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The Rivalry | Xs and O's

Backups Have Finishing Kicks

November 22, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer


Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

at Rose Bowl, Ch. 7

KXTA (1150); KMPC (1540)


USC's Ryan Killeen and UCLA's Nate Fikse started the season as backup kickers.

Killeen handled only kickoffs, Fikse kickoffs and punts. Game-tested teammates were entrusted with field goals and extra points. But the backups moved to the forefront as first-stringers faltered, and their performances could be key when seventh-ranked USC plays No. 25 UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

"My coaches started talking to me about this game a few weeks ago," said Killeen, who took over as the Trojans' No. 1 kicker when Pacific 10 Conference play began. "Everyone knows what's at stake. But when you go out there, you just have to look at it like any other game."

Killeen, a junior recruited from Mt. San Antonio College to shore up the Trojans' dismal kickoff deficiencies in 2001, supplanted senior David Davis on field goals and extra points midway through the Trojans' third game at Kansas State. He started the next week against Oregon State and has converted 11 of 16 field-goal attempts and 30 of 32 extra points.

Killeen's missed extra point at Washington State on Oct. 5 prevented the Trojans from taking a four-point lead with 4:10 left. Washington State tied the score with a field goal that sent the game into overtime and the Trojans lost, 30-27, when Killeen's 52-yard field goal try went wide right in overtime.

"I learned a lot from that game and it's helped get me ready for this week," said Killeen, who made seven extra points against Stanford two weeks ago and kicked two field goals and four extra points last week against Arizona State.

Fikse, a UCLA senior, backed up former walk-on Chris Griffith for three years. But after Griffith missed four field-goal attempts, had two others blocked and also had an extra point blocked in the first seven games, Fikse replaced him against Stanford on Oct. 26.

Fikse kicked field goals of 36, 22, 19, 23 and 44 yards against the Cardinal, becoming the first UCLA player since Chris Sailer in 1998 to kick five field goals in a game. Fikse kicked two field goals at Washington and three more at Arizona last week, one a 51-yarder.

Fikse has been more consistent than Killeen at kicking the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, but both teams struggle when their kicks are returned. UCLA and USC rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in the Pac-10 in kickoff-return coverage. The Bruins give up 22.6 yards a return, the Trojans 23.1.

Tab Perry averages 23.8 yards a return for UCLA, Marcell Allmond 18.8 for the Trojans.

USC spent extra time addressing its kickoff return coverage this week.

"That one little aspect could be the aspect that decides the game in a really tight game, which this one is likely to be," Coach Pete Carroll said. "That's why we've worked so hard to clean it up and move some guys around."

Both teams have strong punting games. USC's Tom Malone ranks second in the Pac-10 at 42.4 per kick. Fikse is third at 41.5.

Last year, USC safety Troy Polamalu blocked a punt by Fikse.

"They put on a great rush, that's the biggest thing," Fikse said. "Their key players are in there trying to block kicks. Polamalu has done it less since he hurt his ankle, but he'll probably be back in there because this is a big game."

UCLA's Craig Bragg ranks third in the conference in punt returns, averaging 12.2 yards a return. USC's Greig Carlson averages only 4.8.

"All returners are dangerous," Fikse said. "They put those guys back there for a reason -- to make plays."


Times staff writer Steve Henson contributed to this report.




*--* Key statistics from USC's 27-0 victory over UCLA last year at the Coliseum: UCLA STATISTIC USC 27-28 Rush-Yards 38-96 86 Net passing yards 180 13-28-3 Passes 14-23-1 1-14 Interceptions-Yards 3-72 55-114 Plays-Net yards 61-276 2.1 Net yards per play 4.5 27:01 Possession time 32:59


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