Sometimes a team needs to get punched in the mouth in order to understand what’s at stake. That was certainly the case in 2006 when USC lost to ucla 13-9 and it was also the case when USC lost to Stanford last season. No team, regardless of how good they are, is invulnerable to having a bad loss as we have seen numerous times the past few years.
Today when SC travels to the Rose Bowl against one of the worst ucla teams on record they will have those memories in their heads of how not approach this game. It’s a foregone conclusion in a lot of people’s eyes that SC will roll today. Its not hard to see why as ucla has been absolutely atrocious this season. Sure, they had a great win against Tennessee to open the season but then they were obliterated by BYU 59-0. They showed some grit in their win against Stanford and in their loss to Fresno State but they also beat the perennial doormats of the conference UW and WSU. But for the most part this is not a very good offensive team and because of it the defense spends way too much time on the field getting worn down.
A lot of ucla fans, and some players, are holding out hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle a 2nd time but these are different times and these are two different teams than what we saw in 2006.
The oddsmakers consider it among the longest of longshots.
So do most college football fans, even those who went to school in Westwood.
But UCLA players today will draw inspiration from the not-so-distant past when they play fifth-ranked USC in the 78th game in the cross-town rivalry.
Two years ago, UCLA upset the Trojans, 13-9, at the Rose Bowl.
If the Bruins could do it then, receiver Marcus Everett reasons, "We can do it now."
Perhaps. Not likely. But . . .
One interesting match-up will be Mark Sanchez against the ucla defense. Sanchez only played in one series last season so he will get to see this rivalry in full force. It was also discussed last season how DeWayne Walker tried to get into Booty's head by putting as much pressure as he could on him so it wouldn't surprise me if he tried that same tactic again. Price and Harwell are absolute monsters on the inside and they are fairly effective at bringing pressure to opposing QB's but their weakness is against the run and if Sarkisian focuses on the run early on it could take the pressure off of Sanchez.
The offensive line has their work cut out for them, but they have come a long way. A unit that had a lot of questions when the season started has come together nicely and, for the most part, they have been very effective at both protecting Sanchez and making some room for the running game to get going.
[B]ut the biggest difference between the rival programs who clash Saturday for the 78th time lies with the biggest men on the field.
USC's offensive line has progressed from preseason question mark to late-season exclamation point. UCLA, plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness, still is searching for its fave five.
This is where this game will be won. If the O line continues to protect Sanchez and make some holes it could be a long day for the bruin defense. I am sure that Wlaker will try a number of blitzing schemes and you know he will look to get freshman Rahim Moore into the mix when stopping the run but it would also not surprise me to see SC use a dink-and-dunk type passing game to open things up. I think this a better SC offense than what we had last season, even though they have sputtered at times this season, and last season ucla had a better defense so while I don't expect a blowout I see no reason why USC can't achieve identical results like last season.
As for Norm Chow...we have read over and over about how good he is.There is no question that he sees the game at a completely different level above all others but Chow is only as good as the talent he has to work with. Chow is also not infallible as some SC fans remember his play calling against Cal in 2003 especially one particular series where he went to Herchel Dennis 3 consecutive times all for no gain. He has also made some head scratchers this season like being inside their opponents 20-yard line and throwing a swing pass for no gain...where have we seen that before?
Yes, Chow made some good adjustments against Tennessee but lets not get carried away, everything was stacked against Tennessee that night and they had a dismal season going forward that resulted in the firing of Phil Fulmer. Chow, I'm sure, will find a few things to use against this incredible USC defense but I doubt it will be enough to change the outcome. Craft will make some plays no doubt but his tendency to make the same mistakes over and over could haunt him against this defense. He may be able to run from some of the pressure but he can't do it all day.
The one thing that concerns me the most will once again be penalties. If you remember in 2006 SC had a number of false starts called on them that pushed them back. This was because the ucla defensive line just wanted it more and looking back on it the SC O line looked to be intimidated. I think this O line is much more disciplined than in 2006. Sure, there is the occasional false start or hold but they have done a solid job this season. The defense on the other hand because of their aggressiveness is another matter. These guys love to hit, and I don't expect today to be any different the question is can the keep in check and not make any late hits. I can live with an aggressive P.I. call, though I would prefer no penalties. But the after the play stuff cannot happen today.
The fork in the road for SC today is simple...win today regardless of margin of victory and SC will be back in Pasadena in 3 short weeks to take on a very good Penn State team. Lose and they head to San Diego to take on a Big 12 opponent. Its a matter of pride to beat ucla no matter how good or bad they are so option #2 is a non-starter for me.
SC coming out in their home jerseys will be a real treat and its the first step to bringing this rivalry back to where it once was. The rest of it is on ucla as they need to get competitive if this rivalry is to get back to national prominence...unfortunately for them I don't see that happening today.
We'll have the game thread up later.