UCLA Bruins preview

These are the games where you realize what it means to be a USC fan. Heading into the annual cross-town clash with the Bruins, the Trojans have the ability to lock up an Orange Bowl and National Championship Game birth with a win. The UCLA Bruins will enter the game playing for pride, as well as a better bowl game. While the Trojans will look for their sixth win in a row in this series, the Bruins are just trying to stop the bleeding against USC and end their season on a positive note.

These are the games where you realize what it means to be a Trojan fan. Heading into the annual cross-town clash with the Bruins, the University of Southern California Trojans have the ability to lock up an Orange Bowl and National Championship Game birth with a win. The UCLA Bruins will enter the game playing for pride, as well as a better bowl game. While the Trojans will look for their sixth win in a row in this series, the Bruins are just trying to stop the bleeding against the Trojans and end their season on a positive note.

Bruins on Offense

Quarterback – #14 Drew Olson

With an occasionally dominant ground game in 2004, Drew Olson has been used primarily this year to keep the opposing defense off balance and attack through the air when confronted with eight man fronts. Olson is a very competent quarterback, but the Bruins still don't feel safe putting the ball in his hands and letting him win a game for them. They've tried that once this year, against Arizona State. He had 44 pass attempts (the only time this year he's had over 40), and while he produced 325 yards through the air, he threw four interceptions and was sacked three times. On the year, he's passed for a respectable 2,191 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing over 57% of his passes. He'll look to keep his interception total for the season at 11, because the Bruins will pay dearly for each and every turnover they commit against the Trojans. Olson shows good pocket presence, but the Trojans were able to get to him six times in 2003, forcing two fumbles and returning both for touchdowns. Olson can get out of the pocket and run, picking up 129 yards on the year, but he's not going to win the game for the Bruins with his legs. In order to keep the Bruins in this game, Olson will have to make the Trojan secondary respect the deep ball in order to soften up the underneath area for his running backs and tight ends to operate. The Trojans will probably look to stuff the Bruin ground game and make Olson beat them with his arm and he simply isn't capable of doing that.

Running backs – #29 Manuel White, #21 Maurice Drew, #29 Chris Markey

Maurice Drew's health will be a factor heading into this game. He has an ankle sprain that is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis and he's wavering between probable and doubtful for the game on Saturday. If I know football players, Drew will try to at least see the field against the Trojans; but having Maurice Drew at anything less than 100% is not what the Bruins were hoping for heading into the USC game. Drew has been their leading rusher on the year, picking up 886 yards on 133 carries for a 6.7 yard average. His eight touchdown carries leads the team and he's been a force catching balls out of the backfield as well. He's tacked on three touchdown receptions while catching 18 passes for 262 yards. In his absence, the Bruins will rely on senior Manuel White and freshman Chris Markey. White has the most carries on the team, but has taken a back seat to the explosiveness of Drew and Markey and their highlight film runs. White comes into the game with 748 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground with a respectable 4.9 yards per carry average. They also like to use him out of the backfield in catching passes but he isn't as dangerous in the open field as either Drew or Markey. Chris Markey looks to fill the shoes of Maurice Drew for the Bruins. He had a breakout game against Oregon, rushing 23 times for 131 yards and catching five passes for 84 yards. No doubt the Bruins watched the Notre Dame game and will look to take advantage of their straight ahead running game. Don't be surprised if the Bruins pick up some running yards in the first quarter. Then don't be surprised when the Trojans adjust and shut it down for the rest of the game.

Wide Receivers – #87 Craig Bragg, #8 Junior Taylor, #3 Tab Perry

The wide receivers have had little impact on most games for the Bruins and quarterback Drew Olson this year. Junior Taylor leads the group with 26 catches for 345 yards and one touchdown catch on the year, but displayed his speed with an 83-yard catch and run in the game against Oregon. Craig Bragg comes in just behind Taylor with 23 catches for 321 yards, while Tab Perry is third among wide receivers with 19 receptions for 297 yards. Perry, however, leads the group with three touchdown grabs. The trio of wide receivers that will hit the field for the Bruins won't strike fear in anyone wearing cardinal and gold on Saturday and will allow the Trojans to stack up against the Bruin running game.

Tight Ends – #19 Marcedes Lewis

Marcedes Lewis might be the most talented player in the Bruin offense. Lewis, a ball control tight end, is tied for the team lead with 26 catches, which have covered 332 yards. He leads the team with six touchdown receptions and will be a major weapon in the Bruin attack. The Bruins will try quick throws to Lewis to help deal with the pressure put on Olson by the dangerous Trojan pass rush. If the Trojans can keep Lewis bottled up, they will be able to take a big chunk out of the Bruin offense.

Offensive Line – #74 Paul Mactler, #71 Shannon Tevaga, #59 Mike McCloskey, #76 Steven Vietra, #73 Ed Blanton

The Bruin offensive line has paved the way and set the tone for this dangerous ground game. UCLA is averaging just over 207 yards per game on the ground with a 5.2 yards per carry average. Those numbers will undoubtedly take a hit against the Trojan defense but we'll see how well they are able to match up against arguably the nation's best defense. In the passing game, the line has allowed 15 quarterback sacks on the year and they'll do everything in their power to try and keep that number below 20 after Saturday. The deep and talented Trojan defensive line will be too much for this line to handle for a full 60 minutes.

Bruins on Defense

Defensive Line – #98 Kyle Morgan, #75 Kevin Brown, #97 C.J. Niusulu, #99 Brigham Harwell

There is a lot of talent on the Bruin defensive line, but they haven't been able to put it together this year. Kevin Brown has turned in the best stats up to this point in the year. He has 19 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and his two sacks make up half of the defensive line's total. Kyle Morgan has picked up 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his 17 total tackles. C.J. Niusulu has pitched in with 18 tackles and .5 sacks, while Brigham Harwell, just a true freshman, has tallied 17 tackles and recovered a fumble. Overall, this line has simply been bowled over by opposing running games. The Bruins as a team have allowed over 220 yards per game on the ground and a 5.2 yard average on each attempt. The Trojan offensive line should have their way with the Bruin defensive front on Saturday.

Linebackers – #40 Wesley Walker, #9 Justin London, #41 Spencer Havner

As a result of the defensive line's ineptitude, the Bruin linebackers, and Spencer Havner in particular, have been able to pile up gaudy tackling stats. Havner leads the team with 119 tackles, but only 8.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack. Mostly he's been forced to bring down running backs who have found holes through the defensive line. He's tied for second on the team with two interceptions, one of which he returned 52 yards for a touchdown. Wesley Walker ranks fourth on the team with 51 tackles and Justin London is behind him with 42. The linebackers will have their hands full with all the weapons on the Trojan offense. None of the three have the speed to keep up with Reggie Bush, nor do they have the ability to blanket the Trojan tight ends for the entire game.

Cornerbacks – #6 Matt Clark, #23 Trey Brown

Matt Clark and Trey Brown have done an admirable job against opposing wide receivers on the year. They've held the opposition to just over 2,000 yards passing against them on the year on only 6.3 yards per pass attempt. While this is probably due to the fact that teams have been able to run so effectively against the Bruin front, Clark and Brown have still performed well. They each have picked off two passes on the year and Clark has racked up 11 passes defended. They'll have their hands full with the Trojan wide receivers and especially a fresh and motivated Steve Smith. Trojan receivers ran wild against them in just the first half in 2003 and this game should be no different.

Safeties – #24 Ben Emanuel II, #4 Jarrad Page

Again because of the lack of a defensive front, the Bruin safeties have had to help out against the run game. As a result, both Ben Emanuel and Jarrad Page have tallied 69 tackles on the year and have had a big impact in the Bruin defensive secondary. Page leads the team with three interceptions while Emanuel is probably the second best player on the Bruin defensive unit. They'll have a say in Matt Leinart's drive for the Heisman Trophy even if they can't effect the outcome of the game.

Bruins on Special Teams

Kicker – #7 Justin Medlock

Justin Medlock leads the Bruins in scoring this season with 78 points. He's connected on 36 of 37 extra points and 14 of 17 field goals. Medlock has proven that he has great range, twice connecting on 52-yard field goals. Two of his three misses have come from outside 50 yards.

Punter – #39 Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe has been selected as a finalist for the Ray Guy award, given to the nation's top punter. He's averaging 43.2 yards per punt and has landed 18 of his 48 attempts inside the 20 yard line. The Trojans, however, have the ability to counteract Kluwe's punting by putting Reggie Bush back to receiver his punts.

Kick Returner – #3 Tab Perry, #29 Chris Markey

Tab Perry and Chris Markey have been held in check by opposing teams this year in the kick return department. Neither one has been able to break one for big yards, as Markey's longest return on the year is 35 yards and Perry's is 32. With the way the Trojans' special team units have been playing this year, they probably won't find much room to operate on Saturday.

Punt Returner - #87 Craig Bragg

With Maurice Drew's injury, it will most likely be Craig Bragg back for the Bruins and returning punts. He's returned 14 punts on the year and carries an average of 11.8 yards per return.

Everyone will tell you that rivalry games are always closer than expected, but that's just not going to be the case here. The Bruins will be outplayed, outclassed and outscored by a Trojan team looking to make a statement heading into bowl season. The Bruins can play for pride as much as they want, but neither Celtic Pride, Curtis Pride nor a pride of lions could help their chances. There are a few different ways this game could play out, but the only thing worth mentioning is that they all end in a Trojan victory and the sweetest sound in the world: "Tusk" reverberating off the empty seats in a cardinal and gold clad Rose Bowl.

Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing.  He can be reached at mckinno22@yahoo.com


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