The UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) football team hasn’t claimed a victory over the USC Trojans (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) in the last five seasons, dating back to 2007.
Now, under first year head coach Jim Mora, UCLA is preparing to end the losing-streak as they host USC on Nov. 17 at the Rose Bowl.
But, it will be no easy task. USC head coach Lane Kiffin will make sure of that.
Not only is USC home to Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Matt Barkley, but it is also home to two prolific receivers in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Lee (12) and Lee (10) are first and second in touchdown catches. Additionally, Lee, who is now being considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, is atop for receiving yards and receptions with 1,286 and 88, respectively.
Although Barkley began the season a bit rocky, with whispers about whether or not his decision to return another year was worth it going around, his record breaking game against Colorado (Oct. 20) hushed many critics. Currently, Barkley sports 2,750 passing yards and a conference-best 30 TDs.
UCLA’s defense will need to be extra aggressive in defending USC’s passing game in order to minimize the production of Barkley, Lee and Woods.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s redshirt freshman Brett Hundley continues to lead the team as starting quarterback. Though young, Hundley has illustrated promising skill on the field, amassing 2,478 passing yards, 21 TDs and 9 interceptions.
Bruin senior running back Johnathan Franklin caught everyone’s attention in the first two weeks of the season, and he’s now being considered as a legitimate Heisman contender. Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher at 3,873, sits in second in the conference for rushing yards (1,204) and continues to flourish game-by-game, averaging 133.8 yards per contest. Therefore, the Trojan rush defense needs a strong effort en route to limiting Franklin’s running load.
After former Penn State running back Silas Redd officially transferred to USC, the Trojans running game appeared to be a solid lock in consistent production with a productive Curtis McNeal on the squad already. However, USC has cultivated more gains out of its passing and receiving segment than its running statistics. Redd, though, is averaging 81.3 yards per game.
For the Trojans, linebacker Dion Bailey and safety T.J. McDonald present a problem to the Bruins. McDonald leads the Trojans with 76 tackles, and he’s crucial to the team’s success in the secondary. Bailey (62 tackles), along with LB Hayes Pullard (58 tackles), represents a wall in stopping any team’s running game. Interestingly enough, Bailey is tied for third with four interceptions in Pac-12 play.
On defense, the Bruins have their set of roadblocks, too. Linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 87 tackles, LB Anthony Barr is third in sacks with 8.5, while cornerback Sheldon Price sports three interceptions (tied for fifth). Kendricks also has two sacks. Safety Andrew Abbot adds depth to their secondary. Not only does he cover receivers tightly well, but also he’s managed three INTs. In all, this trio figures to match up in equal value against USC’s potent offense.
The special teams portion might be what matters most in determining a winner this time around. When comparing both, UCLA holds an edge over USC. And it’ll be essential for either unit.
Though the Trojans are stacked with talent, they’re still in the process of balancing a passing and running game. Particularly because UCLA hosts this season’s highly awaited affair, look for the Bruins to capture a win (35-21) over USC.
Stats as of Nov. 5, 2012.