-- The UCLA Bruins close out the regular season when the USC Trojans come to the Rose Bowl Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The game will be televised by ABC.
-- UCLA is 6-5 and 4-4 in the Pac-10, and has recently accepted an offer to play in the Emerald Bowl against Florida State December 27th.
-- USC is 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-10. The Trojans are currently #2 in the BCS rankings, and, with a win over UCLA, would face #1 Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game January 8th.
-- USC, since losing to Oregon State, October 28th, has possibly been playing the best football in the country, beating Stanford, 42-0, Oregon 35-10, Cal 23-9 and last week Notre Dame 44-24.
-- It's the 76th meeting between the two schools in football, dating back to1929, with the Trojans leading the cross-town rivalry, 41-27-7 It's been a story of streaks in the last 20 years, however, with USC having won the last seven in a row, UCLA winning eight straight before that, and USC the four previous to that.
-- Since the start of the 1980s, UCLA leads the series, 13-12-1. The Bruins also are 7-5 against USC at the Rose Bowl.
-- USC won last year's meeting, 66-19. In that game, the late Marcus Cassel led Bruin defenders with 16 tackles.
-- It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Trojans, starting only four seniors, and just one on defense.
-- USC is coached by Pete Carroll, who, in his sixth year, has had a near-unprecedented run at USC. He's won two national championships (2003, 2004), a record fifth-straight Pac-10 title, has four AP top-4 finishes, set a national record for 33 consecutive weeks as AP's #1-ranked team, has won 55 of USC's last 58 games, and is the nation's winningest active coach.
-- USC has been ranked in the AP Top 10 for its past 57 games, a school record.
-- UCLA is coming off a bye, having last played Arizona State in Tempe December 18th, beating the Sun Devils, 24-12.
-- USC has a 7-3-3 record against a UCLA team coming off a bye, including a victory in the last four most recent instances.
-- Twelve Bruin seniors will be suiting up for their last regular season home game: WR Andrew Baumgartner, C Robert Chai, TE J.J. Hair, DE Justin Hickman, LS Riley Jondle, LB Eric McNeal, PK Justin Medlock, FB Dan Nelson, DE Will Peddie, DT Brian Ruziecki, WR Junior Taylor and WR Matt Willis.
USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's the best unit match-up of the day, with USC's offense, ranked 23rd nationally, going against UCLA's 32nd-ranked defense.
USC is averaging 393 yards per game, and UCLA is giving up 302.
While USC's passing game gets much of the glory and publicity, the more critical match-up in this game will be USC's running game against UCLA's rushing defense. USC has a good rushing game, fourth in the Pac-10, averaging 140 yards per game. UCLA's rush defense is #1 in the Pac-10, giving up just 93 yards per game. Whether USC can run the ball or not against UCLA will probably go a long way in determining what kind of game this is going to be.
USC has a two-headed attack at tailback, with junior Chauncey Washington (6-1, 220) splitting time mostly with freshman C.J. Gable (6-1, 190). Washington has been slowed by some nagging injuries, but he's the power guy; Gable is the shiftier, quicker one, but has shown he can also break tackles and get into the secondary pretty well. Freshman Emmanuel Moody (6-1, 195) has taken the second-most carries on the team behind Washington, but it's unsure how much he'll play with a sprained ankle. He returned to practice yesterday. Between the three of them, the tailback position is averaging 149 yards per game.
USC's passing game has really been faring much better in its last several games, after hitting a bit of a slow skid through the middle of the season. It probably isn't a coincidence that the upsurge in passing production happened when junior receiver Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 215) returned to complete health. You could say that Jarrett has keyed the four wins USC has put together since it lost to Oregon State, with 24 catches, 407 yards and six touchdowns in that span. Last week he had a spectacular game against Notre Dame, with three touchdown catches and 132 receiving yards, which accounted for half of the passing total of USC junior quarterback John David Booty (6-3, 210). You could easily make an argument that Jarrett is at least as good as the recent USC great receiver, Mike Williams.
|USC's John David Booty.|
But it isn't enough that USC has one elite receiver, but another besides Jarrett who made the all-Pac-10 first team. Senior Steve Smith (6-0, 200) is on the verge of a 1,000-yard year, having gained 909 on 58 catches, and has shown that he can catch the deep ball as well as be the possession guy.
USC's wide receiver arsenal doesn't end there, either. There's also big sophomore Patrick Turner (6-5, 230) and junior tight end Fred Davis (6-4, 260), who are catching a few balls a game each.
USC's receiving group could be the best in the country, and they're just not talented, but they're big. When you have Jarrett at 6-5, Turner at 6-5 and Davis at 6-4 in the pattern, it's a tough match-up physically.
Booty has had a good season overall, leading the Pac-10 in both passing efficiency (145) and yards per game passing (243). He has really settled in to USC's offense after a few rough games this season and lately has been playing every efficiently. He doesn't have a great arm, but it's an accurate one, while he has shown susceptibility to being rushed into bad throws.
The Trojans' offense, once again, has really benefitted from a very good offensive line, with three Trojan OLs making the All-Pac-10 team: senior center Ryan Kalil (6-3, 285), junior tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 305) and sophomore guard Chilo Rachal (6-5, 300). The OL has dealt with some injuries, but haven't missed a beat this season, being very good at both run blocking and pass protection.
UCLA's defense also hit a rough patch there in the middle of the season, but has since put together two very good defensive games, allowing ASU's good offense just 264 yards, and Oregon State 260. They've done it mostly with improved play in the defensive secondary, with better and more unpredictable coverage schemes coming from defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker that really worked to confuse the ASU and OSU offenses. Chris Horton, UCLA's junior safety, has also been playing with ferocity, and UCLA's two starting corners, Trey Brown and Rodney Van, have played very solidly.
The stalwart of UCLA's defense, though, has been its rush defense. It has really shown this year that quickness can, most of the time, out-perform size. The two DTs, Brigham Harwell and Kevin Brown, have really matured into two very good interior guys.
Most of the publicity that UCLA's defense has received has been about UCLA's two defensive ends, Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis, and deservedly so, since they are second and fourth in the country in sacks per game.
Advantage: Even. Yep, even. USC's offense, while it's very good, doesn't have that scariness to it like it had with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Co. the last few years. It doesn't roll over you like those recent Trojan offenses did, and, even with Jarrett, isn't as one-strike potent. On the other hand, UCLA's defense has proven to be a very good unit, and Walker has done some of his best coaching in recent weeks, mixing man and Cover 2 to keep opposing quarterbacks confused.
A big key to the match-up and, really, to the game, is whether UCLA can do either one of two things, or both: pressure Booty enough to the point he's not as effective as he could be, and limit USC's running game. While USC is very good, and you'd have to probably believe they'll be able to move the ball and Booty will have a decent amount of time to throw, there is enough evidence here to support an argument that UCLA could do well on both fronts. At least enough to keep USC from scoring over 35 points and keep UCLA in the game.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE
This is where the game gets a bit lop-sided. USC has a very good defense and UCLA's offense is a struggling one.
|USC's Rey Maualuga.|
USC's D is led by what has to be one of the best linebacking units in the nation. The Trojans have two probable first-round NFL draft choices playing alongside each other, sophomore middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (6-3, 250) and junior weakside 'backer Keith Rivers (6-3, 230). Maualuga looks like a different species on the field than most other players - a combination of size, speed and aggressiveness you don't see very often. Rivers is almost as impressive. And it doesn't stop there. There is also senior Dallas Sartz (6-5, 240) at the strongside, who's having a great season, leading the team in sacks with 5. Did you notice just how big these guys are - at 6-3, 6-3 and 6-5?
USC, because of its strength at linebacker, will employ a 3-4 sometimes, and it will move around another elite defensive player, sophomore Brian Cushing (6-4, 245). Cushing can be a stand-up DE and look more like a linebacker at times, or put his hand down. He's a guy with the quickness of a linebacker and the strength of a defensive end and USC has done a great job at exploiting his talents.
Up front, the Trojans have gotten very good seasons from junior defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 295) who is quick and strong. Junior defensive end Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 265) got a lot of pre-season hype and maybe hasn't lived up to it, but has still been very good, leading the team with 10 tackles for loss.
In the secondary, USC has another young, freakishly big talent in freshman free safety Taylor Mays (6-4, 225). Mays has really come into his own in recent games, as a true freshman, benefitting from the year of experience. Junior corner Terrell Thomas (6-1, 200) has really stepped up in coverage. USC, during its mid-season lull, showed some vulnerability to the pass, but in recent weeks has really improved as the youngsters in the secondary have matured.
Naming Patrick Cowan the starter at quarterback for UCLA really says a great deal, if you read between the lines. Ben Olson is clearly the more talented, and if he were truly ready to play he'd be starting. So, UCLA has to go with really what is its second choice in Cowan. It wouldn't have boded well if Olson had been named the starter either, after having sat for six weeks with his knee injury he would probably be too rusty to be as effective as you needed him to be.
UCLA's passing game hasn't been good with Cowan recently either. The game plans still stubbornly won't throw the ball down the field enough, and Cowan has been sporadic; at times he looks like he's taking his game to the next level, then he'll go on a really cold streak where the entire passing game looks out of sync.
UCLA's running game hasn't been great. Chris Markey has been running at his optimum level, which is getting that solid 4 yards when there's a hole. But UCLA doesn't get much YAC (yardage after contact), especially in its running game, and generally hasn't been able to get runs over 10 yards in recent games. It makes it very difficult for the dink-and-dunk offense to sustain a drive down the field, and UCLA has severely struggled to do it this season.
Having had the bye week for extra preparation, you can expect UCLA to possibly add a few wrinkles to its offensive game plan this week.
Advantage: USC. This is a pretty considerable advantage. In fact, when you look at this match-up, you really wonder how UCLA is going to score any points. It's been getting points in recent weeks through turnovers and a couple of aberrant big plays, not through any real sustained drives and capability to move the ball consistently. Hopefully UCLA's defense will force USC into some turnovers. And really, at the very least, UCLA needs its offense to get a few first downs so as not to give USC's offense short fields throughout the game. That, at least, UCLA's offense being able to stay on the field for longer than three-and-outs, might keep USC's scoring down, and keep UCLA in the game.
UCLA's special teams is a case of a very good place kicker in senior Justin Medlock, and a punter, Aaron Perez, who could hurt the Bruins considerably this week against USC. If UCLA's offense can't get the ball out of its own territory, and Perez has a couple of those short, fluttering punts that go 35 yards, USC's offense could be setting up consistently on first downs at UCLA's 45 yard line. For USC, its place kicker, Mario Danelo, has been very accurate, converting 13 of 14. When it needs a field goal from 45+, USC opts for David Buehler, who had that big 49-yarder against Cal.
If there's a true weakness on USC's team it is probably their walk-on punter, sophomore Greg Woidneck, who they have kick the ball out of bounds most of the time. Freshman Terrence Austin is now healthy and will return punts for UCLA, that is, if Woidneck keeps one on the field.
With the fake punt working so well against ASU two weeks ago, watch for UCLA to possibly use another trick play in special teams this week. And don't be surprised if you see a trick play out of USC, too.
Prediction: It's definitely not the same type of game as it's been the last several years, where you thought USC would completely whip UCLA. It's still pretty easy to predict USC winning by 20 points, but UCLA's good defense combined with USC's Heisman-less offense gives UCLA a fighting chance.
Dorrell has been criticized for saying this week that if UCLA can just stay in the game, they could have a chance to win. Hey, while many might not like it, he's facing facts. If this game gets away from UCLA early, you could see it getting out of hand. Carroll would like to run up the score, you would think, to convince the country that USC is completely worthy of the BCS Championship game berth. A close call against UCLA and there will be talk that Michigan or Florida might be more deserving.
UCLA has a better chance of staying close - and actually winning this game - than in recent years. Yes, there's even a better chance this year than last, when UCLA came into the game 9-1 but without a defense. Defense keeps you in games, and UCLA has a good one this year.
Now, in just about every game preview on BRO we've very objective, and we receive some flak for not being a little bit more homer-tinged. We actually pride ourselves on that.
But there's one game every year where we just can't bring ourselves to pick the opposing team, and this would be it.
UCLA will force USC into some turnovers, pressure Booty into putting the ball on the floor, and UCLA's receivers will get loose a couple of times on USC's younger defensive backs while UCLA's defense will be good enough to keep USC's offense out-of-sync and Justin Medlock will hit his four field goals.
UCLA pulls off what will be remembered as the biggest stunner in the cross-town rivalry.