USC and UCLA meet on Saturday for their annual clash for football bragging rights, and for the first time in over a decade, the Trojans do not hold all the chips. Sure, Vegas has SC winning by three points, but when you consider they scored 50 points to UCLA’s zero last season, and the fact that the Bruins are ranked above Troy for the first time since Pete Carroll assumed the roll as head coach, the Bruins seem to have a shot handing Jim Mora his first Battle: Los Angeles.
So will the Bruins finally turn the tables on the Trojans?
If history has any precedence, the answer is both yes and no.
When USC and UCLA met in the Coliseum in 2001, the Bruins were ranked higher than USC. The Trojans were looking for a little good fortune after a decade of being dominated by the Bruins, and head coach Pete Carroll was wrapping up his first year with Troy.
But once the game started, the No. 20 Bruins struggled against the Trojans in shocking fashion and it set the tone for the next string of clashes between the two.
Pete Carroll struggled in the first half of his inaugural season, going 1-4 before rolling through the end of it, ultimately finishing 6-5 and being eligible for a postseason appearance. For Trojan fans this game was huge, where their squad’s smothering defense and finally-clicking offense got the better of the Bruins, who had started the season 6-0 before losing four straight coming into this game.
The shutout began when Carson Palmer threw what at first looked to just a 10-yard pass on third and 13 to Kori Dickerson, but Dickerson had other plans. The tight end broke a tackle and dashed 66 yards up the sideline. A few plays later, Palmer hit WR Keary Colbert from four yards out for the touchdown.
This was huge for Colbert, who had stood on the sideline in practice with ankle problems. He told the LA Times after the game that when he lined up on Saturday though, “I saw all those people and the pain just went away.”
The offense got USC on the board early, but the Trojan defense was really the statement-maker in this game. UCLA expected to run the ball up USC’s throat, but the Trojans were having none of it. Instead, UCLA looked flustered and impatient, and that only helped the Trojans further extend their lead. Despite having some-what successfully rushing three times in a row for 17 yards, UCLA QB Cory Paus dropped back to hit Brian Pali-Dixon, but then something crazy happened.
The ball bounced off of Pali-Dixon and hit USC CB Antuan Simmons in the leg. He then held it steady with his hand, took it behind him somehow and then between his legs. With the home crowd going crazy, Simmons dashed back 36 yards for the pick-six.
Before the half, the Trojans would tack on a field goal to extend the rout to 17-0.
UCLA then completely abandoned the run entirely, but were no more successful through the air. When the battle finally ended they put up a whopping 114 yards of total offense, with a measly 28 of those coming from their once-heralded running game. Paus had a dreadful night, completing only seven of 15 passes for 45 yards and throwing two interceptions before being benched in the fourth quarter.
Palmer on the other hand had a really strong showing, passed for 180 yards and a touchdown on the night. The Trojans pretty much put this game in the bag in the third quarter, when he ran the option and pitched to TB Chris Howard, who then took it 34 yards to the house. Another field goal came in the fourth quarter, and the Trojans had completed their stunning shutout, USC’s first since 1947.
And of course, we all know what happens next: Pete Carroll leads USC down a path of excellence and success for ten years, giving the cardinal and gold clad every reason to think they ran LA. After he left, Lane Kiffin picked up right where Carroll left off. He is 2-0 against UCLA and is responsible for the infamous “50-0″ beat down. But now Mora is the new guy in town much like Pete Carroll was, and the Trojans went on their own run dominance in the 2000s just like UCLA did in the ’90s.
This 2012 matchup features many of those same elements from 2001, so who’s game is it to win?
For that answer, it looks as if we will all have to tune into FOX at noon to find out.