Preview: USC at UCLA
The Pac 12 South will be decided in Los Angeles for a second straight year. The Bruins lost the city battle in 2011, but claimed the division by default. It will have no such luxury this time around, with USC now playing without NCAA postseason restriction and able to advance to the conference championship game. UCLA has lost 12 of the last 13 meetings between the two schools, but enters this one with a higher ranking than their crosstown opponent for the first time since 2001.
UCLA Bruins (8-2)
National Rank: 17 (AP), 16 (Coaches), 17 (BCS)
Last week: UCLA 44, Washington State 36
Jim Mora’s first order of business was to scrap the pistol offense that Rick Neuheisel relied on so much. He hired former Arizona State coordinator Noel Mazzone to install the spread, and the Bruins have reaped the rewards ever since. A unit that averaged just 23 points per game a year ago has seen that number inflate to 37.70. The most dramatic increase comes in passing numbers. The Bruins averaged just 198 passing yards per game in the pistol, but has elevated to 285.90 in the new system. That’s a jump from eleventh overall in conference a year ago to a current position of third.
The success of the spread is due in part to the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley. In his first year under center, the dual-threat presence ranks 19th in total offense (301.10), having thrown for 2,739 yards and 24 touchdowns. Hundley has also rushed for 6 scores, carrying at an average of 11 rushes per game.
But rushing is Jonathan Franklin’s forte, as he enters with an average of 127 yards per game, which is third best in conference. The senior has eclipsed the century mark in 7 of 10 games, though he was limited to just 66 rushing yards against Washington State last week. Shaquelle Evans leads the team in receptions (39), but Joseph Fauria poses the bigger threat. The tight end has accounted for 9 of the Bruins’ 24 receiving touchdowns, and averages 13.5 yards per catch.
The Bruin defense struggles in the secondary, allowing opponents an average of 266.40 passing yards per game. That numbers earns the unit a ranking of 103rd in the nation and tenth overall in conference. UCLA’s 37 sacks tie their visitors at fourth-best in the nation, and the Bruins also place 7th with 78 tackles for loss. Jim Mora’s defense is allowing 24.70 points per game, but has surrendered 30-plus points in two of the last three contests.
USC Trojans (7-3)
National rank: 21 (AP), 21 (Coaches), 18 (BCS)
Last week: USC 38, Arizona State 17
Matt Barkley had another multiple interception performance last week, but thanks to his supporting cast, managed to cruise to victory over Arizona State. The quarterback established himself as the conference’s most prolific passer in the win, but the increase in turnovers is an obvious cause for concern.
USC found its legs last weekend, working Curtis McNeal for a career-high 163 yards on 31 carries. There’s no word on the status of Silas Redd for Saturday, so McNeal will again be cast into the leading role. The most threatening legs still belong to do-it-all sensation Marqise Lee, as the sophomore continues to put up numbers at a furious pace. Lee has dropped to second in the nation in all-purpose yards, but continues to place top-5 in all receiving categories. Robert Woods has accepted his lesser role, but continues to be an offensive presence that defenses must scheme for. Woods had just 2 receptions for -3 yards a week ago, but expect him to improve on that number against a porous Bruin secondary.
The Trojans have a reputation of struggling against the spread, but fared well against the Sun Devils last weekend. It was the often scrutinized unit that allowed USC to separate from its opponent in the second half, limiting Arizona State to just a field goal in the final thirty minutes. The unit also limited Taylor Kelly to less than 200 passing yards, and held Sparky’s three-headed rush attack to a mere 71 total yards. It’s the defense that received a much needed boost in confidence, and it will need it, as it faces a fourth spread attack in as many weeks.
Analysis: USC versus UCLA is an adrenalin rush that offers both positive and negative effects. Overly aggressive play can wreak havoc on an opponent, but it can also reward them through penalties. The Bruins and Trojans are the most penalized teams in conference, and it will take discipline in this rivalry game to secure an upper hand. USC has also committed 26 turnovers on the season, tying it with Cal as the most generous in conference.
Just as it was in years past, It’s the play in the trenches that will determine Saturday’s winner. The Trojans look to build on the exceptional play of their defensive line, and UCLA aims to prove it is now capable of repelling it.
X-Factor– Brett Hundley– The redshirt freshman may be the most dynamic of all spread quarterbacks the Trojans have faced this year. The line may be able to penetrate and disrupt his passing rhythm, but will it be able to corral and limit gains once he is flushed from the pocket.
All-Time Series: USC 46-28-7
Streak: USC has won 5
Last Meeting: USC 50, UCLA 0 (Los Angeles)
- In what has become tradition, both USC and UCLA will wear home dark jerseys, symbolizing an era when both teams shared the same home field.
- UCLA enters this game ranked for the first time since 2005
- UCLA has lost 12 of the last 13 games versus USC, which includes a current streak of 5 consecutive losses
- USC has struggled in Pac 12 road games, losing twice, and winning by an average margin of just 10 points.
- UCLA is seeking 5 straight victories for the first time since it began 8-0 in 2005
- Jim Mora needs one victory to tie Terry Donahue (9) for most wins by a UCLA coach in his first year. Donahue established the record in 1976*
- UCLA is 8-7 in the Rose Bowl versus USC*
- UCLA has won 10 of the last 17 games at home versus AP ranked opponents.*
- Did you know?—UCLA was No. 1 in the very first BCS rankings, released on October 26, 1998*
- UCLA linebacker Erik Kendricks leads the Pac 12 in tackles (10.2 pg)*
- USC and UCLA are the two most penalized teams in conference
- USC’s 26 turnovers tie Cal for most in the Pac 12