UCLA-USC Preview: A Crosstown War Renewed
For many football fans in America's second largest city, this is the only game that matters.
This Saturday at the Coliseum, the UCLA Bruins will meet their crosstown enemies, the USC Trojans, for the 79th time in a clash that may not have Rose Bowl implications but will still mean much to everyone on both sides.
In Los Angeles, bragging rights between these two institutions are very important—especially since Bruin and Trojan students, fans, and alumni often grow up together, live in the same neighborhoods, work together, marry each other, and even share the same parentage.
Considering that the schools are just over 10 miles apart, what else would you expect?
L.A. is turned into a blue and red Verona around this time; the Bruins and Trojans may as well be the Montagues and the Capulets, the way their fanbases feel about each other.
Though USC (7-3, 4-3 in the Pac-10 Conference) leads the all-time series 43-28 with seven ties, has won nine out of the last 10 games between the teams, and is a 13-point favorite, UCLA (6-5, 3-5 in the Pac-10) has a good shot at beating the Trojans and taking back the Victory Bell, which is awarded to the winner.
The Bruins have won their last three games after a month-long swoon, albeit against subpar teams, while the Men of Troy are 1-2 over that same span, with both losses being blowouts.
UCLA's defense has been opportunistic, causing 27 turnovers this season and having a turnover margin of plus-eight, which leads the conference. Brian Price has lived up to his hype at defensive tackle, getting seven sacks to lead the Bruins.
Rahim Moore is not only the country's interception leader with nine, he also has more picks than USC's entire team; UCLA has 17 INTs overall.
The Bruin offense has been respectable of late, as Kevin Prince has thrown for over 300 yards in three out of the past four games. Nelson Rosario has been a go-to guy at wide receiver, averaging 18.3 yards per catch, and Chane Moline has been a bull in the backfield.
As for the kickers, the Trojans better pray that this contest doesn't come down to field goals, because if it does, UCLA will win.
The Bruins' Kai Forbath has 26 field goals to lead the NCAA and is an odds-on favorite for All-American honors, while his USC counterpart, Jordan Congdon, has a mere 10, less than half of Forbath's total.
It's safe to say that Southern Cal has not met their expectations in 2009; for the first time in seven years, they will not be Pac-10 champs or go to a BCS bowl game.
However, coming off their 55-21 beatdown at the hands of Stanford in their last game, coach Pete Carroll's team will undoubtedly come out on Saturday motivated, focused, and just plain ticked off; what better way to redeem oneself than to crush your crosstown enemy?
I certainly don't expect UCLA to put up 55 points on USC.
Joe McKnight has been good at running back for Troy, as he is on the verge of 1,000 yards for the season with five touchdowns. Being as quick as he is, he presents a concern for Bruin coach Rick Neuheisel.
'SC's defensive front, led by Everson Griffen's eight sacks and Nick Perry's seven, will likewise be a challenge for a UCLA offensive line that is better than it was in 2008 but is still feeling its way a bit.
After starting off strong, quarterback Matt Barkley has played exactly like what he is: a true freshman.
His 10 interceptions, including a pick-six against Stanford in his last outing, are more than all of the Bruin signal callers combined. He will be a star in the future, but right now the former five-star recruit is suffering some growing pains.
Barkley will no doubt be ecstatic to see wide receiver Damian Williams return after suffering a high ankle sprain. He is the main Trojan threat, averaging 15.3 yards a catch with five TDs.
As such, here's what the keys to a Bruin victory over USC will be...
1. Cut out the penalties!
UCLA had far too many yellow flags in their last game against Arizona State: 11 for 100 yards, including three personal fouls. If they do that against the Trojans, trouble will result, because 'SC will definitely take advantage.
2. The offense needs to do better in the red zone.
Though the Bruins did well in moving the ball against a good ASU defense, they only got three field goals to show for it.
That will not be good enough in the Coliseum.
It is essential for UCLA to get seven points when inside the 20 and not settle for three points.
3. The Bruin defense must create havoc in USC's backfield and force turnovers.
Price, Datone Jones, Jerry Siewierski, and Korey Bosworth need to be beasts against the Trojans' experienced O-line and not give Barkley any time to throw.
Reggie Carter, Kyle Bosworth, and Akeem Ayers must make plays, and a few INTs by Moore or Alterraun Verner, or both, would be extremely nice.
If the Bruins do those three things, their chances of winning will be very good.
Being that this crosstown battle is starting at 7:00 local time, the first UCLA-USC night game in 30 years, and both teams are wearing their home jerseys for the second straight year, it promises to be good prime time entertainment—at least on the West Coast.
Just like the previous 78 Bruin-Trojan clashes.
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