the box, and the Trojans magically decide this is a good play to establish the run.

So much for the old canard that a team must have an experienced, senior QB to win the Pac-10. RS SO Matt Leinart stepped into the starting role without the benefit of even throwing a pass in college. And now he's the hottest QB in the nation, running Norm Chow's Left Coast Offense, at least until John David Booty takes over next year.

What's really amazing about Southern Cal's success on O is that the skill position players are so young: one SO and two true FR at TB; the best WR is a true SO; two true FR see time at WR; the QB is a RS SO. There are three SRs on the OL, but the starting RG (John Drake) is brand new to the program, and the RT is Winston Justice, a true SO.

For the second week in a row, the Bruins face a D with an overpowering DL. Against Oregon, the Bruins were completely overmatched up front and thus were unable to mount any serious scoring threats. And no less an august authority than Tim Tessalone, Southern Cal SID, has declared, "Simply put, USC's defensive line is the best in the nation," so imagine how bad it could get on Saturday.

Kenechi Udeze (Getty)
Kenechi Udeze garners most of the pixels, ranking tied for 3rd in the NCAA with 11.5 sacks, tied for 5th in forced fumbles (0.4/game), and tied for 6th in TFL (1.8/game).

But Mike Patterson, the ultra-quick 6-0, 285 NG, is a vastly disruptive force inside, often splitting the C/OG double team with a leap that gets him a yard or two deep into the backfield. Patterson has six sacks on the year.

At the other interior position, there is Shaun Cody, who has now bulked up to 285 lbs, although he is the first to admit he's not the player he was before his knee injury. Still, he is tied for 2nd on the Trojans with 6 sacks on the year.

Omar Nazel is the fourth member of "Wild Bunch II," but the decision to rush him back onto the field before his thumb surgery backfired on Pete Carroll, and Nazel is now out for the year.

Joining Nazel as out for the game are LBs Daniel Urquhart and Oscar Lua, TEs Dominique Byrd and Alex Holmes, DL Sedrick Ellis and Chris Barrett, WR D. Hale, and DBs Kevin Arbet, Eric Wright and Terrell Thomas. Questionable are FB Brandon Hancock, DT La Juan Ramsey, RB Chauncey Washington and WR William Buchanon. LBs Melvin Simmons is probable, while Matt Grootegoed is doubtful. If Simmons can't go, walk-on Colin Ashton (6-1, 215) will take his place.

On a positive note, the Bruins expect Matt Ware to be 100% at RCB, and Rod Leisle to be 85% at DT. The Bruins are also without some players, such as RB Manuel White, C Mike McCloskey, and TE Keith Carter.

The Trojans are attempting to sweep both Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive years for the only the second time in history. The Bruins have never beaten the Trojans when Southern Cal has been ranked 2nd or higher in the polls (0-4).

Offense:

I'd love to see Karl Dorrell send his UCLA Bruins out onto the field with a puncher's chance.

Come out throwing, send everybody out on patterns, and dump the ball off to the backs as much as possible to put pressure on LBs like Colin Ashton to make open-field tackles. Try the angle pattern as well as the flare to the flat. Use the swing pass whenever it is available. The more UCLA is able to throw early without giving up sacks, the better UCLA's chances of staying close will be.

And if there is a place to attack Southern Cal, it is not running mindlessly up the middle when your OL are physically outmatched. It is passing over the middle.

It is exposing relatively inexperienced LBs like Ashton and Dallas Sartz (subbing for Groots) in the passing game with lots of routes to the backs and drags to the TE/WRs.

Darnell Bing, the true FR SS, is another candidate for exposure because of his aggressiveness. Hopefully, UCLA will take some shots down the field over the middle instead of constantly trying to hit the bomb down the sideline.

If UCLA can stay in the game until the second half, UCLA will then be able to utilize the running game once the D gets a little fatigued. Look, just avoid the big plays in the first half (picks, fum-bulls!, sacks, drive-killer penalties) so that UCLA can hold its head up high. Anything can happen if the game is close late. Maybe there is even some trickeration that can be used to get a cheap score.

Dave Ball (Getty)
The key to staying close is Drew Olson. Drew showed massive stones last week in enduring a fearsome pass rush without losing his composure. The Bruins may have found their quarterback. But to cement that status, Olson has to play with great mental toughness early in the game. Sabotaging the Bruins' chance of victory by drilling a laser into a linebacker's chest on the third play of the game so he can return it for six is so five minutes ago.

I expect UCLA's O to stick with the same game plan it has employed all year: try to establish the run by plunging 5-8 and 5-9 tailbacks into the heart of the D. Be confronted with 2nd/3rd and long. Set the QB up for miracle worker status just to convert one 3rd down play, much less sustain a drive. After 11 games, how can anyone reasonably expect anything else?

And if that's the formula UCLA uses, then it's fair to expect that the O will struggle, just like it has all season.

Defense:

I expect this battle to be the most entertaining part of the game: strength vs. strength. UCLA's D, one of the best in the conference and underrated nationally, vs. the hottest O in CFB, an O that effortlessly runs up huge numbers without breaking a sweat.

Some of the match-ups are almost of legendary status:

Dave Ball vs. Jacob Rogers: Just how good are these guys? Rogers is a projected 1st rounder. Will Ball be able to use his power and tenacity to get through and to Leinart before the pass is away?

Rodney Leisle vs. Lenny Vandermade/John Drake: Vandermade is an undersized 275 lber, while Drake is a jiggly 340. Now that Hot Rod is unburdened with the double teams he's seen in USC games past, will he have a breakout performance similar to his CU game this year? Will his left ankle sprain go away once the adrenaline starts flowing?

Matt Ware vs. Mike Williams: Please, please, please….don't wait for the second half to make the "Reggie Williams adjustment." Just start off with Ware on Williams. Matt Clark is a better fit for Keary Colbert, anyways. Given how reliant USC is on production from their WRs, the Bruins could sow a few seeds of frustration if the CBs come out strong.

Brandon Chillar/Justin London/Spencer Havner vs. the Southern Cal TBs and FBs: If Lendale White can run the ball all day, it's over. But the thought of JLon driving him backwards lights me up. The UCLA LBs will have to play extraordinary games if UCLA is to win. Southern Cal will test the Bruins LBs to the outside with Reggie Bush, inside with White, and in the passing game with Hancock in the flat or up the sideline and Bush up the seam.

The aspect of Southern Cal's offense that concerns me the most is their ability to get their RBs on deep patterns. I just don't envision any of UCLA's LBs being able to cover Bush 30 yards downfield, or being able to run with Hancock on a wheel route out of the offset I.

I expect Jarrad Page to be the sleeper hero of the game for UCLA. His play has been of a very high quality all year long, and he'll have his nose around the ball all day.

Craig Bragg (Getty)
Special Teams:

Once Southern Cal began rolling offensively and defensively last year, Pete Carroll seemed to take a more conservative approach to his special teams: use a steady, sure-handed returner to secure possessions on punts, and pooch a lot of kicks to avoid the big return.

UCLA, obviously, needs superior special teams play in order to have a hope of staying on the field.

Unless Craig Bragg makes some spectacular punt returns, the Bruins' hopes are dim. Conversely, the Bruins can't lose discipline on the punt coverage and get more concerned with tearing Greig Carlson's head off just because he's a hands guy. He's averaging more per return (9.5) than Bragg is (8.3).

Overall:

I'd love to see UCLA spoil Southern Cal's national championship hopes, and stop the streak at four. If everything breaks insanely right for UCLA, we could toast a 17-14 win. The D will lead the way by shutting down Southern Cal and producing a score, and the O won't make the catastrophic mistake that ends the game before it gets started.

My fear is that Southern Cal will outscheme UCLA like everybody else has, make it a blow-out early and run up the score en route to a 52-14 victory.

All things considered, I expect the Trojans to win going away, 42-7.


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