UCLA Bruins team preview

Click below for a position by position look at the UCLA Bruins, the next opponent on the USC schedule

Bruins on Offense –

Offensively, the Bruins have been unable to find much of an identity this season, especially after starting quarterback Ben Olsen went down in the season's fifth game. As a whole, they are 70th in the nation in terms of total offense, averaging nearly 330 yards per game. They average 125 yards per game on the ground, good for 73rd in the country, and 205 yards through the air, good for 54th. When it comes to scoring offense, they average nearly 24 points per game, a far cry from some of the offensive firepower that has made its way to the Coliseum the previous three weeks.

Quarterback – #12 Pat Cowan, #7 Ben Olsen

Ben Olsen was supposed to step straight in for Drew Olsen and keep the Bruin offense clicking. Two wins to open the season looked promising, but things fell apart when Olsen was intercepted four times over the next two games and suffered a terrible injury against Arizona.

In his place, Pat Cowan stepped in and lost his first four games as a starting quarterback. Since then, he's righted the ship and won his last two games, but he hasn't exactly been dominating the competition. When it comes to throwing the ball, Cowan has completed nearly 54% of his passes for 1,428 yards, 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 7 games this season. In his last game, he broke a five game streak of throwing at least one interception. He's fairly athletic for a quarterback and has shown the ability to move in the pocket and escape pressure. His 37 carries are the third most among Bruin rushers. He's run for 49 yards and 1 touchdown and has had positive rushing yards in each of his last three games. Cowan can definitely do some things with the ball in his hand, but controlling the game enough to beat the Trojans isn't one of them.

Even though Ben Olsen hasn't seen any playing time since early October, he could very well be ready to go against the Trojans. Olsen is much more talented than Cowan, but he was heading into this season with extremely limited experience against Division I competition. He was the Bruins' starter for the first four games of the season (played against arguably the four weakest teams on UCLA's schedule) and completed 79-of-124 passes for 822 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. Olsen is a tall, lefty quarterback who could develop into a top-flight quarterback, but he's not there yet.

It's tough to imagine that Olsen will get the start against the Trojans. He's missed so much time and bringing him back from that injury just to throw him into the fire against USC seems especially cruel. Although, the Bruins will be looking for every advantage they can get in this game, so there exists the possibility of seeing both quarterbacks on Saturday.

Running Backs – #28 Chris Markey, #42 Chane Moline

Chris Markey has carried the load for the Bruins on the ground all season and has done an admirable job. He's rushed for 912 yards on 188 carries (nearly five yards per carry), but has found the endzone just twice. Markey isn't the biggest or fastest running back the Trojans will face this season, but he has a nice combination of strength and quickness that enables him to get to the second level and shake off tackles. The USC defense should be able to shut him down in the running game, but he's a very real threat in the passing game as well. This season, he leads the team with 32 receptions, which have gone for 250 yards.

Chane Moline will get the ball in short yardage situations. He has just 92 yards on 30 carries this season, but four of those have resulted in touchdowns.

Wide Receivers – #1 Brandon Breazell, #9 Marcus Everett, #8 Junior Taylor

Brandon Breazell, Marcus Everett and Junior Taylor are fairly similar wide receivers. None of them present a height mismatch for the Trojan defensive backs and while they can all certainly run, none possess the speed or ability to truly stretch the USC secondary deep. Junior Taylor leads the receivers in receptions, with 26 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Marcus Everett leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, with 331 yards and 5 touchdowns on 24 grabs. Both Taylor and Everett have caught passes in all 11 games this season.

Brandon Breazell has 20 receptions for 311 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. He's coming off a timely game against Arizona State, where both of his catches went for long touchdowns.

Tight End – #86 Logan Paulsen

Logan Paulsen will show up in the passing game against the Trojans. He isn't the pass-catching threat that some of the other tight ends in the Pac-10 are, but he does have 21 receptions for 292 yards this season. He's had big games against Utah, Stanford and California, catching at least four passes for 40 yards in each game.

Offensive Line – #78 Aleksey Lanis, #71 Shannon Tevaga, #54 Robert Chai, #60 Chris Joseph, #74 Noah Sutherland

The Bruin offensive line has allowed 17 sacks this season and is paving the way for a running game averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

Shannon Tevaga is the best player along the line, but the group as a hole is much less of a force than Notre Dame's front line. The Trojans should be able to generate a healthy rush on whichever Bruin quarterback is taking snaps on Saturday.

Bruins on Defense –

UCLA has been outstanding defensively this season. The turnaround is something of a surprise, considering just how bad they've been the past few years. But it's obvious that the Bruins have a newfound passion for defense, and it's showing on the field. They rank 32nd in the country in total defense, allowing just over 300 yards per game. The rushing defense has been outstanding, giving up just 93 yards per game (good for 14th nationally). Because the rush defense has been so good, teams have been forced to take to the air against the Bruins, throwing for nearly 210 yards per game.

Defensive Line – #17 Justin Hickman, #75 Kevin Brown, #93 Brigham Harwell, #44 Bruce Davis

The defensive line is the strongest unit on either side of the ball for the Bruins. Each of these four along the line has the ability to get into the backfield on any play. Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis have been terrors on the outside this season. They rank first and second in the country in sacks per game. Hickman's 12.5 sacks are part of his 18.5 tackles for loss and 37 total tackles. Davis is right behind him, with 11.5 sacks among his 16 tackles for loss and 41 total tackles. Hickman and Davis can get carried away with their pass rush, so it will be important for the Trojans to take advantage of when the defensive ends get pushed up the field.

Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell are big bodies in the middle of the line. They both function better in run stopping than in pressuring the quarterback, but both have registered a sack on the season.

It will be difficult for the Trojans to get the running game going on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see if USC goes straight to the air attack and how, and if, they are able to generate yardage on the ground.

Linebackers – #42 Aaron Whittington, #33 Christian Taylor, #51 Reggie Carter

Christian Taylor and the linebackers have done a solid job in run support this season. Taylor leads the group with 64 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He also has one of the Bruins' 11 interceptions this season.

Reggie Carter and Aaron Whittington have 41 and 29 tackles, respectively, this season. The Bruin linebackers have been aided by the strong front line, so it will be interesting to see what they are able to do against the Trojan backs and receivers.

Cornerbacks – #23 Trey Brown, #3 Rodney Van

Trey Brown and Rodney Van are talented cornerbacks, but it will be surprising if the Trojans don't go after them early and often. Brown has 40 tackles and a team-high 4 interceptions this season.

Van is a smaller cornerback, but he makes up for it with quickness. He's fourth on the team, with 45 tackles this season and he has a team-high 8 pass deflections.

It will be interesting to see how the Bruins deploy their cornerbacks on Saturday. Different teams have been putting their number one cornerback on Steve Smith throughout the season. But with Dwayne Jarrett's performance against Notre Dame, it's possible that the Bruins will have their top seven cornerbacks matched up against number eight.

Safeties – #14 Chris Horton, #11 Dennis Keyes

Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes form a solid back line for the Bruin defense. Horton leads the team with 81 tackles, while Keyes is right behind him with 70. Horton has two interceptions on the year and Keyes has added another.

The number of tackles between the safeties is helped by the amount of completions the defense is allowing. The Bruins have allowed 17 passing touchdowns this season and over 209 yards per game through the air. With the way the Trojans attack opposing secondaries, and safeties in particular, both of those numbers should increase after Saturday.

Bruins on Special Teams –

Kicker – #7 Justin Medlock

There have been times this season when Justin Medlock served as the biggest offensive threat for the Bruins. He has a very strong, accurate leg and has been very reliable throughout his career. This season, he's converted 24 of 28 field goal attempts, twice hitting from 51 yards away. Oddly enough, Medlock has also made 24 of 28 extra point attempts.

Punter – #17 Aaron Perez

Aaron Perez is averaging better than 41 yards per kick on his 51 punts this season. He has a long of 60 yards and has done a fairly good job of getting the ball inside the 20-yard line.

Kick Returner – #30 Derrick Williams

Derrick Williams handled the kickoff return duties against Arizona State. On the season, he's averaging a team-high 24.1 yards per return on his 8 attempts, with a long of 47.

Something certainly looked off with the Trojans' kickoffs last weekend, so it will be interesting to see if Troy Van Blarcom can go back to booming his kicks into the endzone, or if the Trojans are truly drawing up those shorter kicks.

Punt Returner – #4 Terrence Austin

Terrence Austin is an explosive wide receiver and is a threat in the punt-return game. On eight returns this season, Austin is averaging nearly 14 yards with a long of 79. The Trojans have done very well the last two weeks in containing two of the nation's best punt returners. Austin hasn't earned that label yet, but he could get closer if the Trojans' allow him room to work.

Outlook –

On paper, this game has no reason to be close. Save for the defensive line, the Trojans have a clear advantage at every position. USC has shown they can move the ball against better defenses and they can stop more prolific offenses.

There is still the memory of the 2004 game in the Rose Bowl, however, and things have a way of getting interesting in rivalry games. The Bruins definitely have the talent and motivation to keep this game close if they are provided with the right breaks. But in the end, as long as the Trojans don't give this game away, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

The team is far too focused on each game to be worried about thinking ahead to a berth in the National Championship game. With the defense just hitting its stride and the offensive All-Americans stepping up, the Trojans appear ready to put together one of their best performances of the season this Saturday.

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