UCLA running back Chris Markey needs 88 yards rushing to become the 10th player in school history to reach 1,000 in a season. It's a mark that not only reflects Markey's effectiveness as a runner but also his durability.
"It's very big for me because that was one of my goals heading into the season," said Markey, who has averaged 4.9 yards a carry in 11 games, "and that was to stay healthy."
This season, Markey had the difficult task of succeeding Maurice Jones-Drew, who skipped his senior year for the NFL after setting multiple school records, including career all-purpose yards and yards rushing in a single game.
But because of his running style, Drew often played hurt and sat out games because of injuries. Markey said he learned from watching Drew and listening to former UCLA running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.
"E.B. was always getting on Maurice, saying that he never stayed healthy," said Markey, a 5-foot-11, 204-pound junior. "That's why it was a big deal for me ... and right now, I feel pretty good."
After rushing for only 32 yards in UCLA's season-opening victory over Utah, Markey rushed for a career-high 208 against Rice in Week 2. Since then, his numbers have been anything but steady.
One week Markey might rush for 124 yards -- as he did at Washington on Sept. 23 -- yet another week he might be limited to 22 yards -- as he was against Washington State on Oct. 28.
"As an offense, we have to pick it up," said Markey, who gained only 47 yards in 18 carries in UCLA's 24-12 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 18. "In our last game, we all expected a bigger game in the run game. But we got the win.
"Against USC, we're going to have to be focused on every little detail. Everyone has to know what is going on in our run game in order for us to be successful."
Although Markey did not follow the UCLA-USC rivalry closely while growing up in Louisiana, he's no longer impartial, not with the Trojans winning the last seven games over the Bruins.
"Coming in as a freshman, I saw how important it was for everyone around here," Markey said. "Being a Bruin, I fell into it and caught on. I want to beat these guys as bad as anyone else."
UCLA's bowl possibilities cleared up a little over the weekend. If the Bruins beat USC, they will finish 7-5 overall and fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference at 5-4, which will earn them a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl to play Brigham Young. If the Trojans win, UCLA will drop into a three-way tie for sixth place with Arizona and Washington State in the Pac-10. It will then be left up to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to decide on the Pac-10's representative. The three teams would have identical records, with UCLA owning a victory over Arizona and a loss to Washington State. The Wildcats beat the Cougars during the season. If the Bruins do not go to Hawaii, they could still receive an at-large bid for the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 19.... UCLA did not practice Sunday but will today at Spaulding Field.