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The Rivalry | Xs and O's

Plenty of Scheming

November 19, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC vs. UCLA, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

at Rose Bowl, Channel 7

*

As USC's offensive coordinator, Norm Chow is searching for weakness and devising ways to attack UCLA's defense.

Phil Snow, UCLA's defensive coordinator, is meticulously studying the Trojans and installing a plan to stop them.

In the end, both coaches' pregame maneuvering might not matter when the seventh-ranked Trojans play the No. 25 Bruins on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

"You can talk schemes all you want," Snow said. "It comes down to players making plays."

That won't stop Chow and Snow from working nonstop until gametime to put their charges in the most opportune positions to make those plays.

Both units are ranked in near-identical positions on opposite sides in Pacific 10 Conference statistics. Consider:

* USC ranks third in total offense at 421.2 yards a game. UCLA ranks third in total defense at 336.

* USC ranks second in rushing offense at 122.3 yards a game. UCLA ranks second in rushing defense at 122.2

* USC ranks fourth in passing offense at 298.9. UCLA is third in passing defense at 213.8.

"They are really sound, so we are going to have to work very hard to get some stuff going and move the chains," Chow said. "I don't think anything big is going to happen because [Snow's] not going to let it. He's too good at what he does."

Snow must find a way neutralize USC's multi-formation offense, which has produced more than 400 yards in each of the last six games.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, who needs 76 yards to surpass Stanford's Steve Stenstrom as the Pac-10's all-time passing yardage leader, has thrown 15 touchdown passes in the last four games. But Palmer is only one weapon in an offense that has evolved into one of the most balanced in the Pac-10.

Flanker Keary Colbert established himself as the Trojans' most sure-handed receiver with an 11-reception performance against Kansas State. Mike Williams had a breakout game against Oregon State that put him on track to become the most prolific freshman receiver in Pac-10 history.

The Trojan rushing game emerged in earnest against California when senior Sultan McCullough tied a career best by rushing for 176 yards in 39 carries. After a victory over Washington, USC Coach Pete Carroll gave Justin Fargas his first start at tailback and the fifth-year senior responded by rushing for 139 yards in 27 carries against Oregon.

"The key is to get them out of the rhythm of their offense," Snow said. "They throw a lot of four-yard passes that turn into 30-yard gains. A key will be yards after the catch. If we tackle, we'll be all right."

UCLA plays a 4-3 defense and blitzes often. The Bruin pass rush is led by defensive end Dave Ball, who has a sack in eight consecutive games and is third in the Pac-10 with 10.5 sacks. Weak-side linebacker Spencer Havner has a team-best 78 tackles, including nine for losses. Middle linebacker Marcus Reese has 77 tackles.

"You try to figure out what the other guy is going to do ... but you never really know until the game starts," Chow said. "That's when it gets interesting."

Times staff writer Steve Henson contributed to this report.

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