USC Preview

Even if you're realistic about it, and realize that USC will probably beat the Bruins handily Saturday, you can't help to concoct the scenario that would give UCLA the chance to upset the #1 Trojans...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS: -- UCLA travels across town 13 miles to take on USC Saturday in the regular-season finale of the 2005 season at the Coliseum. The game will be televised nationally by ABC at 1:30, with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts calling the action from the booth.

-- UCLA is 9-1 and 6-1 in the Pac-10, and ranked 11th in the country. USC is 11-0, 7-0, and ranked #1.

-- It is the 75th meeting between the two schools, with USC holding a 40-27-1 lead in the all-time series. The series dates back to 1929. Between 1991 and 1998, UCLA won eight straight games against the Trojans, which is a series record. USC has won the last six games in a row.

-- Last season UCLA came close to knocking off the #1 team in the country, ultimately dropping the decision, 29-24, at the Rose Bowl. UCLA scored on a Marcedes Lewis touchdown pass with 2:20 left in the game. After a Trojan fumble, UCLA had one more chance but couldn't mount the game-winning drive. In the game, a clearly botched call by the referees called back a fumble recovery by Spencer Havner that almost certainly would have been returned for a touchdown.

-- USC, of course, is the two-time defending national champion. It's won 33 straight games, 26 home games, 22 Pac-10 games, and has been ranked #1 in the nation for an NCAA-record 32 straight AP polls. USC also holds an NCAA-record 15-game winning streak over ranked opponents.

-- USC is coached by Pete Carroll, the former NFL also-ran who has put together one of the most unprecedented runs in college football history by his fifth year coaching the Trojans. He is 53-9 at USC, after starting off his Trojan career 2-5. USC's 13, 25 and 36 wins over the last previous 1, 2 and 3 seasons represent the winningest span in USC's history. USC currently holds a Pac-10 record for 33 consecutive wins overall, and a Pac-10 record for consecutive conference wins at 22. The 54-year-old Carroll also serves as USC's defensive coordinator.

-- Among rivalries, the UCLA/USC rivalry is the only one in the country that pits two teams from the same city, only 13 miles apart. It's unique in that one city's loyalties are divided between two schools, and the winner earns year-long bragging rights, as well as ownership of the Victory Bell.

-- Among all the big games between the two schools, this year is actually only the third time in 75 meetings that there has only been one loss between the two teams heading into the game.

-- UCLA has never beaten a #1-ranked USC team and only once beated an undefeated USC club. (For a detailed list of the biggest UCLA/USC games, go here.)

-- If UCLA beats USC, it will clinch a share of the Pac-10 title with USC and Oregon. USC would have the Pac-10's automatic BCS berth due to the league's tie-breaking procedures, and UCLA and Oregon would be eligible for a BCS at-large berth. If neither UCLA nor Oregon is selected, the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 29) would have its choice of the two schools due to a tie in the standings. The team not selected would play in the Sun Bowl (Dec. 30).

-- If UCLA does not defeat USC, it will finish in third place in the Pac-10 and play in the Sun Bowl, unless Oregon earns a BCS at-large berth. In that case, UCLA would play in the Holiday Bowl.

-- In this game, you have some of the nation's leaders in various categories competing. USC's Bush is fourth in the nation in rushing (127/game). UCLA's Drew Olson leads the nation in passing efficiency (172.5), and USC's Matt Leinart is fifth (161.9). Bush is #1 in the nation in all-purpose yards (212), while UCLA's Maurice Drew is sixth (165). Drew leads the country in punt returns (29), and is fourth in scoring (11.4). USC's offense is ranked #1 in scoring (49) and total yards per game (571), while UCLA is fifth (48) and 18th (444), respectively. UCLA leads the country in passing efficiency (169) and USC is fifth (160). USC also leads the nation in turnover margin (1.91), and UCLA in team punt returns (25).

-- UCLA is 13-0 in games where it has won the turnover battle under Karl Dorrell, including 5-0 this season.

-- UCLA defensive end Justin Hickman is the son of former USC lineman Donnie Hickman (74-76). USC's offensive guard Fred Matua is the cousin of former UCLA defensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo (1976-78). USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. was a 1987 All-American linebacker at UCLA. USC defensive line coach Jethro Franklin was an assistant at UCLA in 1999.

-- The Victory Bell is awarded to the winner of the UCLA/USC game every year. The 295-pound bell is from a freight locomotive and was originally given to UCLA in 1939 as a gift from the UCLA Alumni Association. In 1941, USC students stole the Bell and hid it in a variety of locations for more than a year. A controversy ensued and school administrations had to intercede. In 1942, the bell resurfaced and, by agreement, became the trophy given to the game's winner every year.

-- USC has a 6-3-3 record against a UCLA team coming off a bye, including victories in the three most recent games. USC is 10-9-1 in UCLA games it has played following its own bye.

-- Undefeated USC teams are 6-1 against UCLA. However, when USC has faced one-loss UCLA teams the record is 3-3-1.

-- UCLA has never beaten a USC team ranked #1, being 0-4, the games being in 1962, 1968, 1972 and 2004.

-- UCLA is currently 22-point underdogs.

USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Do we really have to get into this?

It's the #1 offense in the country against the 102nd-ranked defense. It's the #7-ranked rushing offense in the nation against the 115th rushing defense (out of 117). It's the #1 scoring offense in the country against the 91st scoring defense.

USC's Reggie Bush.
If you can't admit that this is almost certainly going to be ugly than you are the biggest, Bluest Bruin fan.

USC's offense is getting hailed as not only the best in the nation, but the best ever/. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but they could probably make a legitimate case. You have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from last season and the probable Heisman Trophy winner this season as your running back. USC placed six players on the Pac-10 First Team this season, three of them offensive linemen.

USC is averaging close to 50 points per game, and if it continues at that pace for its next two games, it will set an NCAA record for most points in a season. If it also has a chance to set the all-time NCAA record for most yards gained in a season.

USC is the only team in college football history to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and a 1,000-yard receiver.

So, they do have a case.

Good defenses gave up huge amounts of yards and points against the Trojans. California's defense, which is second in the Pac-10 (USC's defense being #1), gave up 435 yards and 35 points.

Washington State's defense allowed 745 yards and 55 points (that's in one game) against USC. Washington State's defense is giving up 442 yards per game while UCLA's is allowing 435. In that game, USC rushed for 312 yards. WSU is allowing 153 yards per game against the run (which is skewered some because of the USC game), while UCLA's defense is giving up 219 yards per game on the ground.

If you're a statistical guy, the numbers are mind-boggling – and frightening.

Probably the closest example would be when USC faced Arizona this year. Arizona's defense, overall, is allowing about 17 yards less per game than UCLA, but they're similar in the way they are poor against the run (second to last in the Pac-10, 183 yards per game). When USC played Arizona, they amassed 724 yards, including 337 on the ground. Bush and USC's other running back, Lendale White (6-2, 235), combined for a total of 289 yards.

You have to predict that USC is going to threaten the 700-yard barrier on Saturday.

The main reason is that USC has the 7th-best rushing offense in the country, averaging 249 yards per game. You have to think that they're going to gain 300+ on the ground.

While Bush gets most of the hype, really, what makes USC's running game so devastating is you have to defend Bush but also defend White. While Bush has 1,398 yards on the season, White has 1,024. Bush is so much more effective because he isn't an every-down back, while White does the heavy lifting. The two of them have run the ball the exact same amount of times on the season, both averaging 14 carries a game.

White, though, injured his shoulder this week in practice and is day-to-day, while most close to the situation believe he'll play. Even if he isn't 100%, heck, you do have the Heisman Trophy-leading Bush to pick up the slack. Some football minds assert that White not playing could be worse for UCLA, that it just gives the electric Bush more touches on the ball.

What also makes USC's run game so effective is their talented offensive line, led by first-team All-American, senior guard Taitusi Lutui (6-6, 365). While USC has gotten some big-named high school recruits in the last couple of years for its offensive line, many of them have kind of blended a bit into the woodwork. Lutui came to USC as a JC player and has really been a huge factor in the interior. He is not only a road grater, he has pretty quick feet for his size. It's horrifying to think about an All-American guard that is 6-6 and 365 pounds going up against UCLA's sophomore defensive tackle, Brigham Harwell, who is giving up at least five inches and 100 pounds, and is also still dinged up from the season (now we're hearing he has turf toe to go along with his chronically sprained ankle).

It doesn't get much better. UCLA's true freshman nose tackle, Chase Moline, will go up against junior center Ryan Kahlil (6-3, 285) who was named Pac-10 first team. On the other side is junior Fred Matua (6-2, 305), a two-year starter who made the Pac-10 second team.

Rounding out USC's all-star offensive line is Pac-10 first-teamer, sophomore Sam Baker (6-5, 305) at left tackle, and then probably the best NFL prospect in the group at the other tackle position, junior Winston Justice (6-6, 300).

Scared yet?

To put it in perspective, facing that offensive line is a defensive line that is missing two starters (Nikola Dragovic and Kevin Brown), starts a true sophomore and a true freshman and uses two redshirt freshmen at tackle off the bench, and is out-weighed by close to 50 pounds per man.

UCLA's Spencer Havner.
There is really no reason for USC to pass the ball, but you know they will, because it's what they do. If you told the USC coaching staff that you could guarantee they were going to gain 7 yards every time they ran the ball (which you probably can), they'd still throw it. They average 322 yards per game through the air, fifth in the country.

Leinart won the Heisman a year ago, and probably won't win it this year, even though he's having a much better senior season. He's thrown for 3,217 yards, 24 touchdowns, against 7 picks for the season. He's had even more time to throw the ball than he did last season, with seemingly no one within 10 feet of him whenever he releases the ball. Leinart, as we all know, is a smart, heady player, who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He doesn't have a greatly powerful arm, but is accurate, while he isn't very mobile. Since he's not very good at it – or not very used to having to do it – when he is pressured and has to move, his efficiency goes down considerably.

It also doesn't hurt when you have some very talented players catching the ball for you. Sophomore Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 210) also made the Pac-10 first team, and he leads the Trojans in receiving with 75 catches for 1070 yards on the season. He is that lethal combination of size and speed, and has very good strength in his upper body which enables him to hold onto passes and throw oft tacklers.

A receiver who would be considered most teams' best is junior Steve Smith (6-0, 195), who has 54 catches for 900 yards on the season. Smith is a truly great possession receiver, with very good hands and agility in getting his body in the right position to make the catch. Freshman Patrick Turner (6-5, 220), another big receiver, has been limited this week in practice due to a hamstring injury and won't play Saturday, and his time will probably go to junior Chris McFoy (6-1, 200).

USC also utilizes its tight ends, but not as much this year as it has done in recent years. Senior Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260) is a round, rolling ball once he makes the catch, and hard to bring down. Sophomore Fred Davis (6-4, 225) also gets a good share of reps.

Anyway you look at it, UCLA's defense has its hands full. Luckily there could be some relief on the way in the form of a healthier Justin London being available. He's been flying around practice all week and looks the healthiest he's been in probably a couple of months. It's a good thing since freshman middle linebacker John Hale has been nicked up and limited in practice this week. But with London close to his real self, he and Spencer Havner will have to have one of their best games to give UCLA's defense even the slightest chance against USC's offense.

Advantage: Oh, come on.

UCLA's defensive coordinator Larry Kerr has received a good deal of criticism this year and last, and it's difficult to ascertain if it's warranted, with the lack of personnel he's had at his disposal. But the USC game gives you a clearer opportunity to assess and grade Kerr's performance since it's truly a nothing-to-lose situation.

UCLA's defense doesn't have much of a chance against USC's offense. So, if you're Kerr, why not really gamble on Saturday? What's the difference? If you don't gamble and play it safe USC is still probably going to put 50+ points on you and 700 yards. This is a clear opportunity for Kerr to try to mix it up, gamble and attempt to do some new things to at least keep USC guessing. New blitz schemes, blitzing from different spots, different coverages, etc., should all be in UCLA's arsenal this weekend. Blitz, blitz, blitz. There really is no excuse not to. UCLA, if it's going to even limit USC's offense somewhat, is going to have to make a number of big defensive plays, and taking a risk in your defensive play-calling only increases your chances of it. And if you get burned, so what? You're going to get burned anyway. The only way UCLA could limit USC is that for every few big USC gainers, there's a tackle for a loss that was caused by a blitz. The Bruins need to force some turnovers, and blitzing and hopefully getting some hits on Leinart is UCLA's best chance to produce them.

It would beyond reason if UCLA's defense comes out and played it safe.

If this ends up, indeed, being a shootout, a couple of stops, a couple of turnovers, could be the difference in the game, and UCLA isn't going to get there by playing a safe defensive scheme.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE

This is where the real competition will happen. UCLA's offense and USC's defense are a great, classic matchup, one of the best offenses in the country against one of the best defenses in the country.

USC's Frostee Rucker.
USC's best defensive unit is easily its defensive line. It's only allowing 116 yards on the ground per game, and its front four are quick, nimble-footed athletes.

The best is arguably senior defensive end Frostee Rucker (6-3, 260), who leads the line in tackles with 50, and leads the team in tackles for loss with 11, along with 5.5 sacks. Rucker is strong and quick and very good at getting around, bigger, less-mobile offensive tackles.

Arguably even better is the other defensive end, sophomore Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 265), who leads the team in sacks with 7 on the season. Jackson is bigger and longer, and uses his length for leverage. Both Rucker and Jackson were named to the first-team Pac-10 defense.

Inside USC doesn't have quite the talent it does on the edge, but it's still pretty good. Sophomore Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 285) isn't all that big, but makes up for it with quickness. Senior La Juan Ramsey (6-3, 290) is bigger and more physical.

The d-line is backed up by a linebacking crew that has been very good against the run this season. Junior middle linebacker Oscar Lua (6-1, 240) is the anchor, leading the team in tackles (58). Sophomore weakside linebacker Keith Rivers (6-3, 220), who has delivered this season on his hype as a high school recruit, is more than likely out for the game with a hamstring injury. He'll be replaced by senior Collin Ashton (6-1, 220). On the other side is freshman Brian Cushing (6-4, 235), who is a physical freak.

USC has a good stable of talented, but fairly young, back-ups at linebacker, including heralded freshman Rey Maualuga (6-3, 250), who is the Trojan's future star middle linebacker, and sophomore Thomas Williams (6-3, 230).

The unit that has had the most questions this year has been the secondary, mostly as a result of losing personnel. Sophomore Josh Pinkard (6-1, 200) was a safety but has been starting at one cornerback spot that has been a thorn for USC all season, with a couple of different players getting hurt at the spot. At the other corner is senior Justin Wyatt (5-10, 185), who is a pretty good cover guy, but has had his moments of vulnerability this season. The corners are probably the weakest spots on USC's defense.

Down the middle is first-team Pac-10 safety, junior Darnell Bing (6-2, 220). Bing is another great physical specimen who can be a big hitter, but has probably been a bit over-hyped this year, since he looks the part so convincingly. Senior Scott Ware (6-2, 215) stepped into the free safety spot vacated by Jason Leach, and he's done well, in fact, many might say he's been more effective than Bing.

UCLA's Drew Olson.
UCLA's offense is entirely dependent on the production from the big three – quarterback Drew Olson, running back Maurice Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis – and you can readily expect the Bruins to rely heavily on them Saturday.

Olson arguably is having a better year than his Trojan counterpart, Leinart. You almost don't want to say anything that would jinx it, but his decision-making has been remarkable, resulting in only three interceptions on the season.

Lewis has carried the receiving crew, with 55 receptions for 711 yards on the season, good enough as a tight end to make many first-team All-American lists.

Maurice Drew hasn't necessarily seen some big holes to run through this season, but the good news is that he's pretty healthy. He was hurt last year for the USC game, and has been nicked up and not 100% for the last several games. He sat out a practice this week just to make sure he was physically good for Saturday. When Drew is healthy, he's a difference-maker.

An issue could very well be UCLA's offensive line, with the Bruins missing two starters for the USC game. Veteran senior center Mike McCloskey is out, and Brian Abraham, the starting tackle, was injured this week in practice and won't play. Abraham's replacement is sophomore Noah Sutherland, who has played quite a bit this year filling in for Abraham, and there are some that believe Sutherland has been at least as effective. There isn't as good a replacement at center for McCloskey, with junior Robert Chai filling in. Chai has done fairly well while McCloskey has been out for three games, but the loss of McCloskey is significant.

The play of UCLA's o-line is a particularly key in this game. More than likely, UCLA will recognize that running the ball is going to be tough-sledding against the Trojans. UCLA has been successful offensively this year when it's dedicated itself to the pass, and it will need a good effort at pass blocking for the o-line to give Olson time to throw and be successful. UCLA's bigger offensive tackles have struggled with smaller, quicker defensive ends, and USC's d-ends are quick on the edge. Sutherland, interestingly enough, could be key here, since he looks to be quicker and better able to contain the end in pass rush than Abraham.

Special teams are another great matchup in this game, with probably the two best return men in the country, Maurice Drew and Reggie Bush, looking to one-up each other. It'd be surprising if UCLA or USC punted to either of them since they're both so dangerous. USC's kicker, Mario Danelo, has been accurate this season, but hasn't attempted too many field goals since USC tends to score touchdowns instead.

Advantage: UCLA

UCLA has the edge in the passing game against the Trojans. Probably the most average performance by USC this season has been in pass coverage, with many offenses and experienced quarterbacks able to exploit the issues USC has had in the secondary. USC's linebackers, too, are much better in run support than in getting back in pass coverage. Last week, Fresno State threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns behind a veteran quarterback and an offensive line that provided him good pass protection, and the Bulldogs put 42 points on the board.

UCLA will study the Fresno State game and look at that as a blueprint for success against USC. The Bulldogs emphasized the pass first, and then ran the ball (for 110 yards) to keep USC's defense honest. And it did. USC had only one sack on the day.

Watch for UCLA to move Olson's launch point around, and try to get the ball into the hands of Lewis, receivers Brandon Breazell and Marcus Everett, and Drew out of the backfield quickly, to avoid USC's pass rush, in the hopes they can make some yards after the catch. USC's defense is all about athletes, with the likes of Bing and Cushing flying around making plays. UCLA will probably employ quite a few screens to exploit USC's ability to pursue, or over-pursue. UCLA, though, will almost certainly test USC's corners deep, to try to at least stretch the field. You can probably expect UCLA to go to Lewis often, going with the guy that got them here. One of the best matchups of the day will be former teammates at Long Beach Poly, Lewis and Bing, possibly going head-to-head.

Prediction:

Because of the massive mismatch between USC's offense and UCLA's defense, you'd have to be completely delusional to predict that UCLA would beat USC in this game.

But that doesn't mean the Bruins don't have a chance to do it.

Regardless of what UCLA's defense does against USC's offense, it will be up to UCLA's offense to win. If early on UCLA can move the ball against USC's defense, they'll more than likely be in this game and have a chance to win. Heck, with the way UCLA's offense has been this year, if they're within three touchdowns going into the fourth quarter, you shouldn't count them out. While USC has also shown a penchant for the dramatic finish this season, they've also shown some vulnerability at the end of games, such as last week against a stubborn Fresno State team who kept scoring in the fourth quarter.

USC has sometimes this year started off slowly, then came out in the second half and finished off its opponent. UCLA has also been a slow-starting team, but then has been very successful in second halves, enough to stage some incredibly dramatic comebacks this year. That could translate, then, into a very interesting, wide-open, shoot-out type of second half. If UCLA's within three touchdowns and has at least showed a moderate ability to move the ball on USC's defense in the first half, don't expect the Bruins to uncharacteristically roll over in the second half like many of USC's opponents have done.

It would be complete gravy if UCLA's defense, somehow, could limit USC's offense to moderate numbers. Well, relatively moderate numbers, like 500 yards and 40 points. If UCLA's defense can just force a couple of turnovers that could be enough to keep UCLA's offense in the game. Don't even think about UCLA's defense possibly getting even a few stops against USC's defense. That, again, would be delusional.

So much will come down to whether UCLA can throw the ball effectively – whether the scheme of UCLA's offensive coordinator Tom Cable is superior to that of Pete Carroll's. If UCLA can't throw, the game is over.

The objective, realistic score prediction:

USC 58
UCLA 31

The homer prediction, predicated on UCLA's offense owning USC's defense, UCLA's defense getting a couple of turnovers, and UCLA winning it on a last-minute drive orchestrated beautifully by Drew Olson:

UCLA 48
USC 45


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