The Skinny: Uncertainty Grips the Battle of Los Angeles

Since 2001, with the exception of one loss, USC has owned the battle of Los Angeles over UCLA in every phase of the game. The total score since 2001 is USC 285 and UCLA 113. The Bruins have not come close to giving the Trojans much of a game in the Coliseum since that time with UCLA’s one shocking victory and the other close battle in 2004 happening at the Rose Bowl.

Despite this record of dominance over the past eight years, it seems like a distant memory to the faithful fans of both teams. While the Trojans have been struggling the last four weeks, the most they have in the Pete Carroll era, UCLA is coming into the Coliseum on a 3 game winning streak with hopes of capturing a bowl bid and sending a message to recruits that UCLA can beat the once vaunted Trojans on their home turf and be the new sheriff in town.

UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel’s passion bucket is full to go with two top 15 recruiting classes and he has his team believing that great things are on the horizon for Bruin football.

The Trojans are coming off a much needed bye week after surrendering the most points ever to an opponent in losing 55-21 to Stanford.

The bye week could not have come at a better time for the reeling Trojans. It helped some of USC’s most important weapons (WR Damian Williams and TE Anthony McCoy, DE Everson Griffen) heal from injuries that have kept them from playing or not playing near full strength and it gave the coaches’ time to work on correcting schematic faults plaguing the young team.

Though the game does not feature a battle for the Pac-10 title or a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, it is one of the most intriguing USC-UCLA games this decade.
The momentum which usually finds itself on the side of the Trojans this decade is clearly in favor of the Bruins.

Will the Trojans step up with an inspired performance to keep a firm hold on the rivalry or will the Bruins be the next in line to beat up the Trojans physically and put an exclamation point on the fall of Troy in 2009?

*3 keys to the game after the jump*

1- Defensive line play: This is the biggest key going forward for the Trojans. The defensive line will dictate how much success they have. The Bruins offense is very young and has struggled throughout the year. However, the Bruins have one of the best offensive coaching staff’s in the country and if they are able to run the ball and create balance offensively, they will relentlessly attack the Trojans young linebacking core.

The Trojans defensive line has to make a statement early by pressuring UCLA QB Kevin Prince and limiting the Bruins running game. This will allow the Trojans to keep the linebackers in coverage and take advantage of their speed. If the Trojans have to constantly blitz linebackers and players from the secondary, it will expose defensive weaknesses which will be exploited in the second half.

2- Consistent running game: It is great the Trojans will have Wide Receiver Damian Williams back and an almost full strength Tight End Anthony McCoy. Matt Barkley will throw the ball with more confidence and the offense will be able to do more things.

However, it is imperative that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates understands that UCLA wants no part of a consistent ground game that will eat at their lack of depth over time. Cal ran for over 280 yards on 42 carries in UCLA’s worse loss of the season (45-26) while both Oregon State and Stanford ran the ball over 35+ times in victories.

The Trojan offensive line needs to open up some holes early and allow Joe McKnight and Alan Bradford to get into a rhythm. If they are able to do this, the confidence of UCLA’s defense will be shaken and opportunities in the passing game will open up.

It is not a bad idea for the Trojans to throw early on the first drive but the focus in the first half needs to be on the running game and establishing a very physical style of play.

UCLA has a very good ball-hawking secondary that has a nose for the end zone after interceptions and the Trojans need to avoid that.

If the Trojans are able to run the ball 35-45 times and the coaches don’t get too concerned with having a “balanced” offense, they will be victorious in the Coliseum.

3- Play with “real” confidence: Jumping around on the sidelines and talking a little trash (focus on the word little) when you are playing with true confidence helps keep players focused on the immediate task at hand especially when playing an inferior team.

However, it has the opposite effect when you don’t believe in yourself, especially when the team across the sidelines knows it is an ill-hearted attempt to look the part.

This is the first time the current Trojan players are truly putting on the SC jersey for pride and nothing else. The confidence of the whole program has been rocked. The players have the talent and have been taught how to properly tackle, block and work together. If they do that with confidence and a sense of purpose, they can beat anyone in the country.

They are either going to dig down deep and get back to the mantra “always compete” and truly believe in themselves’ or they are going to let the momentum of turmoil and false bravado define them in what could turn out to be the tipping point in the Battle of Los Angeles.

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