Gameday Preview 2012: USC vs. UCLA


Original photographs by Kirby Lee and Gary Vasquez, US PRESSWIRE. Photoshopped by Michael Castillo, Reign Of Troy.

USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins

Rose Bowl | Pasadena, Calif.12:00 PM Pacific | FOXAll-time Series: USC leads 46-28-7Last meeting: USC 50, UCLA 0 in 2011

A year ago, the Trojans took out two years of bowl ban frustration on the Bruins, prompting the termination of Rick Neuheisel and giving the rivalry its most lopsided score to date, 50-0. This year, despite losing 12 of 13 to Troy, UCLA is ranked ahead of USC for the first time since 2001 and looking to use that momentum to earn the right to paint the undercarriage of the Victory Bell a bright blue.

For the Bruins, the uptick in play has been formed by a meshing of a new coach, a new attitude and a new offense. Freshman quarterback Brett Hundley is the best signal caller the Bruins have had in more than a decade and his partner in crime, senior running back Johnathan Franklin, will own a slew of records in Westwood. On defense, UCLA is led by Anthony Barr at linebacker, a converted fullback who been the main source of on-field bravado for the boys in blue as they look to swagger their way to winning back the City of Angels.

Standing in their way is a Trojans team that has vastly underachieved and are eager to revenge their poor results in league play with a chance for redemption and a ticket to the Rose Bowl to play the Big Ten champion. USC comes off its best defensive showing of the year, led by a blue-collar defensive line with brute strength and emotion personified through junior college transfer Morgan Breslin. On the offense, the Trojans boast the most dynamic playmaker in the Pac-12 since Reggie Bush, as Marqise Lee has seemingly defied everything but gravity in his ascension to the top of leader boards and record books.

The Bruins are hot. The Trojans are feisty. A sword won’t hit the turf, but bodies will. Whose will they be? We find out at noon in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell.

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When UCLA has the ball…

Through 10 games, Hundley is second or third in the Pac-12 in most passing categories, while boasting a touchdowns to interception ratio of 24 to 9, second only to Oregon’s Mariota. He’s led the Bruins to eight wins and has put the Bruins in contention to make a BCS Bowl for the first time 14 years. While he is athletic and mobile, Lane Kiffin asserted that Hundley is a pocket passer who has the ability to run, as opposed to a Mariota, who is a scrambler with the ability to pass. Given UCLA’s offense, it’s Hundley’s mobility that allows him to be a difference maker, as seen with his 72-yard touchdown run on his first collegiate snap against Rice, back in August. Behind Hundley may be the best combo-back in the nation not named Kenjon Barner, as Johnathan Franklin is closing out his UCLA career in style. Franklin is averaging 127 yards per game and should finish surpassing the 1,500-yard mark with ease. Should he cross that plateau, he would become just the second Bruin to ever rush for that many yards in a season, as Karim Abdul-Jabbar set a school record with 1,571 yards in 1995. The versatility of formations this year has limited the number of rushing touchdowns for Franklin, but it’s vastly improving the rate at which the Bruins are scoring. Once in the redzone, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone likes to go to tight end Joseph Fauria. The big Notre Dame transfer is NFL-ready and just another solid Pac-12 tight end, in addition to being one of the conference’s most efficient playmakers inside the redzone. Being 6-foot-7 with the mobility of a wide receiver is pivotal for creating mismatches, and so far in 2012, Fauria has seven touchdowns in the redzone on just eight catches.For more on UCLA’s offense, click here.

For the Trojans’ defense, they couldn’t have scripted a better outcome against Arizona State last week. They not only held a high-flying offense to half of their production, they sacked Taylor Kelly seven times and gave up just 76 yards in the second half. The USC front seven dictated the game until the Trojans’ offense awoke from their pre-rivarly slumber and fought off an Oregon hangover just as good teams do. Having said that, the Trojans are still two weeks removed from a horrific defensive showing against the Ducks, and UCLA’s up-tempo spread offense has shown the ability to be high-octane and high-scoring, giving USC all they can handle. They’ll need a big game from the front seven to matchup against the Bruins’ backs and tight ends and if they can get penetration, they’ll have the ability to dictate the game defensively. If not, they’ll be in for a long afternoon.

UCLA’s Projected Offensive Starters:WR Jerry Johnson #9LT Torian White #77LG Xavier Su’a Filo #56C Jake Brendel #54RG Jeff Baca #60RT Simon Goines #70TE Joseph Fauria #8WR Steven Manfro #33QB Brett Hundley #17FB David Allen #41TB Johnathan Franklin #23WR Shaq Evans #1Note: UCLA denotes their depth chart as to having four receivers, giving them 12 listed starters.

USC’s Projected Defensive StartersDE Wes Horton #96 or Greg Townsend Jr. #93DT George Uko #90NT Antwaun Woods #99DE Morgan Breslin #91WLB Hayes Pullard #10MLB Lamar Dawson #55SLB Dion Bailey #18CB Nickell Robey #21SS Jawanza Starling #29FS T.J. McDonald #7CB Torin Harris #4 or Josh Shaw #26

When USC has the ball…

The only unit in the country than stop SC’s offense right now is the Trojans. Against Arizona State, the Trojans turned the ball over five times and have coughed it up plenty over the course of the last several weeks, despite the offense clicking on the scoreboard. Matt Barkley had a couple of poor throws resulting in interceptions last week, and he’ll need to improve if SC wants to continue their aerial attack.  The Trojans have scored five touchdowns in four straight games and have looked unstoppable at times in each of those, even last week despite struggling in the first half. Running back Silas Redd will be game-time decision with an ankle injury, but if he can’t go, Curtis McNeal is more than capable as the senior had a career day with 163 yards on 31 carries last week. In the passing game, it all revolves around Marqise Lee, who is just 14 catches, 86 yards and four touchdowns shy of breaking Pac-12 single season records. Robert Woods had just two catches for negative three yards last week, but with UCLA’s struggling pass defense, it could be a great day for he and freshman Nelson Agholor to excel.

Facing the Trojans is a UCLA defense that is much improved from a year ago. The Bruins boast a 3-4 scheme with four talented and aggressive linebackers including Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. They’re third in the nation in sacks and Barr has been a big reason why, blitzing off the edge and disrupting the opposition in the backfield. On the defensive line, UCLA has done a terrific job of rotating their linemen in a variety of packages. While Datone Jones will start at defensive end, look for Owamagbe Odighizuwa to get plenty of playing time in the rotation. On the opposite side, the full-sleeved Cassius Marsh has been a pleasant surprise for UCLA and he’ll be going right up against USC’s freshmen left tackles, which could be one of the most pivotal matchups of the day as the Bruins need to get to Matt Barkley if they want to be victorious.  In the secondary, the Bruins have struggled, as they’re ranked 105th in pass defense and that’s with the added bonus of having not faced a healthy, potent passing attack to date, or at least one as good as USC’s. Sheldon Price has struggled as a senior corner and the Bruins will be forced to double team Marqise Lee with Price and Abbott, as free safety Tevin McDonald will likely form UCLA’s cloud coverage to protect against the deep ball. In the end, the Bruins are a very stout defense, but they’ll be tested today more than they have all season.

USC’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Robert Woods #2TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82LT Aundrey Walker #70 and Max Tuerk #75LG Marcus Martin #66 or Abe Markowitz #50C Khaled Holmes #78RG John Martinez #59RT Kevin Graf #77WR Marqise Lee #9QB Matt Barkley #7RB Silas Redd #25 or Curtis McNeal #22FB Soma Vainuku #31

UCLA’s Projected Defensive Starters:LDE Datone Jones #56NT 98 Seali’i Epenesa #98RDE Cassius Marsh #99LOLB Damien Holmes #43LILB Jordan Zumwalt #35RILB Eric Kendricks #6ROLB Anthony Barr #11LCB Sheldon Price #22SS Andrew Abbott #26FS Tevin McDonald #7RCB Aaron Hester #21

Game Notes

  • USC and UCLA will battle for the ownership rights of the Victory Bell today. Despite the rivalry being hotly contested for much of the series, the bell’s undercarriage has only been pained four times since 1990, as the rivalry has been one-sided for two decades, with a flip-flop having taken place in 1999.
  • The Trojans have won five straight over UCLA, as there’s not one player on USC’s roster that has lost to the Bruins, while the opposite remains true.
  • The last time UCLA was ranked higher for a rivalry game was 2001, when the Trojans routed them on their way to a 27-0 victory at the Coliseum. The big play? Antuan Simmons’s gravity-defying interception.
  • USC has not lost to UCLA in a game at the Rose Bowl when both teams were ranked since 1986. The last time both teams were ranked at either venue was in 2005, when the No. 1 ranked Trojans defeated the No. 11 Bruins 66-19.
  • There’s plenty of crossover between the schools as expected given the geography. Safeties T.J. McDonald (USC) and Tevin McDonald (UCLA) are bothers, while their dad, Tim McDonald was an All-American with the Trojans in the 80’s. Wes Horton’s father, Myke Horton, lettered at UCLA from 1973 to 1974 and was a teammate of Abe Markowitz’s father Barry in 1974. Also of note, former UCLA head coach and Rose Bowl-winning quarterback Rick Neuheisel holds a law degree from the USC School of Law.
  • Calling the game today for FOX is the No. 1 broadcast team of Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, with Julie Alexandria chiming in from the sideline and Erin Andrews, Joey Harrington and Eddie George adding studio coverage.