Los Angeles, CA – With the Pac-12 South Division title on the town rivals UCLA and USC meet in the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday night.
UCLA has the requisite wins to earn a bowl bid, but the season on the whole has been something of a disappointment to fans of the program. All that of course would be remedied with a win over its fiercest rival this week, and the division title that would come along with it. The Bruins are fresh off a 45-6 rout of visiting Colorado last Saturday, and coach Rick Neuheisel's squad has bounced back from a season-opening span of seven games in which it alternated losses and wins, to claim victory in three of its last four outings.
Due to NCAA sanctions, USC isn't eligible to win the Pac-12 or go to a bowl game, but that hasn't stopped coach Lane Kiffin's club from turning in an impressive season as the team comes into this contest at 9-2 overall, and 6-2 in conference. The Trojans have won three in a row and six of their last seven, the most recent of which was a thrilling 38-35 triumph at No. 4 Oregon last weekend, which snapped the Ducks' national-best 21-game home winning streak.
The winner of this clash is awarded the "Victory Bell", and USC owns a 45-28-7 advantage in the all-time series. The Trojans have won the last four meetings, and 11 of the last 12 overall.
UCLA is far from an offensive force, but that's not to say the Bruins aren't capable of chewing up yards and putting points on the board. Through 11 games, the team is averaging 25.3 ppg behind a balanced attack that produces 199.5 ypg rushing and 194.3 ypg passing. They have scored a total of 36 TDs, 22 of which have come on the ground, and Johnathan Franklin heads the charge with 857 yards and five scores. Derrick Coleman has scored eight rushing TDs. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have both lined up under center this season, but they've completed roughly 56 percent of their passes with a combined 14 TDs and six INTs. Actually, all the picks belong to Prince. Nelson Rosario is the team's top pass catcher with his 48 grabs for 890 yards and two scores. Joseph Fauria has six receiving TDs.
The Bruins have had their moments on defense this year, but the overall effort hasn't been good enough to help the team avoid defeat in some games. Foes are putting up nearly 30 ppg and averaging just under 400 total ypg. Andrew Abbott has four INTs to his credit, while Sean Westgate and Tevin McDonald have three apiece. Pat Parimore is the team's top tackler with 67 stops, and 50 TFL have been recorded by the unit as a whole.
Prince had arguably the best game of his career last week against Colorado, completing 15-of-19 passes for 225 yards and four TDs, two of which wound up in the hands of Fauria. Rosario led all receivers in the game with six catches for 102 yards and a score. Franklin powered his way to 162 yards and a TD on only 15 totes, posting an average of 10.8 ypc, as UCLA controlled nearly every aspect of the game.
The Buffaloes were limited to 229 total yards, which included a mere 87 net rushing yards. The UCLA defense swarmed to the ball all game long, with Abbott coming up with a pair of picks, and Westgate getting one as well.
Coach Neuheisel was clearly happy with the outcome of last week's home finale, and he praised his team's resiliency after beginning the year so awkwardly, "I'm very pleased with the ability that our team has shown over the course of the season, that we have been able to respond and come back to work and not point fingers. We have played complete games the next time out. We find ourselves at 6-5 and, more importantly, with a chance to win the South Division. There weren't very many people in this room who believed that to be possible at the start of the season."
Few question how good USC QB Matt Barkley is, but if there were any detractors still out there they had to change their tune after his 323-yard, four-TD performance last week at Oregon. Marqise Lee led all receivers in the game with eight catches for 187 yards and a TD, while star wideout Robert Woods finished with seven grabs for 53 yards and a pair of scores. Curtis McNeal led the Trojan ground attack with 94 yards on 20 carries.
The USC defense allowed Oregon to amass 474 total yards, and nearly watched on in horror as the Ducks battled back from a big deficit. Fortunately for Kiffin's crew, they came up with enough big stops to help preserve the victory. USC was credited with three sacks and a pair of turnovers, and the team was led in tackles by Hayes Pullard who made 12 of his game-high 14 stops by himself, two of which were sacks.
With Barkley (273-of-404, 3,105 yards, 33 TDs, seven INTs) at the controls, the Trojans are averaging 34.5 ppg on the strength of 446.3 ypg. The run accounts for 163.8 ypg, with McNeal pacing the club with 881 yards and five scores. Robert Woods is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, and he has 99 receptions for 1,179 yards and 13 TDs. Lee isn't far off the pace, having logged 60 catches for 919 yards and nine scores.
Dion Bailey (76 stops) is USC's top tackler on the year, but Pullard (72) is right behind him. Nick Perry has 9.5 of the team's 27 sacks, and no other Trojan has more than three.
Despite some tense moments in the second half, Kiffin was proud of the way his team performed in such a hostile environment last week, "It's the hardest place to play against that team in the country," He continued, "We're just really excited first of all by our fans. They've been through so much. So much has been taken away from them. And second of all for our players. They're a lot of young guys. There are very few seniors on the roster. I think half our roster has never played college football before this year. For these guys to come together like they have over the last five or six weeks has been great to see...We're very excited for our fans and for our players."