USC goes into the 78th game of the crosstown rivalry playing for the Pacific 10 Conference title and a Rose Bowl date with Penn State. UCLA could finish a tough season on a high note and send the Trojans to the Holiday Bowl if the Bruins can channel 2006 and pull off another upset on their home turf. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups when USC, a 33-point favorite, plays UCLA in a game that never lacks for color -- especially when both teams will be wearing home jerseys for the first time since 1982.
USC's Pete Carroll and UCLA's Rick Neuheisel meet for the first time since 2002, when the Trojans beat Washington, 41-21.
And more than that, today's game features a tangled web of coaching relationships.
UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, running backs coach Wayne Moses and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker were part of Carroll's first Trojans staff in 2001.
Chow will scheme against Carroll while Chow's replacement, former protege Steve Sarkisian, schemes against Walker.
It could be the final regular-season game in their respective positions for both Sarkisian and Walker. Sarkisian is expected to become head coach at Washington and Walker is a candidate for several coaching vacancies.
Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played only one series at the end of last season's 24-7 victory over the Bruins, is eager to get his first real taste of the rivalry.
The fourth-year junior leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. He has completed 65% of his passes and thrown for 28 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
However, UCLA could make moving through the air tough. The Bruins, featuring cornerbacks Michael Norris and Alterraun Verner and safeties Rahim Moore and Brett Lockett, rank second nationally in pass defense -- behind only USC.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft gets no break a week after Arizona State returned three interceptions for touchdowns. USC will rotate veteran cornerbacks Cary Harris, Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas and veteran safeties Taylor Mays, Kevin Ellison and Will Harris.
Ellison has been cleared to play for the first time since having knee surgery in early November.
Craft has thrown for seven touchdowns but has had 19 passes intercepted, second-most among major-college quarterbacks.
Two years ago at the Rose Bowl, Bruins defensive linemen out-hustled USC offensive linemen and forced the Trojans to commit costly penalties and mistakes.
Today, Bruins defensive tackles Brigham Harwell and Brian Price will try to unsettle a Trojans offensive line that will include Butch Lewis, back in the starting lineup at right tackle in place of injured Nick Howell.
UCLA's offensive line, overwhelmed throughout much of the season and having gone through 10 configurations, needs to thwart the nation's top-ranked defense. That will be a challenge against a USC front seven that includes tackles Fili Moala and Christian Tupou, ends Clay Matthews and Kyle Moore and linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava.
Carroll got snippy this week when asked why the Trojans did not stick with one tailback each series against Notre Dame, as Sarkisian and Carroll had indicated they would do in the days leading up to the game.
"We totally understand that guys would like to stay out there, but that's not part of the blueprint," Carroll said.
Junior Stafon Johnson was nursing a thigh bruise this week, but he and sophomores C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight will alternate as usual. Redshirt freshman Marc Tyler, who impressed against Notre Dame, could join the mix.
McKnight broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run last week and is averaging nearly nine yards a carry. Gable and Tyler average six yards a carry, Johnson 5.6.
UCLA needs something positive from a rushing attack that ranks 116th out of 119 major-college teams. Kahlil Bell has gained 358 yards and scored seven touchdowns for the Bruins, but averages only 2.8 yards a carry.
USC has a plus-6 turnover margin, far below the double-digit standard set by Trojans teams of 2002-2005.
Two years ago against the Bruins, the Trojans recovered only one of three fumbles and did not intercept a pass, offsetting an otherwise strong defensive effort in a 13-9 defeat.
UCLA is at minus-11 in turnover margin. The Bruins reached their nadir against Arizona State, which scored three touchdowns on interception returns and another on a fumble return.
UCLA's Aaron Perez ranks seventh nationally in punting, averaging 44.5 yards, and must force the Trojans to work from poor field position. Kicker Kai Forbath has made 19 of 22 field-goal attempts, converting from 46, 49 and 53 yards.
USC's Greg Woidneck has punted only 41 times, a conference low, and averages 36.4 yards. David Buehler has made eight of nine field-goal attempts, and 43 of his 76 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.
By the numbers
*--* USC CATEGORY UCLA 38.4 Scoring 18.6 7.8 Points given up 29.1 245.1 Passing off. 208.7 205.7 Rushing off. 86.0 450.8 Total offense 294.7 124.0 Passing def. 158.4 87.2 Rushing def. 166.1 211.0 Total defense 324.6 *--*