The UCLA/USC rivalry game on Saturday is filled with interesting storylines, but the most interesting matchup on the field will be the USC offense vs. the UCLA defense.
USC’s offense is led by senior quarterback Matt Barkley. Despite being the preseason Heisman trophy favorite, Barkley has struggled to live up to expectations in 2012. In 2011, Barkley threw for an astounding 39 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. This season, Barkley is accounting for touchdowns at a similar clip with 33 already, but he has also thrown almost twice as many interceptions, with 13.
Barkley certainly isn’t alone, however, as Southern Cal boosts the most dominant receiving corps in the country. Led by sophomore Marqise Lee, USC’s pass catchers present a problem that UCLA simply doesn’t have an answer for. Lee, through 10 games, has an unbelievable 98 receptions, 1,447 yards, and 13 touchdowns. The Trojans “2nd receiver” is no slouch either. Junior Robert Woods has 61 receptions, 653 yards, and 10 touchdowns on the season. Last season, Woods caught 111 passes, which is a Pac 12 record, and he was a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, handed out annually to college football’s best receiver. Along with the dynamic duo of Lee and Woods, freshman Nelson Agholor and Sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble are each having strong seasons, as well.
While certainly every Pac 12 football fan knows about the Southern Cal pass attack, not many know about their running game. Penn State transfer Silas Redd stole all the headlines when he decided to transfer to USC in the offseason, but not much has been said about his play in 2012. Curtis McNeal rushed for over 1,000 yards last year, but has seen his role diminish with the arrival of Redd. Despite the lack of notable discussion about the Trojans ground game, they have been effective, albeit not spectacular, in 2012. Silas Redd averages 5.5 yards per carry and has nine touchdowns on the season. Curtis McNeal averages 6.0 yards per carry and is coming off of his best game of the season with 163 yards against Arizona State.
So how will the Bruins stop the potent Southern Cal offense?
USC hasn’t seen a pass rush as effective as UCLA’s all season. Matt Barkley, like many quarterbacks, struggles against a pass rush. He has average to below average pocket presence, and forces the ball to Marqise Lee when he panics. Despite an effective ground game, Lane Kiffin often goes through long stretches without running the ball.
If UCLA can fluster Matt Barkley and force turnovers, they will win. If Lane Kiffin neglects the running game and USC loses to UCLA, Kiffin may be looking for a new job.