USC Trojans (7-5, 4-4) at UCLA Bruins (4-7, 2-6)
2009 Result: USC 28- UCLA 7
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel (Year 3: 15-21)
Stars: LB Akeem Ayers, S Rahim Moore
Location: Pasadena, California (Rose Bowl)
Time: 7:30 PM PDT
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Spread: UCLA (+6.5)
Matchup: USC heads to Pasadena to conclude its season, the worst since 2001, at the Rose Bowl. After another crushing loss, this time at the hands of Notre Dame, USC looks to bounce back against crosstown rival UCLA. 2010 hasn’t gone quite according to plan, but a victory this weekend would go a long way to ease the pain. The victory bell has been on USC’s campus for much of the past decade, and keeping it is always a top priority. Lane Kiffin is only in his first season, but supporters will become very anxious if his team loses to both rivals in the same season.
UCLA’s season will come to a close after Saturday’s contest as well. The Bruins were hoping to make it to six wins and were off to a good start last week in Tempe after they took a 17-0 lead. However, Arizona State stormed back and added another loss to an unimpressive season. Some pundits picked UCLA as a trendy team to make some noise on the national scene this year, but they have only mustered a 4-7 record in Rick Neuheisel’s third season.
After churning out quality performances for the first ten weeks of the season, the USC offense has only mustered two touchdowns in the past two weeks. Over the course of the week, Lane Kiffin has stressed that the lack of an effective running game has been the main reason for the decline in production. Without being able to run the ball, the passing game is easier to defend and play actions passes aren’t as tricky. USC’s system simply isn’t designed to throw the ball a lot. Against Notre Dame, USC ran for just 80 yards on thirty carries. The game may not be won or lost in the trenches, but it will certainly be a big factor. USC needs to make a statement on its first offensive possession. By coming out and blowing the Bruins off the ball, they can gain some confidence necessary to move the ball and win the game. Another factor that slowed USC down was a conservative game plan with Mitch Mustain starting. All indications point to Matt Barkley starting Saturday, and that opens up the playbook for more of the offense we saw in the first ten weeks. UCLA’s defense had been impressive, but Arizona State torched them. Brock Osweiler completed a very high percentage of his passes and threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Big plays killed UCLA in their game in Tempe, and Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods provide deep threats for USC. Chances are, Ronald Johnson will be running routes with increased motivation as he seeks redemption for his drop on Saturday against Notre Dame. On defense, UCLA can be formidable at times. Akeem Ayers at linebacker can be found near the ball on most plays, and Rahim Moore will challenge USC’s best receivers from the safety position.
UCLA’s offense sputtered for most of the season, but it showed signs of life against Arizona State. Even though the Bruins have one of the worst ranked passing attacks in the entire country. Richard Brehaut threw for 321 yards and Johnathan Franklin rushed for 73 yards as the UCLA offense rolled up an uncharacteristic 442 yards. Out of the pistol, they have relied on the running game and only passed modestly. Nevertheless, it is likely they will try to exploit the pass this weekend. With the exception of Hawaii, who used the formation sparingly, this is the first USC will see this style of offense. Despite being the 116th ranked passing attack, UCLA figures to throw the ball more as they face one of the worse passing atttacks in the nation. Walk-on Marshall Jones will start for USC due to multiple injuries in the secondary. Johnathan Franklin likely won’t have much success against a tough run defense, but Brehaut can exploit a depleted and inexperience secondary. If UCLA hopes to have success on offense, it will deviate from the norm and commit to the pass.
Both coaches desperately need to win this game. Rick Neuheisel’s team regressed in his third year, and the fans in Westwood are getting tired of his pep talks. At one point this season, one supporter told him to be quiet and just win a game. Despite the struggles for UCLA, Neuheisel can buy time by beating USC. Boosters probably don’t appreciate his Pac-10 record over the last three season, but the memory of USC will be stuck in their minds all offseason is Neuheisel pulls it off. Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin’s squad already lost to Notre Dame. At 7-5, the message boards are heating up about his incompetence. If he loses to UCLA, the talk will only escalate. USC fans aren’t happy with the four other losses, but losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in the same season would be catastrophic and give the Bruins hope that the gap has closed in Los Angeles.
Stat of the week: USC has won eleven of the past twelve in this rivalry. Rick Neuheisel is 8-18 in Pac-10 play during his three year tenure at UCLA.
Final Score Prediction: USC 24 – UCLA 17. TUSK!