THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
USC Trojans – The Crosstown Rivalry
The Rose Bowl, Saturday, November 17, 12:00 noon, Fox Channel 11
The 82nd Meeting
RECORDS – UCLA: 8-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12 South, USC: 7-3, 5-3 in the Pac-12 South
SERIES: USC leads, 46-28-7 (Two USC wins vacated due to NCAA violations)
LINE: USC by 4
As I researched statistics in light of the UCLA Bruins’ upcoming showdown with their crosstown rival, two thoughts became prominent in my mind:
1. Stats-wise, the Bruins match up well with their USC Trojan counterparts.
2. UCLA has a pretty decent chance to beat the Trojans, their best chance to win since the late 1990s.
Which is something that I haven’t been able to say in roughly a decade as even in 2006, when the Bruins scored a stunning 13-9 upset of ‘SC – the biggest upset in the rivalry’s history – and knocked them out of the BCS title game, no one gave UCLA a chance as the Trojans were favored by over 20 points.
The evidence of this pretty decent chance, as was mentioned, is in the statistics as for the first time since 2005, a championship is at stake as the Pac-12 South title is on the line.
Matt Barkley, as USC’s four-year starting quarterback, started this season as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy. The three losses that his team has suffered and his conference-leading 13 interceptions killed those Heisman hopes, but any college quarterback – or NFL quarterback for that matter – would love to have his 2,972 yards and 33 touchdown passes, which leads the Pac-12.
Even though Barkley gets the edge because of his experience, Brett Hundley matches up quite well as his completion percentage is higher, 69% to 64.8%, his interceptions, at nine, are fewer, and the Bruin signal caller has an aspect to his game that Barkley doesn’t have: the ability to scramble and gain yardage through his legs.
Running back is where UCLA has the clear advantage as Johnathan Franklin’s 1,270 yards on the ground is more than his Trojan counterparts, Curtis McNeal and Penn State transfer Silas Redd, combined.
When it comes to wide receiver, however, USC’s edge is so significant it’s akin to Mike Tyson in his prime fighting whoever faced him at that time, as the Trojans have the two best wideouts in the country.
Robert Woods has been his usual standout self with his 61 receptions and ten TD’s, but Marquise Lee has more than lived up to the above statement of being one of the two best wide receivers in the nation as the sophomore – and likely Heisman winner in 2013 – has been an absolute freak. And not just because of his 16 catches and record 345 yards against Arizona, either, as Lee has averaged 221 yards receiving over ‘SC’s past three games.
The two teams’ defenses have performed more or less evenly, particularly in tackles for loss as the Bruins and Trojans each have 79. UCLA’s 39 sacks are two more than USC’s, while the Trojans’ 18 interceptions outnumber the Bruins’ 13.
‘SC’s defensive line is a strength, led by Morgan Breslin’s 9.5 sacks and 15.5 TFLs and Leonard Williams’ 6.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs, but Anthony Barr has outdone them both with his 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss for the Bruins, and his linebacking mate, Eric Kendricks, leads the Pac-12 with 102 tackles, including 45 over the past three games.
What will all of this mean when Jim Mora’s and Lane Kiffin’s teams, who are ranked 17th and 21st in the AP poll and 17th and 18th in the BCS, respectively, clash at the Rose Bowl this Saturday?
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, like in any rivalry game as the cliche “You throw the records out” definitely applies here.
The two significant keys to UCLA ending their five-game and 12-out-of-13 year losing skid to their cardinal and gold rivals will lie in their interior lines on both sides of the ball.
The Bruins’ defensive front seven must walk onto that Rose Bowl field this Saturday with this in mind above all else:
SACK HIM. AT LEAST A FEW TIMES.
Which they have only been able to do to USC’s quarterbacks once since 1999, in 2006, which interestingly enough was the one time that UCLA has beaten the Trojans in the 21st century.
Doing that, putting massive pressure on the ‘SC qb and giving him no time to throw, will take the pressure off of the Bruin secondary, particularly cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester, who have had big problems with coverage and pass interference calls all year.
If Barkley isn’t pressured, Price, Hester and company will be completely lit up like a Christmas tree by Lee, Woods and company. Just like the last few years.
As for UCLA’s offense, Xavier Sua-Filo, Jeff Baca, and the rest of the Bruin offensive line, though they have generally done a good job all season, must overcome their relative inexperience and have an absolutely outstanding day opening holes for Franklin, Jordon James, and Damien Thigpen and protecting Hundley against Breslin, Williams, and the rest of USC’s beasts who will be looking for blood.
One more factor plays into this clash, which I feel has all the makings of an all-out war and a heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier:
Which the Bruins, no matter what they say in the media, have plenty of incentive to get due to that 50-0 humiliation at the hands of the Trojans in the Coliseum last year.
This is a golden opportunity for UCLA to show that their 8-2 season and ranking in the top 20 is legitimate, and to take back the Victory Bell – and the city of Los Angeles – once and for all.
The question now is, can the Bruins take advantage of this opportunity?
My prediction of this game, how I think it will go and what I think the score will be, will appear on this site on Friday.