USC has been at its best in the first quarter, outscoring opponents 82-24. They have actually been more prolific in the second and third quarters, scoring 113 and 103 points respectively, but in the Trojans' two big road wins at Notre Dame and Oregon, it was how they set the tenor in the first fifteen minutes.
In South Bend, USC destroyed the Irish at the line of scrimmage, taking all the electricity out of Notre Dame Stadium with two punishing touchdown drives and a 14-0 lead.
In Eugene, the defense showed it was ready to handle the Ducks' spread offense by allowing just 10 yards rushing, while Matt Barkley exploited the outmanned Oregon secondary. It was 7-0 at the end of the quarter, 14-0 one play into the second.
Both starts allowed USC to determine the pace of the game the rest of the way. If they can do the same again, the Trojans can force UCLA's run-based Pistol offense into uncomfortable situations.
Don't Give UCLA Anything Easy
Watching Texas A&M implode on Thanksgiving night against Texas provided the perfect blueprint of what not to do in a rivalry game. The Aggies had four turnovers, including a 58-yard pick six, gave up another long touchdown on a double pass and an 81-yard punt return to set up a field goal.
Those gaffes allowed Texas A&M to waste a strong defensive performance, but that's what can happen in these situations where emotions can trump talent.
USC needs to make UCLA earn everything. That means watching out for trick plays, a stout effort on special teams and no turnovers.
That last point is especially crucial, given how two defensive touchdowns by linebacker Malcolm Smith gave the Trojans breathing room in close contests the last two years.
Limit Rosario and Fauria
Not since Notre Dame has the USC defense seen a wide receiver-tight end duo like that the Bruins will employ with Nelson Rosario and Joseph Fauria. Each is physically imposing – Rosario is 6-foot-5, 219 pounds, while Fauria is an imposing 6-8 – and more than capable of making the remarkable look easy.
Rosario's one-handed catch that he pinned against the back of a Houston defender was a SportsCenter staple for weeks.
The two have combined for eight of UCLA's 14 touchdowns through the air this season, with 75 receptions and 1,246 yards.
Cornerback Nickell Robey has shown he can contain bigger receivers such as Michael Floyd of Notre Dame or Arizona's Juron Criner, but the small and speedy outside linebackers might have issues with Fauria.
A healthy pass rush will go a long way to limit the effectiveness of Rosario and Fauria, but the coverage behind the defensive line must be at its best.
It might be one thing if this was the last home game at the Coliseum for the seniors and a handful of others expected to enter the NFL, but this is the last game period.
No Pac-12 championship, no bowl because of the postseason ban imposed by the NCAA, so everyone must be ready to hold off the flood of emotions that come with that one last moment.
Factor in the intensity of the city championship, personal fouls and extracurricular activities must be reigned in.