USC: Can UCLA Shock the World?

It's the 75th anniversary of the Crosstown Rivalry when the USC Trojans come to the Rose Bowl on Saturday to meet the Bruins. What will it take for UCLA to stay with the #1-ranked and explosive Trojans?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- #1-ranked USC (11-0, 7-0) comes to the Rose Bowl Saturday for the 74th edition of the crosstown rivalry.

-- Kickoff is at 1:30. The game will be televised nationally by ABC, with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts calling the action.

-- It's the 75th anniversary of the series, which goes back to 1929.  USC leads, 39-27-7. It has definitely been a series of streaks in recent years, with USC having won the last five after UCLA won eight in a row, the longest streak in the series.  Before that, USC won four games in a row.

-- USC is, of course, ranked #1 in the BCS. A win would secure a berth in the BCS Championship game in the Orange Bowl.

-- USC has won 31 of its last 32 games, and currently has a 20-game win streak, its longest in more than 70 years.

-- Last year, then #2-ranked USC beat UCLA at the Coliseum, 47-22, after the Trojans jumped out to a 30-0 lead.

-- USC has two players on the short list of candidates for the Heisman Trophy, junior quarterback Matt Leinart and sophomore running back Reggie Bush.

-- UCLA's last win over a #1-ranked opponent came in 1976, when it beat top-ranked Ohio State, 23-10, in the Rose Bowl.

-- UCLA has faced a #1-ranked USC team on three previous occasions, in 1972, 1968 and 1962. USC won all three games.

-- Fourteen senior Bruins will be playing their last home game in the Rose Bowl Saturday: WR Craig Bragg, CB Matt Clark, DL Eyoseph Efseaff, FS Ben Emanuel, P Chris Kluwe, LB Ben Lorier, OL Paul Mociler, FB Pat Norton, WR Tab Perry, FB Steve Seigel, DL Charles Thompson, OL Steven Vieira, LB Tim Warfield and RB Manuel White.

-- UCLA last played November 13th, when it beat Oregon in Eugene. It went through a very long off-period, a total of three weeks between the Oregon and USC games.

USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

This is really the ugly matchup in the game, obviously. It pits the #2 offense in the Pac-10 (and #15 in the country) against the worst (statistically, at least) defense in the Pac-10.

But there could actually be worse matchups for the UCLA defense. For instance, Cal's offense was a worse matchup, pitting a very strong running team against UCLA's poor run defense.

USC's running game is good, but not excellent. It's third in the Pac-10 in rushing yards (170 per game), behind Cal and UCLA.  It has some very good running backs, but its offensive line has been just good, not great, in run blocking. 

USC running back Reggie Bush.

Sophomore running back Reggie Bush (6-0, 200) gets a lot of the hype because he's the speedy, big-play guy. But sophomore Lendale White (6-2, 235) is in the opinion of many the far scarier offensive player. White is huge, quick and tough. He breaks tackles easily and is the guy USC uses to really wear down defenses.  For UCLA's front seven, which has been burned by good running backs all season, White is really public enemy #1.

But that's not to discount Bush, who perhaps is the best big-play guy in the nation. USC uses White more as a running back than Bush, but utilizes Bush as a receiver often, wanting to get his speed and moves out into the open field.  He's USC's second leading receiver, with 35 catches on the season.  Also being one of the biggest threats in the nation as a punt and kick-off returner, Bush is #7 in the country in all-purpose yards and #1 in the Pac-10. 

If there is a weak spot in USC's offense, it would be their young offensive line. The Trojans start only one senior, guard John Drake (6-4, 350), and he's just a sometimes starter. Perhaps USC's best OL this season has been freshman tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 290).  Saying, really, that the USC offensive line is the "weak" spot is probably over-stating it, though. USC's OL is good, just not on the same level as the rest of its stellar offense.

USC's running game is opened up by the Trojans' passing game, which is one of the best around, under innovative offensive coordinator, Norm Chow.  USC, many times, can start out a game passing on its first 10 plays, from many different sets, throwing to as many as six or seven different receivers by that tenth play.   It spreads the field and keeps defenses, particulary defensive secondaries, guessing. 

One of the biggest question marks for USC after last season was how it would replace its two big receivers, Mike Williams and Kerry Colbert.  While USC's receivers haven't been near as effective as those two, who were probably the best receiving duo in the country a season ago, they've definitely had some guys to step up in their absense. Most notably is true freshman Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 195), who's size and speed has gone a long way to help ease the loss of the size and speed of Mike Williams. Jarrett started the season slowly, but has really come on in the second half, leading the team in receptions. Most surprising is the explosiveness for his size.  Steve Smith (6-1, 195), the sophomore, is also remarkably similar to Kerry Colbert, being a very precise route runner with excellent hands.  He had been out for a while but returned last week against Notre Dame to have a good outing. Sophomore Chris McFoy (6-1, 195) filled in for Smith when he was gone, and is a good third wideout.
USC also utilizes its tight ends very well, and seniors Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260) and Alex Holmes (6-3, 270) have benefitted. Byrd is particularly quick for his size and tough after the catch.

All of this, USC's entire offense, is completely dependent, though, on its quarterback. Junior Matt Leinart (6-5, 225) isn't a Heisman candidate for nothing. He's smart, operates Chow's offense particularly efficiently, and throws a very accurate ball.  He's not very athletic and doesn't have great escapability, but his talents - that of intelligence and great throwing accuracy - really shine in Chow's offense.

UCLA's Jarrad Page and Spencer Havner.

UCLA's defense, to put it mildy, has its work cut out for it.  As stated above, though, it's not the worst matchup imaginable. UCLA's front seven have struggled against the run all season, and running the ball isn't the strongest aspect of USC's offense.  With further time to heal his high-ankle sprain, middle linebacker Justin London should be even more like his old, quicker self.  And while many have said that having three weeks off could hurt a team, for a young defensive line like UCLA's, it only gets them more practice time and potential for improvement.  The DL, too, has been hampered by little injuries all year, to starting defensive ends Kyle Morgan and Brigham Harwell, as well as to defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu. Having three weeks off helps to get all of the little nicks completely healed which, collectively, can add up to quite a bit and hinder a defense.

The best matchup will be between USC's receivers and UCLA's good secondary.  Strong safety Jarrad Page is probably the team's best defensive player. Cornerback Matt Clark was named to the Pac-10 first team for the season, after having a great year.  It helps that UCLA gets back another strong player in safety Chris Horton from injury. 

Advantage: USC.  It's not really a matter if UCLA's defense would be able to stop USC's offense, but actually just keep an excessive amount of points off the board.  UCLA will try to limit USC's big-play potential, which has ignited USC in many games. There have been times when the Trojans, early on in a game, weren't playing particularly well, but then one big play from Reggie Bush and the Trojans, just a few minutes later, buried their opponent.  You might think that USC could be content with trying to run the ball a great deal against UCLA's rushing defense, but Chow can't help but use his entire scheme and will undoubtedly put the ball up. The Bruins, after having three weeks off, will undoubtedly throw a few different defensive looks at the Trojans, trying to confuse Leinart just long enough to disrupt his rhythm. UCLA hasn't been able to mount a very good pass rush for most of the season, and USC's offensive line has been good at protecting Leinart. But UCLA will try to put just enough pressure on Leinart to get him to hurry throws.  UCLA's defensive secondary will have the big task of trying to limit Bush and the other big-play guys. They'll probably give up a number of 15-20 yard runs to Lendale White, as long as they're able to keep USC from putting up the quick points.  If Bush or Jarrett have a big play early, and gets USC rolling, UCLA's defense could be on its heels for most of the game.

UCLA's OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE

Among UCLA and USC units for the last several years, this is probably the most even matchup we've seen. UCLA has a potent offense, with the #2 rushing offense in the conference, while USC leads the Pac-10 in defense, and is #1 in rushing defense. Both UCLA's offense and USC's defense have seemed to get better as the season has progressed.  It's strength against strength, power against power.

USC's defense is led by Co-Defensive Pac-10 Player of the Year, senior defensive tackle Shaun Cody (6-4, 295).  Cody leads the team in sacks, which is impressive for a tackle, using that once-defensive end speed to blow by blockers.

Shaun Cody, USC's defensive tackle.

USC's front seven is probably the best UCLA has faced all season. Besides Cody, there is standout senior defensive tackle Mike Patterson (6-0, 290), who, in his small, stocky body employs very good lateral quickness to shed offensive linemen. Patterson leads the team in tackles for loss, with 14.  Someone to definitely watch is true freshman defensive end Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 25), who has played very well off the bench.

Behind the strong defensive line is a very good group of linebackers, led by junior middle-linebacker Lofa Tatupu (6-0, 225), who has gone beyond expectation to have an All-Conference season, collecting 82 tackles for the year.  Senior outside linebacker Matt Grootegoed (5-11, 215) is quick and has great instincts for the ball. With USC's DL holding up the opposing team's offensive line, these two fly all over the field. Grootegoed is a particular ballhawk on pass defense. 

The weakest unit on USC's defense is easily its secondary. And, like when we said USC's offensive line was the weakest aspect of its offense, everything is relative.  Leading the back four is fast, big-hitting sophomore safety Darnell Bing (6-2, 220), who has the NFL written all over him.  USC's cornerbacks can be vulnerable. Junior Justin Wyatt (5-10, 180) has good quicks but can get lost, as can freshman Eric Wright (5-11, 190).

UCLA's offense, again, matches up pretty well against USC's defense. When you face a good rushing defense, you want to have your strength as your running game. UCLA could be at a bit of a disadvantage with the possible loss of Maurice Drew to a sprained ankle. He re-injured it this week in practice and while UCLA says he's 50-50 for the game, it appears he's more doubtful than that.  Freshman running back Chris Markey proved pretty worthy against Oregon two weeks ago, but he is just a true freshman, playing in his first USC game.  Manuel White, playing his last game as a senior in the Rose Bowl, and having played exceptionally well in the latter half of the season, will have to be the steady, dependable aspect of the UCLA running game.

UCLA's offensive line has had a good year, and caps it off going against perhaps the toughest defensive line they've faced all season. The interior matchups could be tough for the Bruins, with freshman offensive guard Shannon Tevaga facing USC's All-Conference defensive tackles.

UCLA has probably its clearest advantage overall in facing USC in its receiver group.  Craig Bragg, UCLA's all-time reception leader, is quite a bit healthier. Senior Tab Perry ha had a good all-around comeback senior year.

UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Perhaps where UCLA has its biggest individual advantage is with tight end Marcedes Lewis.  Because of his size, UCLA will try to get him matched up with USC's smaller defensive backs as much as possible. 

UCLA quarterback Drew Olson is coming off his best all-around performance as a Bruin against Oregon three weeks ago. He made great decisions and showed some newfound wheels in running the ball.  A big question will be how much time does Olson have to operate. USC leads the Pac-10 in sacks with a whopping 45 on the season. But, on the other hand, UCLA leads the league in the least amount of sacks allowed, just 14.

Advantage: Slightly to USC.  If Maurice Drew were healthy, we'd give the nod to UCLA's offense. But when you face such a tough rushing offense as USC's, you need all of your best weapons, and the potential loss of Drew could be significant.  The three weeks off will have a big impact on the game, possibly in many different ways. It could, very well, get UCLA's West Coast Offense out of rhythm. It could, also, give UCLA enough time to put in some wrinkles to keep USC's defense guessing.  It's really a great matchup of two great units.  UCLA, while it will be stubborn and try to run, will need to exploit is advantage in the passing game to be competitive. Watch for UCLA to try to get the ball off quickly to avoid USC's rush, and try to create space for its receivers underneath by stretching the field.   The key to UCLA being in this game, and having a chance to win it, is UCLA's offense being able to control possession. If it can hold on to the ball and keep USC's offense off the field, the Bruins will have a chance.

Another good matchup is in special teams, with USC's big-play potential against UCLA's solid coverage teams.  Also, it's a matchup of perhaps the two best kicking duos in the Pac-10. 

Prediction:  Of course, every indicator points to USC, with USC winning fairly easily. Most prognisticators are picking USC by three touchdowns.  And, you'd have to be a fool to make a prediction that went against that.

But heck, that's what Bruin Report Online is all about - making foolish predictions.  For no other reason than it's time UCLA competed with USC in this game, we'll say that the Bruins are going to keep the game close. We would actually go out on a limb and predict UCLA to beat the Trojans on Saturday. Heck, this week is the one week we can throw out that damn objectivity and succumb to homerism. But many readers have said (erroneously, really) that when we've picked UCLA to win recently, they've lost. So, given that we're always trying to make our readership happy, we won't predict a UCLA win, just for mojo reasons. But in reality, we are.  We'll say that this UCLA teams comes out loose and with nothing to lose, senses they can stay with the Trojans early, and then UCLA's offense starts to dominate the line of scrimmage and eat up clock, enough to keep the Bruins in it until the end when they win it on an interception and touchdown return by Spencer Havner. But again, for mojo reasons...

USC 48
UCLA 41


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