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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
UCLA, not USC, is all the talk nationally

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

See if you can guess who said the following about UCLA's stunning 34-12 win at No. 7 Texas.
"What a great performance. It speaks volumes for their players and coach [Rick] Neuheisel. It's one thing to win by getting the ball to bounce your way a couple times -- a field goal at the end or they miss a field goal -- but statistically it looks like they really physically dominated them. I think that's got to be one of the best performances of the year so far. By anyone."

UCLA's athletic director? The Bruins radio color guy? Perhaps a blogger on a Bruins fan site?

Lane Kiffin
Lane Kiffin is happy that all the attention is on UCLA.
Nope. It was USC coach Lane Kiffin.

For real. Seriously. No, I'm not making that up. Promise. Got it on tape.

Even the most skeptical eye will be hard-pressed to find a double-meaning there. Kiffin didn't have to be gracious. That sort of thing, in fact, isn't supposed to be his modus operandi, at least based on his established reputation.

If there is an ulterior motive, this may be it: Kiffin is happy to be off the front pages and floating under the radar. His team is a quiet 4-0 and ranked an un-USC-like 18th. He's barely peeped about the bizarre treatment of his team in the AP poll, where probably for the first time in poll history a team is 4-0 with three road wins but is ranked four spots below where it started out in the preseason.

UCLA celebrated on the front page while the Trojans are relegated to the inside section? No worries.

"We are perfectly fine with that," Kiffin said. "We got plenty of attention in the offseason. So we're fine with not getting much attention."

The Bruins, of course, haven't been big news only for whipping ranked teams on back-to-back weekends. They also garnered headlines for horrible performances in Weeks 1 and 2, particularly a 35-zip blanking in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The transformation from that game to what happened at Texas is stunning, but Neuheisel said he doesn't expect it to be too hard for his team to remain humble.

"All you have to do is think back about two weeks and you realize that this can happen quickly and it can happen in the other direction quickly, too," he said.

Overlook Washington State on Saturday? "We would be considered the dumbest people in America if we overlooked anybody," Neuheisel said. "Two weeks ago, we were at the bottom of the heap. We can't think just because we've had a little success that we can forget how we achieved it."

The Bruins transformation can be traced to the running game on both sides of the ball. In the first two games, they yielded 313 and 211 yards rushing. In the last two, 108 and 85. In the first two games, they rushed for solid numbers in their new "pistol" formation -- 193 and 152 -- but in the last two they've been dominant with 266 and 264.

If the passing game comes around, the Bruins offense should be pretty tough to stop.

Rick Neuheisel
Rick Neuheisel's newly-installed pistol offense has been tough to beat the past two weeks.
Neuheisel said he and his coaching staff emphasized more attention to detail and a focus on fundamentals over the past two weeks. He felt his team was too tight in the first two games. He said that better and more thorough preparation helped his team believe in the game plan and therefore relax and play loose and fast on game day. It probably helped that quarterback Kevin Prince finally put in full weeks of practice over the last two weeks.

"We're not there yet," Neuheisel said. "There's still a lot to be done. But the signs are positive. What's really neat is our players are now completely bought in and anxious to fine tune."

Meanwhile, Kiffin and his team quietly prepare for a visit from Washington, the team that first exposed the Trojans in 2009 with a surprising 16-13 upset, a notion that Kiffin seems to be curiously embracing.

"That game kind of changed things a little bit," he said. "Maybe that was the start of the, quote, dominance of USC not being what we are used to seeing."

He then added, "There was a lot of conversation about that game throughout the offseason with the players."

Hmm. There is a school of thought that Kiffin and his dad and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, recognizing the relative weakness of the early schedule, haven't fully opened their bag of tricks. But Kiffin wouldn't spring something on his buddy, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, would he?

In fact, Kiffin claimed that Sarkisian has ignored his recent text messages -- Sark denied that -- and he also joked about the heavy praise Sarkisian was heaping on his team.

"He make his comments up there about how deep we are," Kiffin said. "That's a trick he learned from Lou Holtz, I think. They are really, really good and obviously the people who follow us know we're not very deep."

It's fair to say that Kiffin seems pretty loose this week. What might that mean?

Who knows?

But four games into the season UCLA is the big news and USC is not. The far more important question, however, is this: Will that be the case on the morning of Dec. 5?