UCLA Football: 4 Reasons This Is the Year They Beat USC
Quick, name the biggest win for UCLA football in the last decade.
If you're a Bruin fan, chances are you did not go with the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, the 2005 Sun Bowl or the 2009 EagleBank Bowl. Wins over Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma were nice, but they've faded over the years.
Given only one win to mark as the Bruins' greatest over the past 10 years, you probably went with their 2006 upset over crosstown rival USC. I know I did.
With the hated Trojans poised to make another run at the BCS title game, UCLA stunned the cardinal and gold in the Rose Bowl 13-9, dashing SC's championship hopes.
The Bruins defense has never looked more stern under DeWayne Walker, stopping SC on multiple fourth down conversion attempts. It was the first time in 63 consecutive games USC was held under 20 points. Eric McNeal's interception to seal the win became the stuff of legend.
Unfortunately for Westwood, that glorious 2006 victory has yet to be replicated since. In their last 12 meetings, it has been their only rivalry win.
That ends this year.
Come Nov. 26th UCLA will, for the first time since 1997, beat USC in the Coliseum. Here are four reasons why.
USC Has Struggled Defensively
USC has given up an average of 26.4 points per game through five games, a mark that would have seemed unimaginable under Pete Carroll. The same goes for their 379.6 yards allowed per game, 136.6 of which comes on the ground.
Yet under Lane Kiffin these numbers have become the norm. NCAA sanctions have certainly deterred top defensive prospects from the school, but with legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on the sidelines you would think the Trojans could manage better.
These problems were put into sharp relief during USC's 43-22 loss to Arizona State earlier in the year, their first since 1993. In Tempe, the Trojans were beaten on all fronts. Tailback Cameron Marshall rolled up 141 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while QB Brock Osweiler racked up 223 passing yards and two TDs by air.
SC's red-zone defense has been uncharacteristicly weak as well. The Men of Troy are at the bottom of the Pac-12 defensively once a team gets inside their 20, surrendering points on 16-of-17 occasions.
While UCLA hasn't been near the Sun Devil's level of efficiency this season, they have been able to score points. The Bruins have averaged 25.8 points per game in 2011, scoring 28 recently in a win over Washington State.
With SC weakened on defense and UCLA improving offensively, we might see a closer game than last year's 28-14 Trojan romp in the Rose Bowl. A close game is an underdog's best friend, and the Bruins are sure to be dogs heading into this one.
USC Cannot Run the Football Consistently
From a school that has produced the likes of Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Joe McKnight you wouldn't expect the running game to be a problem, but in 2011 it has. USC ranks 71st in the nation in rushing offense, putting up a mediocre 136.6 yard per game on the ground.
While Marc Tyler has done a fair job as the starter, he lacks the complimentary partner SC has had in the past. Tyler is less of an explosive back than McKnight or Bush which has put the pressure on Matt Barkley to come up with big plays.
With their front seven suspect, UCLA has a better chance of staying with a pass-first team than one which features a methodical running game. The Bruins have shown an inability to tackle well at times, often allowing big gains from plays which should have been stopped in the backfield.
Without a reliable running game, USC will not be able to dictate time of possession against the Bruins, giving the Sons of Westwood more chances to put up points. With UCLA so proficient this season the ground (second in the Pac-12 with 194.5 rushing yards per game), it could very well turn out that the Bruins determine the pace of the game, playing keep-away from Barkley's passing attack.
USC Commits Too Many Turnovers
Another glaring weakness of the Trojans is their recent penchant to turn the ball over. With a Pac-12 worse minus-five turnover margin USC gives its opposition too many chances to beat them. Harkening back to Eric McNeal's pick in 2006, this has historically worked against the Trojans in rivalry games past.
Again systematic of a larger question at tailback, USC is simply putting the ball on the ground too many times. Already with six fumbles in five games, the Trojans rank 83rd nationally in that category.
Turnovers change the complexion of any game, especially emotion-filled rivalry games. If UCLA can force a few fumbles in the Coliseum, it will mean more chances for the offense to score. To match SC's 30-plus points per game, UCLA will need every shot they can get.
The Bruin secondary is mostly injured right now, but when Sheldon Price and Tony Dye are able to come back, look for them to force some big turnovers.
Rick Neuheisel Needs the Win More
Just like in 2006, the Bruins enter this game with a head coach who needs a win to help secure his job. Like Karl Dorrell before him, Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat with an uncertain future ahead of him heading into the rivalry.
Who knows what kind of record the Bruins will be sporting when they face USC in late November, but regardless of the record Neuheisel needs this win more that Kiffin. The only victory he has earned as coach in the cross-town rivalry was to get both teams to wear their home uniforms during the game.
How does that translate to the field of play? Look for aggressive play-calling from Neuheisel and impassioned players competing to save their coach from the axe. Even if Neuheisel finishes the year poorly, a win over USC has been proven to extend coaches tenure despite mediocre records. It gave Dorrell one more year in Westwood after his 2006 triumph.
With USC looking more beatable as the weeks go on, UCLA will be able to give the Trojans a run for their money come season's end, and their coach's tenuous retention should only add more energy to what is going to be an otherwise electric game.