Game Day Notes - ucla

For USC fans it is hard not to be concerned about tonight's game against ucla.

With how USC has fared the past few weeks it is certainly a different looking team than we saw earlier in the season. Yes, if you paid close attention you could see that there were some issues brewing just below the surface. That is what happens when you lose 11 players to the NFL. And even with all the depth that USC has it is hard for that depth to just step right in and produce like last years team without having a chance to build their own identity and forge their own team chemistry.

Even the pros have the same same issues.

With that being said, I am going to throw this obvious preface out there...anything can happen in a rivalry game!

Regardless of what is discussed in the local press and the national media that this is a rivalry game trumps all other scenarios in my eyes.

Either team can win, especially this season...

The press has already set the narrative that SC can be had and that ucla has the seen the momentum shift their way. Plaschke is breathlessly hoping and praying that ucla will win so that he can officially get the bandwagon etc. etc.

The press set the narrative early on in anticipation of tonight's game that there was a shift.

They are now practically proclaiming that the dynasty is over. They wonder if the gap has closed.

But...

Monopolies and dynasties are built over time, which in the Trojans' case, is the prior seven seasons. These sports monoliths might weaken and crack but won't disappear and crumble after one Trojans' sub-dominant, rebuilding, yet winning season.

Since 2002, the Trojans have created skyscraper-high expectations. They have won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, had seven winning records with no more than two regular-season losses, gone to seven major bowls, finished in the top four in seven final Associated Press polls and won two national championships (2003, 2004).

That's dominance. Anything less than a Rose Bowl sends Trojans fans into their panic rooms.

Since 2002, the Bruins have largely floundered outside the national scene. They've had two coaches and one interim coach. They've gone to six lower-tier bowls, had three winning seasons, ended 2005 ranked No. 16 and have finished no better than third in the conference standings.

That's inconsistency. Anything more than three victories in the Rose Bowl makes Bruin fans think their team is, well, as good as USC.

Monopolies and dynasties do not fall over night either. They may have some bad losses and setbacks but they don't drop off the face of the map. It takes time to not be relevant after a long stay in the national spotlight. We have seen this movie before too, like in 2006. IF ucla were to win tonight, it would be a short paragraph, in one chapter of a very long book between these two teams.

Many fans and the press will misread it if ucla wins, after all Stanford did not look like world beaters in their rivalry game against Cal.

Trojan Empire calls it pretty good...

On the eve of 79th meeting between the two schools, there are questions surrounding both programs. Southern California appears more vulnerable than in years past, and UCLA would like nothing more than to kick a big dog while it’s down. The Bruins have displayed a late season surge, and Saturday will be a greater indicator of whether the gap between themselves and their neighbor has been closed or if the sudden "Westwood wonders" are merely blowing smoke.

Because it is a rivalry game, just beating USC isn't enough to claim the monopoly is over...ucla will have to do something bigger with it. And I am not yet convinced that they can. We have seen this movie too...Slick Rick always seems to stumble after a signature win. Sure, they will get a year of press out of it but don't think for a minute that SC won't respond...

Smith adds this...

What's different and noteworthy about this 2009 season is that the Grand Canyon-sized gap between the programs has narrowed slightly in terms of record and position in the Pac-10 standings, not national profile.

This "closing of the gap," largely fostered by the Trojans' rebuilding season, could be a temporary tightening. Nobody will know for at least a few more seasons.

BINGO!!

I have said it before and I will say it again...ucla is just a regional player not a national powerhouse in football. They have had some nice runs but no one who covers the sport for a living ever pays any significant attention to ucla east of Arizona.

This is what happens when a team as great as USC goes through what can be considered a bad season when compared with the past several seasons. Jeff Miller is right...That anyone outside of the local press is even paying attention to the game says more about USC's struggles this season than ucla's "resurgence". This is a great regional rivalry but its not like Michigan/Ohio St.!! Most SC fans can deal with losses, we have seen them before but it has been how USC has lost their last two games and struggled in others that have led many of us to ask some questions. I won't waste everyone's time in rehashing it. That is what make this game such a concern for USC fans.

I am not going to really going to try and break down ucla. We have seen enough of them this season to know that even with a three-game winning streak, this team still has some serious issues. When the coaching staff gets more notoriety than the team on the field that is saying something. There are days when the ucla defense plays better than their offense (and they should play better with all their talent) but then there are stretches when this supposedly good ucla defense looks like a high school team. What is ucla's identity? It is hard to get a read on a team that started 0-5 in conference play then goes on a three-game win streak against some of the bottom feeders in the conference. They haven't beat a ranked team this season.

ucla gets more positive press from Slick Rick's antics and proclamations then they do from their play on the field.

SC has issues of their own, more than they should but it is what it is, and because their losses have been so pronounced this season it is hard not wonder if Pete Carroll has lost some of his magic.

Carroll vs.Chow, Barkley or Prince etc.etc. are some of the story lines out there but I am not really interested in breaking it down. I just want SC to win and I could care less how...

Again, it must be prefaced that because SC has been so dominant during the past 7 years, that when a team like this has such a high level of success then falls like they have this season it is hard to ignore.

SC needs to find the same mojo that they had earlier in the season when they take the field tonight.

Our friends at TrojanWire make some excellent observations...

1- Defensive line play: This is the biggest key going forward for the Trojans. The defensive line will dictate how much success they have. The Bruins offense is very young and has struggled throughout the year. However, the Bruins have one of the best offensive coaching staff’s in the country and if they are able to run the ball and create balance offensively, they will relentlessly attack the Trojans young linebacking core.

[...]

2- Consistent running game: It is great the Trojans will have Wide Receiver Damian Williams back and an almost full strength Tight End Anthony McCoy. Matt Barkley will throw the ball with more confidence and the offense will be able to do more things.

However, it is imperative that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates understands that UCLA wants no part of a consistent ground game that will eat at their lack of depth over time. Cal ran for over 280 yards on 42 carries in UCLA’s worse loss of the season (45-26) while both Oregon State and Stanford ran the ball over 35+ times in victories.

The Trojan offensive line needs to open up some holes early and allow Joe McKnight and Alan Bradford to get into a rhythm. If they are able to do this, the confidence of UCLA’s defense will be shaken and opportunities in the passing game will open up.

[...]

3- Play with "real" confidence: Jumping around on the sidelines and talking a little trash (focus on the word little) when you are playing with true confidence helps keep players focused on the immediate task at hand especially when playing an inferior team.

However, it has the opposite effect when you don’t believe in yourself, especially when the team across the sidelines knows it is an ill-hearted attempt to look the part.

This is the first time the current Trojan players are truly putting on the SC jersey for pride and nothing else. The confidence of the whole program has been rocked. The players have the talent and have been taught how to properly tackle, block and work together. If they do that with confidence and a sense of purpose, they can beat anyone in the country.

That last point to me is the key to the game. A team that is mentally prepared and focused for the whole 60 minutes usually comes out on top.

We will find out tonight...

- - -

Hear are a few links...

For UCLA and USC, momentum moves across town -- latimes.com

Chris Dufresne's UCLA-USC prediction: Too close to call (almost) -- latimes.com

USC football: McKnight for Heisman in 2010? - The Orange County Register

For Bruins and Trojans, it's all about L.A. -- latimes.com

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