USC Preview

UCLA could win. It would take another great performance by the Bruin defense, a few USC turnovers to set up UCLA place-kicker Kai Forbath, a Matt Slater kick-off return, a few UCLA first downs, and a huge amount of luck...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA takes on USC Saturday at 1:30 at the Coliseum. The game will be televised by ABC with Terry Gannon, David Norrie and Jeannine Edwards calling the action.

-- USC is 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-10. The Trojans are ranked #8 in the AP Poll and #9 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll.

-- UCLA is 6-5 and 5-3.

-- It's the 77th meeting in football between the two schools, with the series dating back to 1929. USC leads the rivalry, 41-28-7.

-- In the last 20 years, it's been a matter of streaks in the series. UCLA won eight in a row, from 1991 to 1998. Then USC won seven in a row from 1999 to 2005.  Last year, of course, UCLA won, 13-9.

-- UCLA's eight straight wins in the longest in the series by either team. USC's recent seven-win streak is the longest in the series for the Trojans.

-- Even before 1991 it was still a streaky series. USC went 3-0-1 from 1987 to 1990. UCLA won in 1986 and USC in 1985, but previous to that UCLA won three in a row between 1982 and 1984.

-- Last year, UCLA beat then #2-ranked USC, to keep them out of the BCS Championship game.

-- Allowing USC just 9 points ended the Trojans' NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points.  It was also USC's fewest points since scoring just 6 in a loss to Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl. 

-- USC started the 2007 season as the consensus #1 team, slipped to #2 behind LSU without losing, but then tripped up dramatically when it lost to Stanford 24-23 on October 6th.   It also lost at Oregon on October 27th, 24-17.  Since then, USC has beaten Oregon State, 24-3, Cal in Berkeley, 24-17, and last week won in Tempe against Arizona State, 44-24.

-- USC, at 6-2 in the Pac-10, controls its own destiny in the conference race. If it beats UCLA, it goes to the Rose Bowl outright, even if Arizona State beats Arizona since the Trojans win the head-to-head battle against the Sun Devils. 

-- UCLA still has a chance to go the Rose Bowl, miraculously. The Bruins would have to beat the Trojans and Arizona would have to beat Arizona State.  That would make it a four-way tie for the Pac-10 championship and in a very convoluted tie-breaker formula, UCLA would advance to the Rose Bowl.

-- If UCLA loses to USC, and Arizona beats Arizona State, the Bruins could conceivably be locked out of a bowl game.  Arizona would then have six conference wins, making them bowl eligible, and it would depend on whom the bowls pick to fill the Pac-10's six bowl slots.

-- It's unprecedented that, in the last week of the season, UCLA could either go to the Rose Bowl or miss playing in any bowl game.

-- If USC wins, it will be the sixth consecutive Pac-10 title for the Trojans, a conference record.

-- It's the 36th time in the UCLA/USC rivalry that the Rose Bowl has been on the line for at least one of the schools.

-- USC is in its 77th straight week of being in the AP top 25.

-- When USC is ranked and UCLA is not, the Trojans are 10-6-2.

-- UCLA hasn't beaten a top-ten opponent on the road since 1998, when it beat #10-ranked Arizona in Tucson. UCLA was ranked #3 at the time.

-- An unranked UCLA hasn't beaten a top ten opponent on the road since 1990, when it beat #2-ranked Washington in Seattle.

-- An unranked UCLA has never beaten a top-ten team on the road in its football history (It did beat a #4-ranked USC in 1959 in the Coliseum, when it was the home field for both teams).

-- USC is coached by Pete Carroll.

USC'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

There's a really good unit match-up in this game and a really poor one.

This is the good one.

USC's offense is the third-best in the conference, averaging 416 yards and 31 points per game.

UCLA's defense is the fourth best in the conference, giving up an average of 341 yards and 22 points.

USC's quarterback, John David Booty, has had an up and down season.  A few games in, he was being heralded as Heisman Trophy candidate. Then the Stanford debacle, and then he broke the middle finger on his throwing hand and critics were all over him. Suddenly they discovered that Booty wasn't a great athlete and not very mobile ( Perhaps his broken finger affected his legs?).  Booty sat out three games, one of them the loss to Oregon, and the Trojan world was crashing.

But Booty returned for the last three games, with his finger healed, and has looked good. In USC's last game, against Arizona State, which has a good pass defense, Booty went 26 of 39 for 375 yards and four touchdowns.  Suddenly, now, USC followers are back on the Booty bandwagon.

USC's skill guys aren't at the level of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush or Dwayne Jarrett, but if they didn't have those shadows looking over their shoulder you'd probably think they were better than they are.

USC has a deep tailback group, led by Chauncy Washington (SR, 6-1, 220), who is a big load to bring down. When he gets into the defensive secondary he's a train. Behind Washington, getting a decent amount of carries per game are two guys that would be starting for 90% of the college football teams around the country - Stafon Johnson (SO, 6-0, 210) and Joe McKnight (FR, 6-0, 180). 
Tight end Fred Davis.


Catching Booty's passes is perhaps one of the best tight ends in the country in Fred Davis (SR, 6-4, 250). Davis has 49 catches for 753 yards on the season. He's among the top five receivers in the conference, which is quite an accomplishment for a tight end.

Patrick Turner (JR, 6-4, 220) is the next big receiver in the line of Jarrett and Mike Williams, and he's having a very good year.  If Turner is Jarrett, then Vidal Hazelton (SO, 6-3, 210) is Steve Smith.  There aren't too many two-receiver combinations in the nation that have been as good as Turner and Hazelton this year.   David Ausberry (R-FR, 6-4, 225) is the third guy and another big kid who isn't necessarily flexible but he is strong.  The Trojan's fullback, Stanley Havili (FR, 6-1, 225), has caught the ball (26 receptions) more than he's run the ball from scrimmage.

There has been some talk that USC's offensive line has been disappointing this year, and there have been games when they've gone into some funks of ineffectiveness. But there aren't too many teams across the country that wouldn't take USC's OL in a second.  The line has had some nicks here and there, but after two weeks off it could be the healthiest it's been all season. Its leader, tackle Sam Baker (SR, 6-5, 305), is thought to be recovered from a hamstring injury.

UCLA's defense, too, is probably hitting its stride, amazingly enough since it's been trudging through a very discouraging season. It might have posted its game of the year last week against Oregon, when it kept the Ducks off the scoreboard.   Fittingly, too, its leader, Christian Taylor, had perhaps one of his best games of the season.  There are a few little injuries, but safety Chris Horton, after suffering a concussion against Oregon, returned to practice this week and will play.

Advantage: USC.  It's not overwhelming, however.  The UCLA defense has been inspired, even in defeat, over the last month.  They have truly kept UCLA in every game - and it's not hard to say that they won last week's game against Oregon by creating points off turnovers.  UCLA's D will have to do it again, because they can't expect too many points from their offense. 

USC's line has generally been very good against the rush this season, allowing just 14 sacks in 11 games. But they might still be seeing visions of Bruce Davis from last year's game in the Rose Bowl when, by the fourth quarter, the USC OL was puffing and on its heels and Davis was running right around them.  You can bet USC's OL wants a second crack at Davis. 
UCLA DC DeWayne Walker.


UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker has done some of his best coaching and scheming in the last month, when UCLA has gone 1-3.  Instead of playing it conservatively, he's been aggressive, blitzing the quarterback from many different spots and pushing his defensive backs to be physical. It's resulted in probably too many pass interference calls, but you'd rather have them getting those and being aggressive than sitting back passively and allowing offenses to pick them apart. He's combined a consistent and unpredictable pass rush with aggressive pass coverage, and it's worked.

Last year, after UCLA's win over USC, Walker said, "As far as I was concerned, it was me against Booty. If I could get into his head, we could win."  You have to love that kind of talk, and you can expect Walker to aggressively blitz Booty again in an attempt to rattle him like he was in last season's game. 

The edge, however, must go to USC. They had their best offensive game of the season against Arizona State, and Booty looked very comfortable.  With the game in the Coliseum, he'll be even more in his comfort zone. The Gutty Bruins will maintain the stiff upper lip enough to not allow the Trojans to walk through them, but the burden of a disappointing season, having to carry the team since the UCLA offense is so ineffective, and the overwhelming minutes they'll undoubtedly spend on the field will probably be enough to make UCLA's defense falter, giving USC enough opportunity to put winning points on the board.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. USC'S DEFENSE
Patrick Cowan.


This is the bad mis-match. You have the 9th-ranked offense in the conference against the #1 defense in the conference. It's the 89th-ranked offense in the nation against the #2-ranked defense.

If you thought the Oregon game was ugly, you ain't seen ugly.

Yes, UCLA will get back its #1 quarterback, Patrick Cowan. But Cowan hasn't played in the last two games, and the two he played in before that he was playing gimpy, and he's still not 100%.  Cowan, too, hasn't thrown for more than 167 yards in a game yet this year. Now he faces a defense that allows just 181 yards per game in the air.  Cowan is a tough gamer, but it's just too much to expect him to come in as the savior of the UCLA offense and slice through USC's defense.

UCLA's offense, if it's been able to do anything this season, it's been decent at running the ball.  Last week against Oregon, Chris Markey returned to get significant minutes, and ran hard. Walk-on Craig Sheppard also ran with conviction.  However, the under-manned Bruin backfield will now be facing the fourth best defense against the rush in the country. Up front, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (SR, 6-2, 305) is a force, recently being named to one of the first All-American teams of the season.  The scary thing is, if it wasn't Ellis getting All-American recognition, it might have been defensive end Lawrence Jackson (SR, 6-5, 270), who has 9.5 sacks on the season.  USC is also expected to have starting defensive tackle Fili Moala (JR, 6-5, 295), who suffered a concussion against ASU.
Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.


The biggest indication as to how good USC's defense is:  It doesn't have a player in the top 20 for tackles in the conference. If a player is getting a ton of tackles, sometimes it's an indication of how good he is, but it can also indicate that he might be the clear standout on a mediocre defensive unit.  USC's defense has so much talent they spread the wealth when it comes to tackles.

USC's linebackers look like an NFL linebacking group. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (JR, 6-3, 250) is, in fact, expected to jump to the NFL after this season and is projected to be among the top few linebackers drafted. Perhaps the only encouragement UCLA fans might have is that Keith Rivers (SR, 6-3, 235), the weakside 'backer, who is having an All-Conference season and is USC's leading tackler, has an ankle sprain. It's believed he'll start, however.

The element that has pushed USC's defense to such heights has been its defensive secondary. Coming into the season the front seven were known to be good, but there was some uncertainty among the DBs.  Really, the uncertainty was, among all of USC's talent, which guys would step up and take control of the cornerback spots. Cary Harris (JR, 6-0, 180) and Terrell Thomas (SR, 6-1, 200) have been stellar. Then there is linebacker-sized safety Taylor Mays (SO, 6-4, 225).

UCLA's offense, in its last four games, has averaged 268 yards per game, and just 138 yards through the air.  You could say that neither Cowan nor Ben Olson played much in those games, but they haven't done much better, especially on the road.  In Cowan's one road game, he threw for 167 yards.  Cowan and Olson, on the road, combined to complete just 48% of their passes.

That didn't get it done against Utah, Washington State and Arizona. You need some good medication to think it will do the job against USC.

Advantage: USC.  It's this easy: If UCLA is going to win this game it's not going to do it as a result of the offense scoring points.  Realistically, the goal of UCLA's offense should be to 1) not turn over the ball, and 2) sustain a few little drives, get some first downs, take some time off the clock and keep USC's offense off the field.

I have no idea how they're going to do it.  It would take a complete departure from the way this offense operates, and that's highly unlikely.

Prediction

For UCLA to win this game, it will, first, need a huge performance from its defense. It will have to keep USC under 20 points. Because, for UCLA to get 20 points from anywhere but its offense is going to be a big task.  UCLA's best chance to score will be place-kicker Kai Forbath and kick-off returner Matt Slater. and it'd be stupid - or arrogant - of USC to kick the ball to him.

So, UCLA's offense needs to stay mistake-free and get a few first downs here and there, and then maybe the defense can get a few turnovers to set up Kai Forbath for a few field goals. Hopefuly that, and a return by Slater, and UCLA could get into double figure scoring.  But then again, UCLA's defense will have to keep USC's offense under wraps. It did it last year, and it'd be an amazing feat if it did it again.

You'd have to think USC is going to come out with ferocity. UCLA kept them from the BCS Championship Game a year ago.  They've seen "13-9" all over Los Angeles for a year. They want to prove, in this year of some questionable teams at the top of the BCS rankings, that, despite who makes it into the BCS Championship, they are the best team in the country.

Karl Dorrell, in the Coliseum, has lost to USC by an average of 36 points.

In its last four appearances against USC at the Coliseum, UCLA has averaged 12 points. And that was with better UCLA offenses - and against generally worst USC defenses - than this season.

USC 34
UCLA 6

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