Deshaun Foster grabbed keys for a new Ford Expedition, but with them he might also have taken the Bruin's keys for success against the USC Trojans.
The Bruins and Trojans have been going toe to toe since 1929 and even though USC holds a decisive edge, almost every game has been a battle. Despite the media's love affair with Ucla through the majority of the 2001 season, there are many reasons why this game will be no different then all the great match ups that preceded it.
While the Trojans were fighting for their lives in close contests through the beginning of the season, the Bruins were on a six game winning streak. That effort carried the boys in blue to a top five ranking and gave their star running back true Heisman Trophy hype. However, once both programs reached the middle of their schedules a shift began. Despite serious injuries to key personnel, the Trojans turned the corner and began to win. The Bruins got abandon alongside the 405 freeway while their driver, Foster, went in search of a preferred parking space, losing three straight. Now, near the end of both campaigns, USC holds a half game lead in league play feasting on teams the Bruins got well on earlier in the year.
Three common opponents; three similar outcomes. The first game comparison, the Oregon Ducks:
In Eugene the USC Trojans came out the loser, when Oregon was able to convert on a last second field goal. At home, the Bruins attempted a similar comeback against the Ducks, but their kick fell short of it's goal. In both games the Bruins and Trojans put up similar numbers with USC totaling 451 yards of offense while giving up 303 yards. The Bruins accumulated 441 yards while allowing 356. And despite Ucla's recent reputation as having the Pac's best defense, the Trojans held the Ducks to 80 yards rushing while the Bruins gave up 161 yards. The Ducks were able to put up solid numbers on the ground, despite losing their starting running back before the start of the second half. Both LA teams lost, but the Trojans played a better game and did so on the road in hostile Eugene.
The Cal Bears quickly became the Pac 10's ugly step child, losing every one of their contests. Again the Bruins and Trojans played this opponent in similar fashion with both teams flexing their muscles and winning by more than forty points. Two principal differences was that, again, SC faced Cal on the road and did so with the Bears Kyle Boler back from injury. SC held Cal to 100 fewer yards in total offense, most of that stinginess being against the Bear's ground game. While the Bruins put up almost 100 yards more in offense. In either case, the victories were nearly identical and by this point for USC, they managed this effort without their top three running backs.
Stanford: A team that dealt both teams with painful losses, the Cardinal has managed to become the Pac's leading offensive squad. The first half of Ucla's matchup might have been their worst performance since an ugly display against the Buckeyes earlier in the season. The Bruins were forced into a game of catch up and got close before the door was closed on them. The Trojans were in the game throughout, but made constant mistakes and never recovered. What was amazing in both teams' games was the similarity in almost every statistical category.
In these three matchups and really throughout the season, the Bruins and Trojans have often played very similar football, despite each team's records. Because of that, there is no reason to think this will be anything but a close contest. So where can USC hope to find those keys to success against the Bruins their key offensive player so selfishly gave away?
Immediately SC will look to their defense to shut down the run, forcing the erratic Paus to play the game of his career. The Trojan linebackers should match up very well if the Bruins try to use the speed of Akil Harris to the outside. If, however, the Bruins show patience with their game plan and go between the tackles with big running back, Manuel White, it could eventually wear down the interior of SC's defense. However, smashmouth football has never been Ucla's style and they aren't comfortable enough with that to rely on that for an entire game of this magnitude.
"The USC game, I don't think a lot needs to be said at this point. It's a tremendous rivalry. It's the best rivalry game I've ever been associated with. I've been associated with the Civil War game between Oregon and Oregon State, and the Texas A&M/Texas game. Nothing beats this one. The emotions for this game are unbelievable. You just don't understand it until you're right there on the field. When you come out of the locker room for warm-ups and the end zones are full and the fans start screaming and yelling at you, you know the rest of the stadium is going to be full. It's really exciting. It kind of brings out the best in everyone I really believe. And over the years, the thing that has been kind of fun about this game is that the heroes are usually the unlikely ones. The guys that end up being the heroes are the guys that haven't done as many things during the course of the year. Or sometimes even the course of their careers. All of the sudden they come on, make great plays and do great things."
Eventually, Toledo will have to ask his quarterback to run the show and that is when USC can take advantage.
The Trojan defense is +11 in the turnover margin, averaging a touchdown per game for the last three weeks. Troy Polamalu, the Pac's leading tackler, is SC best bet to turn this game around. Next to him in the nickel, is another heavy hitter in Kevin Arbet. Arbet the Polamalu together, have become a near wrecking crew for the Trojans. Both men have returned interceptions for touchdowns and caused enough turnovers to feed the entire league. And with Antuan Simmons moved up to his natural position of corner, it is the Trojan secondary that can give SC a solid shot at victory, when the Bruins eventually go airborne. Look for Toledo to run the ball 40+ times and trying to maintain control of the game. If SC can jump out early, cause turnovers and put the Bruins into a passing/catch up mode, shifting Toledo's game plan, then the game tilts to the Trojan's advantage.
Carroll and Company must come up with their own unique wrinkles to keep their bowl hopes alive. Offensively, USC has their work cut out for them. The Trojans have struggled all year going three and out, leaving their defense on the field far too much to control most of their contests. And they are now going against the statistically best defense in the Pac. Norm Chow has turned to the one weapon injury cannot take away, the play clock. USC has mastered the art of time management, using every second possible to increase the time consumed during their drives. Playing keep away, however, will not be enough to keep possession of the victory bell. Carson Palmer had a huge game last year in SC's last second victory. He is going to have to double that effort this year because his supporting cast is nowhere to be found. MacKenzie, McCullough, Allmond and Stevenson, all had big games against the Bruins, but this year either through injury or off field mishaps, none have produced. So, with a virtual cast of rag tags, Carson Palmer is going to have to lead the charge. But winning with unsung heroes is what the SC/Ucla game is all about and thus far the Trojans have answered the call.
In last week's crushing victory over the Cal Bears, Norm Chow revealed a glimpse of what the Ucla Bruins might expect come Saturday. The Trojans offered five receiver sets, empty backfields, the "I," option, reverses and the deep ball. And with that group of second and third teamers, they were able to execute it all well enough to give Ucla's Defensive Coordinator nightmares. Three things must happen for SC to keep offensive control: limit the turnovers, run the ball outside consistently and complete passes to the tight end over the middle. If SC can spread the field out with pitch plays to Howard and short posts to Holmes, then Ucla will not be able to pin their ears back and come after Carson. It has been rumored that Dickerson will be moved to wide receiver due to Colbert's ankle problem. If this is the case, then Kori's could prove to be the game beater as he will draw doubles most the day, forcing Manning to go one on one with Kelly and leaving a linebacker to cover Holmes. Spreading the Ucla defense wide will be SC's greatest opportunity to execute offensive drives. It will also be imperative that when reserves like Cassell, Mattos, Stevenson and Butler do come in, that they play as they were coached. Chow's system is just that, a system that relies upon execution to work. Because SC is playing with so skill position starters, execution will be king.
The trenches will prove Norm's greatest challenge. The Ucla defensive line is the best SC has faced all season. Chow will have to design his series around quick release and crease football. He cannot expect his offensive line to hold their blocks for too long or open too big a hole. All the more reason why the speed of Howard and the tight ends will come into major play.
On the flip side of this, USC is fielding it's youngest defensive line in a decade. The team has played well, but will meet their match against a solid Bruin offensive front. Carroll's group executed some fantastic defensive schemes against Cal that confused the Bear's quarterback enough to give SC a turnover resulting in a touchdown. It will be this mixing of stunts and zones, along with coverage sacks that could force the slower Paus out of the pocket and keep Ucla on its heels throughout the day.
Certainly Pete Carroll has acclimated himself to the prospects of this game.
" I think it's fitting that we would have the memorial for Coach John McKay today because he has meant so much to this rivalry and so much to this university. I think it is in his honor - along with the rest of the stuff that goes with it - that we approach this week as a very special week. Coach McKay was a great competitor and he set the standard for everyone who followed here at 'SC. I'm well aware of it and I'm honored to have the chance to follow in his steps. He set the standard. We're really pumped about this week. We're excited about it and we can't wait for the game to get here. It's going to be a great match and we can't wait for it to get started."
But still, for all the offense and defense SC might muster, their one true advantage is Special Teams. The Trojans have enough of an edge in this category to actually win the game. Ucla has been susceptible to blocked punts, poor kick off coverage and most recently, missed field goals. Ucla is last in the Pac Ten in kick off coverage, allowing 26.5 yards per return. SC has also capitalized on the sky kick, recovering one this last week, against Cal and forcing opponents to fair catch instead of sparking returns. Bragg, their leading punt return man since replacing a brilliant Ricky Manning, is only averaging six to eight yards per return. And Fikse, who leads the Pac in punts, is only averaging three yards more per kick than our own MacGillivray. But still the clear advantage comes again in Arbet and Polamalu. Troy has blocked punts and been SC's best point man since Arbet himself. Kevin has had some fine punt and kick off returns, always finding a way to get that extra yard. He could be ready to take one to the house this week, as both players raise the level of their play for the big games. Finally to Griffith. If he is not in his head about losing the Oregon game, Troy P. will soon put him there. SC managed to spook the Pac's best field goal kicker into shanking two attempts that kept OSU out of the winner's circle. The Ucla kicker is already primed for the big gaff. On the other hand, David Davis has quickly become the Trojan's own Cool Hand Luke. It can be expected that in crunch time, he will perform. So, it is Ucla's overall special team's weaknesses that just might open the door wide for SC. Other than the play of Carson Palmer, Pola's crew will be the Trojan's truest advantage.
So, while Deshaun drives around town looking for a place to park his new SUV, SC just might be stealing, what otherwise should be a Bruin victory. Just like the Affholter catch, it will give our cross-town rivals one more thing to point to, if that does happen.
SC by 3. Thank you David Davis.