The Trojans enter their second rivalry in as many weeks, as they continue to walk the BCS path. The Oregon State mishap last weekend cast a familiar fragrance of roses, and the men of Troy can solidify their 7th consecutive BCS bowl game with a victory over the rival Bruins on Saturday to clinch a birth. Failure to do so would create a 3-way tie in the Pacific 10, allowing the once disheartened Beavers their first January trip to Pasadena since 1965.
If we thought the Fighting Irish were a bad opponent, this week brings one worse. Charlie Weis and Notre Dame faced criticism for defeating just one program with a winning record this season, but UCLA hasn’t recorded a victory over any. The Bruins began their season with the shocking and unexpected Labor Day victory over Tennessee. But here in December, peering back on a season unfolded, that initial victory over the now 5-7 Vols appears neither shocking nor unexpected.
This is a battle between the “haves” and “have-nots”. It’s the battle of Los Angeles and the awarding of the Victory Bell. It’s a tradition renewed, with both programs prepared to take the same field in home colors. It’s one program eying a prize of Roses, and the other in a spoiler role. This is about pride and bragging rights. This is USC and UCLA.
“War Time! Let’s take it outside…”
Last Week: L-Arizona State
If first year coach Rick Neuheisel and his dream team staff are looking to pinpoint a single reason for the team’s lack of success, look no farther than the list of inactive players sidelined by injuries. The greatest losses have come at the quarterback position, the key to any offense. Before the 2008 campaign ever began, the Bruins lost their named starter Patrick Cowan with a torn ACL. And before Ben Olsen could ever get comfortable in the replacement role, the Bruins lost a second quarterback with a broken bone in his foot. That left Kevin Craft, a junior college transfer, to lead the group. He responded by leading them to a 110th ranking in total offense, and a passing rank of 64.
The Bruins lost 3 of their last 4 games. And in that span, Craft has thrown 12 interceptions and no touchdowns. Though the hopes of the staff were to see continual improvement in the first year quarterback’s play, Craft has actually been progressively worse with each snap under center. With a failing offense that sputters, Dwayne Walker’s defense spends the bulk of the minutes on the field. Amazingly, the Bruins rank second in the nation when it comes to defending the pass, allowing less than 160 yards per game to the opposition. Not so amazing, they rank 86th in the nation defending the run, which may account to the low passing statistics, since the better weapons against the powder blue defense are the legs of your running back.
Last Week: W-Notre Dame
The last time Southern Cal made the regular season trip to Pasadena, their title hopes were upended 13-9 by a Bruins team with the perfect defensive plan. Last year in the Coliseum, it was a return to the norm, with UCLA playing the more familiar role of punching bag. The team USC will face on Saturday is less talented than the previous two, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Trojans record another shutout.
The Bruins play into every Trojan strength. They can’t stop the run, and USC averages over 220 yards per game. They appear impressive against the pass, but the Trojans are the most efficient passing unit in the nation. The 110th total offense versus the nation’s top defense is clearly a mismatch, and the Bruins can’t protect the quarterback, having been sacked 35 times already this year. Just look at it from this perspective, Notre Dame was a better team, and they managed just 3 points and 4 first downs last week.
Analysis: UCLA assembled a dream team coaching staff, but they don’t have the talent to reap the rewards. Both Norm Chow and Dwayne Walker know the Pete Carroll system well, but their current roster is helpless against this machine. This is a hate filled rivalry, but unfortunate for the Bruins, it’s the cardinal and gold positioned to disgrace and embarrass their opponent.
All Time Series: 42-28-7
Streak: Trojans won 1