While USC comes into this year’s Battle for the Victory Bell as the overwhelming favorite over UCLA, I myself cannot bear to face this reality.
In my fevered dreams induced by various prescription hallucinogens, I have envisioned a glorious Saturday at the Coliseum the likes of which Bruin fans have not witnessed since 1997.
I have seen Kevin Prince (once made of glass, now fully iron) complete 80-yard bombs to towering receivers. I have seen Derrick Coleman shrug off defenders like Lane Kiffin shrugs off Tennessee fans. I have seen Joseph Fauria hurdle five incoming tacklers like a gazelle, Johnathan Franklin sprint end zone to end zone and Rick Neuheisel hugging the Victory Bell through tears.
I have seen the Promised Land, Bruin fans, and it is wondrous.
For UCLA faithful who intend to watch the game from home, don’t forget your sick bag. For those trepidatious Bruins who will see the game in person, don’t forget to wrap yourself entirely in duct tape before putting on the Kevlar.
As for me, I’ll bring the hope. Like a Native American on a spirit quest, I have come back from beyond to provide five ways UCLA will beat USC for the first time since 2006.
UCLA’s offense (part shell game, part genius) will need to be executed to the best of its abilities if the Bruins hope to put points on the board against USC.
The Trojans defense ranks 16th in the nation at stopping the run, only giving up about 110 rushing yards per game. UCLA’s offense centers on the run, with Kevin Prince handing it off to the backs or keeping it himself. It’s worked fairly well so far, with the Bruins averaging just under 200 rushing yards per game.
Much of the Bruins' success offensively will rely on Prince’s ability to read what the defense is giving him. The pistol offense will only work if Prince chooses when to keep it and run correctly. Expect USC to be coached to stop the quarterback whatever the Bruins run and to understand exactly what UCLA will do with the ball when it has it.
If the Bruins can keep a solid SC front seven guessing all game, look for them to put up some serious points on the board. They’ll need it too, with Matt Barkley assured to do the same through the air.
USC is going to sit on the run until UCLA proves it can hurt the Trojans through the air. Thus, another key to a Bruin upset will be their success with passes downfield. Not screen passes, not short curls, not quick slants—deep, downfield passes for 15 yards or more.
Despite his 225 yards and four touchdowns through the air against Colorado, Kevin Prince did show signs that his accuracy wasn’t where it should be. Prince missed a couple of open receivers, most notably Shaq Evans for what would have been Evans' second touchdown.
On Prince's final pair of touchdowns, he slightly overthrew both Joseph Fauria and Nelson Rosario, but his receivers were able to stretch and make the grab.
We’ll need to see more of the aggressive play-calling through the air from Rick Neuheisel and Mike Johnson to keep USC from cheating on the run. Play-action out of the pistol offense would be a good start, but don’t discount rolling Prince out of the pocket.
In the open field, Prince is more dangerous with his legs than with his arm, which might free up receivers downfield as defenders race to him.
One of the ways UCLA can ensure a successful day through the air is to...
Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree, Shaq Evans and Joseph Fauria are all over 6'0", with Fauria and Rosario at 6'8" and 6'5" respectively. USC has only one corner over 6'0", meaning that the Bruins will have a size advantage in most matchups.
Rosario as of late has stopped dipping his hands in butter and oil before every down, partially curing the frustrating drops that have plagued him this year. The Bruin senior has made key catches for UCLA this year and should be afforded opportunities.
I cannot stress enough how important Fauria in particular is to the success of UCLA’s passing game. USC has absolutely no one who can single-cover the explosive tight end (few teams in the nation do), so he should be thrown to early and often.
Rick Neuheisel and the coaching staff have experimented with putting Fauria out wide, but Prince has yet to really take advantage of that. What’s clear is that Fauria has great hands and is probably the Bruins' best offensive weapon.
Simply put, when thrown to, he scores. Of his 27 grabs, six (or 22 percent for you math geeks) were touchdowns.
Like the Bruins’ own most interesting man, Fauria doesn’t always get thrown to, but when he does, he scores TDs. UCLA would be wise to remember that piece of beer commercial wisdom as it heads to the Coliseum.
If they do nothing else right during the game, the one thing UCLA must do to prevent this derby from becoming a rout is pressure Matt Barkley.
The USC quarterback has skyrocketed up draft boards due in large part to his accuracy, arm strength and intelligence, three things that can be disrupted with a healthy pass-rush. While the Bruins showed decent defensive pressure against Colorado, USC will be a different animal entirely.
Barkley is guarded by one of the best offensive lines in college football, anchored by tackle Matt Kalil, who also looks to go high in the 2012 NFL draft. The Trojan quarterback has only been sacked seven times this season and has made defenses pay early for not getting to him.
His 3,105 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air are impressive numbers, but they become even more so when you consider Barkley’s efficient 67.6 completion percentage. With targets like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee waiting to make big plays downfield, getting to Barkley is a must if UCLA wants to stay in this game.
To do so, Datone Jones will have to routinely get penetration, and the Bruin linebackers will have to step up. UCLA hasn’t had that much of a defensive identity all year, and now would be a good time to start. Expect Joe Tresey to throw everything he’s got at the Trojan offense, but even then it might not be enough.
If UCLA doesn’t believe it can win this game, it shouldn’t even bother showing up.
The Bruins have everything to play for. A win not only ends USC’s postseason-less season on a sour note, but it also sends UCLA to the Pac-12 title game (probably against Oregon) with a shot at the Rose Bowl. It also likely cements Rick Neuheisel’s job in Westwood.
All the Bruins have to do is believe they can still win, even when down by a few touchdowns. In a rivalry game this should go without saying, but their inconsistency over the year speaks to a weak mentality they’ll need to shore up.
There will be a time in this game when the Bruins look down and out. There will be a costly turnover, a missed field goal, a run play on 3rd-and-9. Our Bruins will be like Tony Danza on the mound, down to their last strike.
As Neuheisel strides along the sideline to confer with Kevin Prince, the Bruins sideline will (and should) begin to slowly flap their collective wings.
I will stand up in front of my TV and join them, probably with the same look as Joseph-Gordon Levitt once wore.
You should join me too.