USC Football: Suspect Defense Spells Doom for Trojans Against UCLA

Brandon BurnettContributor IIINovember 13, 2012

The Trojans have struggled mightily against high-powered offenses in 2012.
The Trojans have struggled mightily against high-powered offenses in 2012.Robert Laberge/Getty Images

The USC football team would love nothing more than to squash UCLA's hopes of reaching the Pac-12 title game.

Despite shutting out the Bruins 50-0 in last year's meeting, however, it will be the Trojans' defense that prevents them from accomplishing that goal this weekend. 

USC, 7-3 overall and 5-3 in conference play, found the pressure-releasing win it was searching so desperately for in Week 11. The Trojans destroyed Arizona State in convincing fashion, winning 38-17 and holding the Sun Devils to 250 yards of offense in the process. 

But UCLA's offensive attack will prove to be an entirely different animal for the Trojans to tame. 

The Bruins' (8-2, 5-2) offense is running on all cylinders, having scored at least 44 points in each of their last three games. They recently scored six first half touchdowns against Arizona in a 66-10 romp—just one week after the Wildcats upended the Trojans 39-36.

USC will likely score its fair share of points in this cross-town battle. It has too many weapons to expect otherwise. But can the Trojans' defense further repair an image that was absolutely shattered in consecutive losses to Arizona and Oregon?

Lane Kiffin's squad surrendered 1,318 total yards and 101 points in those defeats, including 730 yards to the Ducks' high-powered offense alone. Against Arizona, USC held a 28-13 lead in the third quarter before allowing four touchdowns in just over 13 minutes of football. 

Oregon also used four second-half scores to down the Trojans the following week. 

Believe it or not, the Bruins are actually averaging more yards and points per game than USC, which boasts an offense, featuring numerous NFL-caliber skill players.

UCLA's rushing attack is No. 23 in the nation, putting up 210.5 YPG on the ground. Senior running back Johnathan Franklin has 1,270 rushing yards and eight TDs on 6.4 yards per carry. The Trojans managed to stuff Arizona State's ground game last week, but the Sun Devils have only mustered 4.1 YPC as a team in 2012. 

Oregon's Kenjon Barner sliced through the Trojans' defense for a mind-boggling 321 yards and five touchdowns in Week 10. USC allowed 426 total rushing yards in that loss and 219 yards to Arizona the week prior. 

It isn't just USC's defense that has struggled. Matt Barkley's seven interceptions over the last three games have done their part to put his defense in undesirable situations. But UCLA ranks third in the Pac-12 with 38 sacks, so there's little reason to believe Barkley won't continue to force ill-advised throws if he's pressured throughout the game. 

The Trojans will need their defense to slow the Bruins' effective and well-balanced offensive attack in order to let Barkley and his talented supporting cast wear down the opposing defense.

It isn't just UCLA's rushing attack that USC must contain, though. 

Freshman QB Brett Hundley has been on fire since throwing four interceptions in a disappointing, 43-17 loss to Cal in early October. In the four games that have followed, he's thrown 11 TD passes and just two picks. Hundley has completed 41 of his 49 attempts in the last two contests alone. 

The Trojans have the offensive firepower to hang with anyone, especially when they aren't committing costly penalties and turnovers. That said, can USC light up the scoreboard enough to sink its most hated rival for a sixth straight year? 

The Trojans haven't allowed UCLA to score more than 14 points in any game since 2005, but this is a completely different Bruins' squad they'll be facing on Saturday. Additionally, they'll be playing away from the Coliseum. USC is a mediocre 2-2 on the road in 2012. 

Unless the Trojans' defense can rise to the occasion, USC's six-year reign over the Bruins will fade into the night along with its slim hopes of reaching the Rose Bowl in January.