Welcome to USC-UCLA football week in Los Angeles.
The USC-UCLA rivalry is among the most notable in NCAA Division I sports because both schools are located only 12 miles apart.
They are also the two most successful NCAA sports teams with USC winning the most men’s NCAA championships and UCLA winning the most total NCAA championships of any college.
USC (7-5, 4-4 Pac-10) has won 11 football national championships, and UCLA (4-7, 2-6 Pac-10) has one from 1954.
The Trojans have won eight of the last nine meetings ignoring the two vacated wins.
Here is an article about the top 10 USC-UCLA games since 1960: "USC-UCLA history bears repeating." This shows why this is a very special rivalry.
At USC, the week before the game is known as “Troy Week” or “Conquest”. It is “Beat ‘SC Week” or “Blue and Gold Week” at UCLA.
Both schools participate in many inter-campus competitions and there are parades, bonfires, rallies and live entertainment. And, of course, there are attempted pranks on each other’s campus landmarks.
USC has already struck the UCLA campus with cardinal red fountains. Of course, UCLA students will try to paint the well guarded Tommy Trojan. Hiding the UCLA card stunts in my day was a highlight.
Both teams have had disappointing up and down seasons, and some of their fans have given up on them. Both have beaten favored ranked teams, and been upset by much weaker teams.
However, history has shown that records and point spreads don’t matter for this game.
The most important factor is desire, and the team that wants it more will win.
Most of the USC and UCLA football players and their fans are from Los Angeles.
Knowing each other makes this game especially important, because who wants to be reminded of a loss for another year? UCLA fans are especially obnoxious about it because they don’t win as often.
Winning this last game of the season is vital to both teams, and a lot more is at stake than the Victory Bell.
There is a lot of pressure on both coaching staffs. Recruiting may be affected by the outcome. This game means a lot to all the athletes who know each other so well.
This article discussed the Trojan keys to beat UCLA: “USC Football: Trojan Keys for Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UCLA Bruins Wins.”
But, USC has now been embarrassed in its last two games, losing to Oregon State and Notre Dame with only two touchdowns scored.
The Trojan running game disappeared with less than 200 total yards in both games combined.
This followed an upset win over then No. 18 Arizona, which was the high point of the Trojan season.
Head coach Lane Kiffin explained that USC’s game plan against Notre Dame was to play conservative offense and expect the USC defense to hold Notre Dame. This was because backup quarterback Mitch Mustain had never started a game at USC, and the Irish have a weak offense.
However, the explanation makes no sense. The Trojan defense has been the weak link most of the season, and the offense it’s strength. The only reasonable explanation for it is that there is something very wrong with the USC offensive line that has not been revealed.
After the Oregon game, Kiffin berated the OL. But, they performed much worse in the Oregon State and Notre Dame games and nothing was said about it.
USC needs power running to set up passes. The OL has not played well in all USC losses. Tackle Tyron Smith has been injured and missed a lot of practice. But what is the real situation with the other linemen?
USC’s “prevent” defense has been anything but that all year. The Trojans must play aggressive defense including blitzes and man-to-man coverage to win. However, safety T.J. McDonald (separated shoulder) and cornerback Brian Baucham (arm) may not be available against UCLA and that will complicate their defensive game plan.
Statistically, USC is the much better team than UCLA:
- USC is a top 30 offense, while UCLA is ranked No. 101 and only No. 116 pass defense.
- Both the Trojans and the Bruins have weak defenses, ranking No. 86 and No. 93 respectively.
- USC’s pass defense is ranked No. 112, but the UCLA passing offense is only No. 116.
- USC has better kickoff and punt returns, while UCLA is the better punting and field goal team.
- However, UCLA is No. 112 in turnover margin compared to No. 38 for USC.
So, USC matches up very well against UCLA if they can run, and this should happen given the weak Bruin rushing defense. This will open up the offense. Instead of only throwing to the flats, USC needs tight end seam routes, backs out of the backfield and wheel route to fullback Stanley Havili. The middle of the field has been open in recent games. All of this depends on the OL.
The Trojan defense should be able to stack against the run because of the Bruins weak passing game. USC has played better defense, except when they go into a prevent defense, in the last part of the season. Of course, the Trojans have to continue to wrap up tackles and play disciplined.
USC special teams must continue to play well since it has been the only constant all year. Special teams coach John Baxter has done a phenomenal job.
Of course, the Trojans need to exploit a positive turnover margin and minimize penalties, especially at critical times.
The 19 USC seniors deserve a better send-off then their last game. After all, they could have left USC thanks to the NCAA and they stayed. Running back Allen Bradford should start with C.J. Gable backing him up because they have earned that respect. Besides Marc Tyler's sprained ankle has affected him, and Dillon Baxter has not been that effective.
If you don't think this game matters, especially to the seniors, here is what USC cornerback Shareece Wright stated, "It definitely matters. The house is split in half and it's the last food left in the house. You can't loose to Notre Dame and UCLA in the same season. It means more than anything to beat those guys."
Hopefully, the USC game plan will be simple enough to let the athletes play and allow the Trojan pride to lead the team to victory.