Friday, November 25, 2011
Five things to watch: UCLA at USC
By Peter Yoon
1. EMOTIONAL CONTROL
There is a lot riding on this game for UCLA with Pac-12 title game implications, trying to show the gap between the Bruins and Trojans has closed and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel possibly coaching for his job. Add in the traditional bragging rights associated with the crosstown rivalry and UCLA is going to have no shortage of emotion going into the game. The question is, can they channel that emotion into good play. The Bruins are still a young team learning how to play on the big stage and didn't handle it very well earlier this season when they played a big-stakes game on the national stage at Arizona. The game will get out of control early if the Bruins again get overwhelmed by the moment.
2. PRO-STYLE QUARTERBACK
Having to face one of the nation's top quarterbacks is nothing new for the Bruins with USC's Matt Barkley the sixth quarterback among the top-20 in passing yards UCLA has faced this season. UCLA has fared pretty well against the pass considering the competition, giving up only 216.5 yards per game through the air. Houston's Case Keenum, the national leader in passing yards, is the only quarterback with a 300-yard game against the Bruins. Barkley, No. 15 in the nation with 3,105 yards passing, has five 300-yards games this season. What will make Barkley isn't much of a threat to run, but he's difficult to defend because he generally gets time. USC has allowed only seven sacks this season, which is third fewest in the nation. The Bruins have only 12 sacks, which is No. 111 in the nation.
3. DEEP COVER
UCLA's secondary will be put to the test against USC's prolific receiver tandem of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. UCLA has had troubles against elite-level receivers at times this season, giving up 100-yard games against four different receivers this season. Pass interference penalties have also cropped up more than the Bruins would like. Woods averages 107 yards receiving per game and Lee averages 83 and is coming off of a 187-yard game last week at Oregon so the pressure will be on cornerbacks Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott to stick to those guys.
4. MINIMIZE MISTAKES
Penalties and turnovers have been troublesome for UCLA in recent weeks and the Bruins can ill-afford to have any of those types of momentum-killing mistakes this week. UCLA has been penalized 21 times for 193 yards the last two weeks and ranks among the bottom 25 in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game and only 11 teams in the nation have fumbled more than UCLA's 13. Last year against USC, Johnathan Franklin fumbledat the USC 32 late in the first half of a 7-7 game and USC's Malcolm Smith returned it 68 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Later, with the score still 14-7, Richard Brehaut fumbled at the USC 37 yard line killing an opportunity for UCLA to tie the score. The Bruins never recovered in a 28-14 loss.
5. BROTHERLY LOVE
Two sets of brothers will square off on opposite sidelines for the Bruins and the Trojans with UCLA safety Tevin McDonald and running back Malcolm Jones trying to get the best of their older brothers, USC safeties T.J. McDonald and Marshall Jones. The McDonald brothers are starters, but the Jones brothers play on opposite sides of the ball and have the potential to clash on the field. It adds a unique element to the rivalry that normally divides only a city, but the past two years has divided at least two families and will make the holiday season less cheerful for one side of the dinner table. It's the second week in a row a UCLA game has become a family affair. Last week, UCLA receiver Taylor Embree got the best of his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree.