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The Rivalry | Xs and O's

Bruin Quarterbacks Will Key on Polamalu

November 20, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

USC vs. UCLA

Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

At Rpse Bowl, Ch. 7

KXTA(1150),

KMPC (1540)

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Troy Polamalu's playing style is a lot like his long curly locks: impossible to control, flowing this way and that, yet covering everything.

The USC senior safety is menacing, instinctual and savvy. In short, he is a living, breathing nightmare for freshman quarterbacks such as Drew Olson and Matt Moore of UCLA.

"He is the first thing we are going to look for when we break the huddle," Moore said. "He's dangerous. I've seen him line up on the line of scrimmage, at linebacker and as a defensive back. He's everywhere."

Polamalu will feign a blitz and drop back into coverage on one play. Then on the next he will play possum and creep forward, timing the snap and making a beeline to the quarterback.

"He is such an active player," Bruin offensive line coach Mark Weber said. "He comes from so many locations and gives you different looks. They give him freedom to go. He flies around. But it's all within their scheme."

Polamalu's greatest asset is his aggressiveness. It also is his greatest weakness. And he knows it.

"I do a lot of things that sometimes hurt the team," he said. "Sometimes I go more on my instincts and try to do too much."

UCLA will try to bait Polamalu, tempting him to blitz and throwing a screen pass, for example. He is susceptible to getting caught out of position because he is a gambler at heart.

"It's a good thing it's only me [and not my teammates], because if two people do that, it's two huge parts of our scheme," he said.

Various Bruins will block him, although on many plays no one is assigned to block the strong safety.

"He is real aggressive stopping the run," Olson said. "He can come up and make a play. He's not a guy you want to go after on every play."

An ankle injury that slowed Polamalu for several weeks has healed. He had perhaps his best game of the season against Arizona State.

"This is the best he's been physically," Trojan Coach Pete Carroll said. "He's noticeably freer to run and change direction and accelerate. That's real encouraging as we finish up."

Polamalu, an All-American last season, has 272 career tackles, and of his 59 tackles this season, 12 are for losses and he leads the Trojans with six sacks. He also has returned three of his six career interceptions for touchdowns.

Everybody lauds Polamalu, but perhaps the greatest compliment came from his own quarterback last week. Carson Palmer was discussing Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, a Lombardi Award finalist who leads the nation in sacks.

"He can't take over a game like Troy Polamalu," Palmer said. "With Troy, as a quarterback you definitely have to know where he is on every play."

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TROY POLAMALU'S CAREER NUMBERS

*--* A look at safety Troy Polamalu's statistics at USC: Year Tac Ls/Yds Dfl FR Int Yds TD 1999 12 2/28 2 0 0 0 0 2000 83 5/10 7 1 2 43 1 2001 118 13/24 9 1 3 116 2 2002 59 6/31 1 0 1 33 0 Career 272 26/93 19 2 6 192 3 Key: Tac -- tackles Ls/yds -- Tackles for losses/yards Dfl -- deflections FR -- fumble recoveries Int -- interceptions

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BY THE NUMBERS

*--* USC VS. UCLA, THE LAST 10 GAMES 1992 UCLA, 38-37 1993 UCLA, 27-21 1994 UCLA, 31-19 1995 UCLA, 24-20 1996 UCLA, 48-41 (2 OT) 1997 UCLA, 31-24 1998 UCLA, 34-17 1999 USC, 17-7 2000 USC, 38-35 2001 USC, 27-0

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*--* USC VS. UCLA, RECORD BY DECADE 1920s USC, 1-0 1930s USC, 3-0-2 1940s USC, 9-2-2 1950s UCLA, 7-2-1 1960s USC, 7-3 1970s USC, 7-2-1 1980s UCLA, 5-4-1 1990s UCLA, 8-2 2000s USC, 2-0 USC leads series, 37-27-7

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*--* 69% (9-13) 4th down conv 36% (5-14) COMPARING UCLA AND USC UCLA USC 31.2 Points per game 33.1 19.2 1st downs per game 23.2 149.2 Rushing yards 122.3 3.6 Rush per carry 3.2 18 Rushing TDs 17 14 Passing TDs 24 238.7 Passing yards 298.9 5.6 Yards per pass play 5.5 387.9 Yards per game 421.2 31:40 Time of poss 33:36 37% (56-152) 3rd down conv 36% (56-148)

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