Preview: UCLA at USC
There is no greater beneficiary of conference expansion than Rick Neuheisel and his UCLA Bruins. A year ago, in a round-robin format, the 6-5 program would be headed towards a meaningless season finale. But in a year of growth and divisional splits, UCLA finds itself a single hurdle from the Pac 12 championship game, and more remarkably, just two victories from a Rose Bowl birth.
The task is simple in theory—win and you’re in. But standing between Rick and his last gasp for job security is a longtime rival and local king.
Though NCAA sanctions will not allow the Trojans to participate in the postseason, a win on Saturday will still earn them the the honor of being the first champion of the South. One more victory keeps the program atop the division, while also furthering the effort to expose the inaugural Pac 12 championship game as a sham.
The Trojans defeated likely North Champion Oregon last week, and a victory over UCLA will send the South division runner-up to play for the title, thereby stamping the league’s biggest game with an asterisk that screams the lettters U-S-C.
USC is seeking a fifth consecutive victory over its crosstown rival, which would also make it a winner of 12 of the last 13 in the series. Adding to the incentives, the men of Troy are playing for their first 10-win season since 2008, and the first for head coach Lane Kiffin.
National Rank: none
Last Week: defeated Colorado 45-6
Category Avg rank Rush 199.55 28 Pass 194.27 89 Pass Efficiency 139.78 44 Scoring 25.27 76 Total offense 393.62 56
When Richard Brehaut went down five games ago, Kevin Prince became the nucleus of the Bruin offensive. UCLA has gone 3-2 since Prince has manned the reins, with his season highlighted by a 4-touchdown performance against Colorado last week. The pistol’s projectiles are Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, and getting them involved early is one key to success. Nelson Rosario stands as a secondary option to the heavy focus run game, leading the team at average of 4 receptions and 81 yards per game.
Category Avg rank Rush 180.82 82 Pass 216.55 53 Pass Efficiency 127.61 57 Scoring 29.09 81 Total defense 180.82 82
The Bruins remain vulnerable against the run. In five losses, opponents have ran for an average of 224.6 yards per game. That is indicative the weakness of a defensive line that not only allows penetration, but gets little of its own. UCLA as a team has recorded just 12 sacks in 11 games, placing 11th in the category in conference, and a woeful 111th overall in the nation.
National Rank: 10 (AP)
Last Week: defeated Oregon 38-35
Category Avg rank Rush 163.82 53 Pass 282.45 23 Pass Efficiency 155.57 16 Scoring 34.45 22 Total offense 446.27 29
Robert Woods is four receptions shy of a new school and conference record. He enters the season finale with 99 receptions, and there is little reason to believe he will exit without surpassing the standing record of 102.
Matt Barkley has jumped head first into the Heisman race, and his 33 touchdown passes now lead the Pac 12. There is just one game remaining to further impress voters, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see a heavy dose of the junior in this game.
Curtis McNeal and Mark Tyler should also play a major role, considering the weakness along the Bruin front. It was Allen Bradford that ran the Trojans to victory last year, and depending on the situation, especially in a tight ball game, current ball carriers may be called upon to do the same.
Category Avg rank Rush 110.27 16 Pass 263.55 100 Pass Efficiency 130.79 65 Scoring 25.73 58 Total defense 373.82 53
The performance against Oregon was undoubtedly the best by the Trojan defense this year. The numbers may not support it, with the Ducks making a late fourth quarter surge, but for three quarters the blur offense found itself running in place.
Analysis: UCLA faces the same dilemma as last week’s opponent, which is playing into the teeth of the Trojan defense. But Unlike the Ducks, the Bruins don’t have a productive second option. The group will either run its way to victory or be corralled for the slaughter. Though it’s the Bruins still in pursuit of a conference championship, it may be the Trojans with emotions running highest. Several players will play their final game in the Coliseum, and possibly among them are two juniors, the draft eligible Matt Barkley and Matt Kalil.
X-factor, Kevin Prince: Quarterback Kevin Prince will inevitably lead the Bruins to success or failure. The dual-threat quarterback will have an opportunity to make plays with his legs against an overly aggressive Trojan front. But decision making has been a major concern of the coaching staff, and the biggest negative in his game. Prince has thrown 6 interceptions in his limited playing time, after Brehaut started the season without any. He has also been sacked 12 times this season, and a total of 43 times in his Bruin career.
All Time Series: USC leads 45-28-7
Streak: USC has won 4
Last Meeting: USC 28, UCLA 14 (Pasadena)
- UCLA’s 28 victories over USC ties Washington for the most of any conference opponent.
- UCLA enters with 5 conference victories, which is a single-season high under Coach Rick Neuheisel.
- Since taking the job in 2008, Rick Neuheisel is 4-11 versus ranked opponents.
- Since 2008, UCLA has an overall road record of 5-17.
- November 22, 1997 marks the last time UCLA defeated USC in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
- The USC offensive line has allowed just 7 sacks in 2011, which ties for third-fewest in the nation.
- The UCLA defense has registered only 12 sacks through 11 games, which ranks 11th in conference, and an overall 111th in the country.
- Matt Barkley’s 4 touchdown passes against Oregon enabled him to pass Andrew Luck (31) to lead the conference with 33.
- Robert Woods will play in just 12 games this season, which is the same amount as Keyshawn Johnson in 1995, when the receiver caught 102 passes to establish the single-season conference record.
- The victory bell was originally gifted to the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939, before becoming the official prize of the rivalry in 1942.