Thursday Practice: The Perception Battle

This year, the Crosstown Rivalry is for much more than just bragging rights and pride, it's for perception within Los Angeles and throughout the nation. Saturday's showdown at the Coliseum won't only be about the scoreboard at the end of the game, but the story that the final score tells about these two programs, whether it be true or not.

The Perception Battle

For USC and UCLA fans alike the 2009 season hasn't gone quite as they had hoped. The Trojans currently have 3 losses, two of which have come on blowouts, and the Bruins have struggled to get on track enter Saturday's rivalry game with just 3 conference wins.

The Trojans, as always, were looking for another BCS bowl berth while the Bruins were hoping to show more progress than they have in year two of the Neuheisel era. A victory on Saturday will go a long way in winning the battle of perception.

This year, the Crosstown Rivalry is for much more than just bragging rights and pride, it's for perception within Los Angeles and throughout the nation.

"I think it's just one of the special aspects of being part of USC. And the special aspect of being part of UCLA that you have this extraordinary classic rivalry right across town," Carroll said. "You get to anticipate it all year long. Then you get to live with the results of it, too, which are a big deal. So it's very exciting."

It's often said that perception is reality, and that is certainly the case in the world of recruiting, where kids base their college choices on the idea that a team is on the rise, or the dream of early playing time.

Saturday's showdown at the Coliseum won't only be about the scoreboard at the end of the game, but the story that the final score tells about these two programs, whether it be true or not.

A win by UCLA, whether by 20 points or on a last second field goal, could send a message to recruits that the Bruins have closed the gap and are making progress in their uphill climb to catch the Trojans.

You can be sure that Rick Neuheisel would run up quite the phone bill calling every recruit that would listen making the case that his program, in just two years, has already caught up to USC.

For the Bruins, there is no such thing as an ugly win in this game. Any victory over USC would be their best win in years and sold as such in the living rooms of recruits like Hayes Pullard and Josh Shirley.

"I don't know if that's the reason people should pick schools, you know. But certainly it does factor in," Carroll said. "It does give bragging rights and give you a chance to talk on one end of it. There are issues with that. That's a legitimate deal."

The Trojans on the other hand, the team that has dominated the rivalry since the arrival of Pete Carroll, have lost three games for the first time since 2001 and are taking quite a hit in the media as a result.

A convincing win over the Bruins would quiet some of the critics and prove that UCLA is still years away from truly competing with the dominant program that Pete Carroll has built.

"It's always an issue to be on top of this rivalry. We've enjoyed it for the most part. It's been, like I said, enjoyable," Carroll said. "It can be a factor. It might be a factor in a couple of kids."

Hot Reads

- The starting linebacker corps from Saturday's matchup with the Bruins will consist of Devon Kennard, Chris Galippo and Malcolm Smith, Carroll said.

- Offensive lineman Nick Howell made a real push for the starting right guard spot with two weeks of impressive play during practice but Alex Parsons will remain the starter this week.

- Pete Carroll praised junior tailback Joe McKnight, who has 932 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2009, saying that the shifty back is having the best year of his career.

"It's by far been his most consistent year," Carroll said. "He has been the beneficiary of good health for the most part. He has been very consistent."

In evaluating the season, Carroll said he regrets not getting McKnight more touches in the offense.

"I think he has done a very good job," he said. "As we look back, we just wish we could have got him the football more during the course of the season because everything he has done has been on the positive side."

McKnight's maturation has been noticeable on the field, where he has become the Trojans' most consistent back and a much better inside runner, as well as off the field.

"He really has been consistent running the football as a regular running back up inside," Carroll said. "We have seen him grow up."


Joe McKnight is enjoying his best year as a Trojan


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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com



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