Bumped - An Awesome take by DJ. (Apologies for a lack of posting today...jammed at work)...P
As most of the 'SC faithful here pay little attention to UCLA football until the game rolls around, I thought it might help you all to Know Yer Enemy a little bit better. UCLA, in its second year under your second-most disliked opposing coach (that honor going to Charlie Weis), is performing about at expectations. Most knowledgeable fans and pundits were forecasting anywhere from 5-7 to 7-5, so at 6-5, UCLA is right on track. So what does this all mean for the game tomorrow? Note: all stats from the Pac-10 guide http://www.pac-10.org/sports/m-footbl/stats/2009-2010/confldrs.html
First, UCLA's offense is much improved from last year's absolute disaster. When you're that bad, there isn't anywhere to go but up, but even so, UCLA, especially in the last 3-4 games, has begun to show something approaching a decent offense. While the running game for UCLA this year has been merely mediocre, this is a substantial upgrade. Currently, UCLA sits 9th in the Pac-10 in rushing offense at an anemic 114.8 ypg. UCLA's rushing attack does have some big play potential with Jonathan Franklin at TB, and some speed and shiftiness with Milton Knox and Damien Thigpen, but a bout with fumble-itis has landed Franklin in the doghouse and the others have not seen the field much as they too have contracted, albeit to a lesser extent, fumble-itis as well. Most of the load recently has been carried by FB Chane Moline and Derrick Coleman, neither of whom will remind 'SC fans of Toby Gerhart (and you should be really glad abut that.) UCLA has generally avoided misdirection plays, end-arounds or reverses-the attack is pretty vanilla with stretch plays and most runs going between the tackles. USC's rush defense sits 6th in the conference yielding 135.6 ypg, so UCLA should be able to move the ball a little. However, this UCLA O line is not even remotely close to the level of Stanford or Oregon, so I do not expect much sustained rushing from UCLA.
UCLA's passing offense started off weak but has improved a great deal. At this point Prince is developing into a quality Pac-10 QB, as one would expect a talented freshman to do, but UCLA's pass offense is hardly making anyone forget the Cade McNown days as UCLA ranks 8th in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Prince still has problems with touch passes, but has an excellent arm and of late has begun to show real improvement, making good reads and decisions. The WR corps also started slow and has improved, but still has trouble gaining separation from DBs and overall lacks speed. There is no go-to receiver, although Nelson Rosario comes close. He's a RS freshman, a big, athletic WR who has made incredible catches while also playing quite stupidly and half-heartedly on occasion. UCLA's WR are awful blockers-you can be fairly sure that if UCLA runs a good screen that the downfield blocking will collapse and the USC defenders will have little trouble making the play before it ever becomes a big one. TE was considered a strength for UCLA before the season, but while the announcers may talk up SR Logan Paulsen a bit, he is as likely to make a boneheaded play (usually a penalty) as he is to make a good catch and run. Although Prince is not really a dual-threat like Masoli, he has wheels and can run much better than one would expect, as evidenced by a 68-yard run against Wazzu. UCLA's pass blocking has also improved dramatically, but blitz recognition and pickup by the O line, RB and Prince remains questonable, and USC ought to be able to pressure Prince, if not with a straight up rush than with good blitz packages. USC leads the Pac-10 in sacks and UCLA is tied for 8th in the conference in sacks allowed. I would expect UCLA to have some success passing, but I see few big plays for the Bruins unless something unusual occurs.
On defense, UCLA runs a basic 4-3 and the DC keeps UCLA in the base formation. The Bruins have quality playmakers at each level of the defense-Brian Price, Reggie Carter at LB and Alterraun Verner (CB) and Rahim Moore (FS.) UCLA does not blitz often and even when it does, the blitzes have not produced many sacks-UCLA is tied for 5th in the Pac-10 with 22 sacks. Oddly enough, however, USC s only 4th-best in the Pac-10 at protecting the QB, having given up 14 sacks. That's a pretty good number, but USC's O line was considered one of the best in the country before the season; one would think that number would be less. Price is a beast and commands a double team much of the time; lately he has been lined up some at DE rather than DT and has played very well at that spot. However, the remainder of the UCLA D line is at best only serviceable, so I would expect USC to run the ball well against UCLA, at least for the first half. We are particularly vulnerable to misdirection and our line has had some truly epic breakdowns in containment, and with USC's speed, disaster is only one missed tackle away. As for pass potection, UCLA should be able to put some pressure on Barkley, which is critical in this game, but has to be prepared to blitz if the line can't get any pressure on its own.
The LB corps is iffy. Carter this year has not played as well as his mouth and the rest of the LB are not good at shedding blocks and not quick to the outside. The secondary has shown some vulnerability, especially because staring CB Hester broke his leg and freshman Sheldon Price was inserted. Price was simply unbelievably bad early-poor coverage, poor tackling, poor everything-but he has improved somewhat and is at least mediocre now. UCLA is 4th in the conference in pass efficiency defense and has usually played well, only rarely getting torched.
UCLA does lead the conference in turnover margin whereas USC is 9th. UCLA has three of the Pac-10's top 10 eaders in interceptions-Rahim Moore (9), Verner (4) and Akeem Ayers from his LB position with 3.
On special teams, UCLA also has the best kicking game in the conference with K Kai Forbath and punter Jeff Locke. UCLA s 2nd in the conference in kickoff coverage stats whereas USC is 5th. This is the only major category that decidedly favors UCLA.
Know Yer Enemy.
This is a game that USC should win. USC has been the better team this year, has better talent at nearly every position and is playing at home. There should be little reason to question USC's motivation and desire to re-establish its credentials in a rivalry game coming in the wake of two bad losses against Stanford and Oregon. Still, this particular team has not shown that mental toughness or physical ability that so marked the Trojans after their other stumbles in previous seasons. UCLA has won three in a row and has some momentum, plus rising confidence that for the first time in a while, UCLA has the players to beat USC instead of just emotion. I think the line is too high at 13 and I predict a closer win for USC, something on the order of 20-13. It would not surprise me at all if UCLA did win. For UCLA to win, the defense must get turnovers and stop the USC running game.
I can't wish USC good luck, but I can say that I hope that we see an injury-free game that reminds us all why this rivalry is a great one.