For Bruins and Trojans, it’s all about L.A.
For the first time since 2001, Los Angeles’ crosstown football rivalry doesn’t have implications for a major bowl game. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important things to play for. USC leads the series, 43-28-7, and has won nine of its last 10 games against the Bruins. Times staff writers Gary Klein and Chris Foster examine some of the issues involved in this year’s game:
Freshmen quarterbacks: Rise and fall
Both teams start freshmen at quarterback, though UCLA’s Kevin Prince is in his second full year with the Bruins.
Statistically, it’s a tossup.
USC’s Matt Barkley has completed 146 of 252 passes. Prince has completed 147 of 255.
Barkley has thrown for 2,035 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Prince has thrown for 1,739 yards, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 6-5.
But lately, their performances have been headed in opposite directions.
Prince’s stock is up, Barkley’s down.
In his last 11 quarters, Prince has completed 64 of 101 passes for 885 yards and four touchdowns.
In his last 10 quarters, Barkley has completed 33 of 71 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns -- with five interceptions.
Leaders of the pack
This game will feature two national leaders -- both from UCLA.
Free safety Rahim Moore leads major college football with nine interceptions, and Bruins kicker Kai Forbath is No. 1 with 26 field goals and 11th in scoring with 99 points.
UCLA tackle Brian Price is tied for third with 20.5 tackles for losses, and the Bruins are tied for ninth as a team, averaging 7.8 tackles for losses a game.
Also for UCLA, Jeff Locke is ninth in the nation in punting, averaging 44.0 yards.
USC is tied for third in quarterback sacks, averaging 3.2 a game, and defensive end Everson Griffen has eight. He is 14th in the country, averaging .89 a game.
Trojans junior Damian Williams has returned two punts for touchdowns, and his 16.3 yards-per-return average is second in the nation. However, Williams will be playing with an injured ankle, so Joe McKnight is expected to handle punt return duties for USC.
USC safety Josh Pinkard and center Jeff Byers are sixth-year seniors playing in their fourth USC-UCLA games. Both were sidelined by injuries in 2006, when the Bruins upset the Trojans, so they are 3-0 in the rivalry series.
Pinkard, 23, used to know some of UCLA’s players, but not anymore.
“My friends are pretty much all gone -- they’re all in the NFL right about now,” Pinkard said, chuckling. “They’ve been in for about three years plus.”
Offensive tackle Charles Brown and safety Will Harris, who both originally committed to UCLA, and cornerback Kevin Thomas are fifth-year seniors at USC. The Trojans also have a senior safety in Taylor Mays.
UCLA has five senior starters on defense -- linebackers Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth, end Korey Bosworth, tackle Jerzy Siewierski and cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Verner, wide receiver Terrence Austin and running back Chane Moline all broke in as true freshmen with an upset victory over USC in 2006.
Before that, USC had won seven straight in the series. “But we beat them eight straight once,” Korey Bosworth said.
That record UCLA streak was from 1991-98.
USC has won the last two games.
Defensive tackle Price is a junior, but this could be his last rivalry game because the former Crenshaw High star -- who was the subject of an intense recruiting battle between the Bruins and Trojans -- might make himself available for the NFL draft.
USC also has some juniors who could be tempted to jump to the pro ranks: Receiver Williams, defensive end Griffen, tailback McKnight and fullback Stanley Havili.
Watch these guys
This rivalry has had more than a few unsung heroes step into the spotlight and become difference-makers.
With that in mind, keep an eye on UCLA’s Locke and USC’s Havili.
Locke is among the national leaders in his specialty, but who remembers the punter?
Locke is always a key part of UCLA’s game plan.
“When you have a young team like we have, you almost do it like you do it in the NFL,” said Norm Chow, UCLA’s offensive coordinator. “You play for field position and you try to get to the fourth quarter.”
Havili missed two games after suffering a shoulder injury against Notre Dame, and he’s been barely noticeable in the two games he’s been back.
But the junior fullback has popped up with big games before -- he caught four passes for 66 yards against UCLA in 2007 -- and he is always capable.
Havili has 16 receptions this season.
Friends now foes
Barkley and UCLA’s Andrew Abbott used to star for Santa Ana Mater Dei High, Barkley on offense, Abbott on defense.
Now Abbott, a cornerback, will be part of several special-situation pass schemes UCLA has designed to stop Barkley and the Trojans.
Only in a crosstown rivalry would so many former high school teammates be on opposite sides of the field. No wonder so many Southland high schools have split allegiances. A few other examples:
Birmingham High: UCLA freshman tailback Milton Knox and freshman linebacker Donovan Carter; USC sophomore defensive end Malik Jackson and freshman receiver Da’Von Flournoy.
Compton Dominguez: UCLA freshman cornerback Aaron Hester; USC freshman linebacker Marquis Simmons.
Sherman Oaks Notre Dame: UCLA kicker Forbath and freshman cornerback Jeff Dickmann; USC senior receiver Garrett Green, sophomore linebacker Shane Horton and freshman defensive end Wes Horton.
Mater Dei: UCLA freshman tight end Andrew Yelich; USC freshman receiver Robbie Boyer and freshman offensive lineman Khaled Holmes.
Long Beach Poly: UCLA senior wide receiver Austin, freshman cornerback Stan McKay and freshman defensive lineman Iuta Tepa; USC junior receiver Travon Patterson and sophomore defensive lineman Jurrell Casey.
Venice: UCLA freshman receiver Jerry Johnson; USC freshman running back Curtis McNeal.
USC had an open date after its humiliating 55-21 loss to Stanford at the Coliseum on Nov. 14.
So what are USC’s chances of bouncing back?
According to USC’s sports information department, the Trojans are 91-44-4 in regular-season games after open dates. Since 1955, USC is 52-15-1 following a week off -- with six of the losses and the tie coming against UCLA.
Those percentages are even better since Pete Carroll has been coach of the Trojans.
USC is 15-4 after an open date since the start of the 2001 season.
More than enjoying knocking second-ranked USC out of the national title hunt, UCLA fans might have hoped the Bruins’ 13-9 upset win over the Trojans in 2006 was a sign of their football program’s rejuvenation.
But it hasn’t turned out that way.
UCLA is 16-21 since that game, and with losing has come additional apathy.
For “Senior Day” against Arizona State last week, UCLA drew an announced crowd of only 46,151 to the Rose Bowl. And this week, the Bruins failed to defend the school’s “bear” statue, leaving it susceptible to a dousing with red and yellow paint -- close enough to cardinal and gold -- presumably by USC supporters.
UCLA has won three straight since losing five in a row to start the Pacific 10 Conference season.
So are the Bruins getting better . . . or is the opposition simply getting worse?
The victories were over Washington, Washington State and Arizona State -- teams that are 0-13 since Oct. 24.
UCLA is a 13-point underdog today.
If recent history is an indication, take the Bruins with the points.
Bettors taking UCLA and the points would have been winners in four of the last five years -- a 66-19 blowout by USC in 2005 the only exception.
The other four situations:
2008: USC a 33-point favorite. Trojans win, 28-7, at Rose Bowl.
2007: USC a 20-point favorite. Trojans win, 24-7, at Coliseum.
2006: USC a 10 1/2 -point favorite. Bruins win, 13-9, at Rose Bowl.
2004: USC a 21 1/2 -point favorite. Trojans win, 29-24, at Rose Bowl.
UCLA: Receiver Morrell Presley (shoulder) is out. Guard Ryan Taylor (foot) is unlikely to play.
USC: Receiver Williams (ankle) is probable. Tight end Blake Ayles (knee), linebacker Jarvis Jones (neck), receiver David Ausberry (calf) and cornerback Brian Baucham (foot) are out.
By the numbers
|21.7||Points given up||20.6|