Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
Can the Trojans defense contain Brett Hundley's two-way attack? Plus, four other burning questions to watch for when the Trojans travel to their vacation home in Pasadena
There's nothing quite like 'em. For as long as there is until another game is played, one team completely "owns" the other. The score could be 3-2 or 50-0. It doesn't matter...for an entire year, one school, one fan base gets to stake claim to victory. Gets to gloat in the face of friends, family, co-workers. Gets to wear the crown of victory.
Those are the spoils after four quarters are played. Bragging rights extend to every matchup, but no bragging rights are quite like those of a rivalry matchup. And no rivalry matchup has quite the same feel as the Crosstown Showdown. As USC running back Silas Redd found out earlier this week, no other schools have quite the same dynamic as that of UCLA and USC.
No other BCS conference schools face off every year with so much riding on the line. This is not just conference standings and the chance to win the Pac-12 South (which both schools made claim to last season). This is pride. This is honor. This is husband vs wife; this is T.J. McDonald vs Tevin McDonald; this is Wes & Shane Horton vs their former UCLA Bruin and American Gladiator father Myke; this is me having bragging rights over my co-workers.
Here are five burning questions to watch for as No. 18 USC travels across town to the Rose Bowl to take on No. 17 UCLA:
1. How much trouble does Brett Hundley's legs give USC ?
The Trojans defense has shown that it is susceptible to running quarterbacks. Both Arizona's Matt Scott and Oregon's Marcus Mariota gained more than 100 yards on the ground and Stanford's Josh Nunes had 33 huge yards on three carries, including a crucial first down pick up in the fourth quarter.
And yet, Hundley might be the most athletic of any quarterback USC faces this season. He is definitely the most likely quarterback to run. He has 111 attempts this year (Mariota has 86).
USC's defense will have to contain the edges...which hasn't always been the easiest thing this season. The Trojans want to turn Hundley into a running quarterback, but only if that means he isn't getting time to throw because of pressure in his face. If they keep him contained in the pocket, there could be a number of sacks to go around. However, that is going to require the assignment discipline that the line did not show against Oregon.
2. How aggressive is UCLA's defense with the troubles it has had against the pass?
It is no secret that UCLA has struggled against the pass this season. It's how Washington State nearly came back last weekend and how Cal was able to dominant the Bruins despite having Zach Maynard at quarterback. USC torched the UCLA defensive backs last season and it won't be a surprise if the Trojans do the same this season.
What can the Bruins do to try to prevent that? One way to throw off a passing attack is with pressure. It is certainly a gamble, but if the deck is stacked against you...that's normally something you do. How often will we see Anthony Barr coming off the edge? How aggressive will the Bruins be with blitzes and how well will they be able to disguise it in order to keep Matt Barkley from picking them apart?
3. Who causes more havoc: Anthony Barr or Morgan Breslin?
After having only 14 sacks as a team last season, the new UCLA coaching staff knew they needed to try something different than the previous regime. What they tried was converting running back/fullback Anthony Barr to a speed rushing outside linebacker. It definitely is paying off. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound monster leads the Pac-12 with 11 sacks on the season.
USC had it's own concerns about rushing the passer this season after losing last year's Pac-12 sack leader, Nick Perry, to the draft and senior Devon Kennard to a torn pectoral before the season even began. The coaching staff was able to find a diamond in the rough as junior college transfer Morgan Breslin has seized the opportunity and been a dominant force off the edge for the Trojans. "The Silent Assassin is third in the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks this season -- the same number Perry had last year.
Blocking these two edge terrors will be priority No. 1 for both of the offensive lines, but if either of these guys can make an impact play causing a turnover, it could be what sways the game.
4. Can the frosh (Brett Hundley) show up the senior (Matt Barkley)?
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times talked to some scouts about the NFL stocks of the players in this game. One of the most interesting pieces of information was the buzz about Hundley's potential draft positionin two to three years. The scouts are raving about Hundley's future potential. He has size, mobility and a strong arm. Barkley has the intelligence, experience and savvy to dice up a defense. But could this be Hundley's national coming out party? Can he supplant Barkley as the pre-eminent arm in Southern California even before Barkley finishes up his eligibility and leaves for the NFL?
5. Does the streak continue?
There are going to be some different things this time around for the Crosstown Showdown.
There will be no USC Drum Major stabbing the field/staking the territory/whatever you want to call it (even if it is a silly tradition that has nothing to do with the opponent). There will (hopefully) be no god-awful all-white jerseys...I shudder even thinking about what an all-white USC version would look like. There will be no evening kickoff, which means everyone should be arriving at 6 or 7 a.m. to assure the correct amount of tailgating prior to the game.
But will things be the way they have been 12 of the last 13 years? Unless UCLA finds a way to stop the Barkley-Woods-Lee combination, I'm thinking we're going to see what we've been seeing. But then again...this is a rivalry...so anything can happen!!
USC-UCLA kicks off at noon PT and will be televised live on FOX and FOX Deportes. You can also catch the game on 710 ESPN .
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