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USC vs. UCLA: How they match up

It's a rivalry game, and tradition says all the numbers should be thrown out the window. But USC is a two-touchdown favorite, and some of its numbers, notably those of Matt Barkley, are hard to ignore.

November 25, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley is sacked by UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa in the second quarter of last season's game at the Rose Bowl.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley is sacked by UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

This is a college football anomaly. USC is 9-2 and not going anywhere. UCLA is 6-5 and is going to the Pac-12 Conference title game. Statistics and common-opponent comparisons indicate USC is a heavy favorite Saturday night at the Coliseum, but do numbers really matter? Read on as staff writer Chris Foster examines the game's key issues and matchups:

Barkley has bite

As the cliche goes, this is a rivalry game so throw out the numbers.

But it's hard to toss out what USC quarterback Matt Barkley has tossed about — 3,105 yards passing and 33 touchdowns. Add to that Robert Woods' 99 receptions and Marqise Lee's 60 receptions, and you have numbers that clearly do apply.

The Bruins have to get at Barkley or risk dangling their defensive backs like bait.

UCLA ranks 111th out of 120 teams nationally with 12 sacks. The flip side: USC is tied for third, having given up only seven sacks.

Three NFL-bound quarterbacks UCLA faced this season — Houston's Case Keenum, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Arizona's Nick Foles — were a combined 79 for 106 and their teams put up 131 points.

The Bruins sacked that trio twice.

The rundown

Another number of note: UCLA's occasionally dominant run game averages 199.5 yards.

And if UCLA has the ball, USC doesn't.

Johnathan Franklin (857 yards) and Derrick Coleman (639 yards) are a tandem of speed and power. Quarterback Kevin Prince's sleight-of-hand gives the pistol offense powder.

The Trojans give up 110.3 yards rushing per game, ranking them 16th nationally against the run. That's after Oregon ran for 209 yards last week. If UCLA runs for 209 the Bruins probably are in the game.

USC has given up some yards passing and Prince was effective throwing against Colorado, though facing the Buffaloes is a bit like being on a couch playing a football video game.

Road worriers

More numbers to consider:

UCLA has a 5-17 road record in four seasons under Coach Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins have given up 31 or more points in 13 of those losses, including 60 to Oregon (2010), 59 to Brigham Young (2008), 55 to Arizona State (2010), 48 to Arizona (2011), 45 to Stanford (2011) and 41 to California (2008).

In their last road game, the Bruins were beaten by Utah, 31-6.

The last the last time UCLA beat USC in the Coliseum was in 1997.

Numbers don't lie. UCLA plays much worse away from the Rose Bowl, and USC is best at the Coliseum. The Trojans are 5-1 this season at home, and 55-7 in the last 10 seasons.

History lesson

Numbers UCLA fans cling to: 13-9.

USC was an overwhelming favorite in 2006, like this season. The Trojans came in ranked second in the nation and needing a win to secure a place in the national title game for what would have been a shot at their third championship in four years. UCLA forged one of the biggest upsets in the series.

"There was some bad karma," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said, "or somebody did something wrong that week because it wasn't meant to be."

Have the stars realigned?

Las Vegas says no. USC is a two-touchdown favorite.

Charting a course

Several USC players are on the verge of reaching notable milestones, and you can be sure Kiffin is aware of them.

Barkley needs five touchdown passes to tie the school single-season record of 38 set by Matt Leinart in 2003.

Woods' 99 receptions are three shy of the Keyshawn Johnson's school and conference record set in 1995. And Lee needs 81 yards receiving to give the Trojans two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.

Junior running back Curtis McNeal is within 119 yards of reaching the 1,000-yard mark.

Will Kiffin call plays accordingly?

"That's not what the game's about," he said. "In games that have become lopsided over years we definitely have followed those and it's neat to help kids get those [milestones]. But that would never be before making sure we're winning the game."

Ramifications

The search for a new coach could begin shortly at UCLA. Neuheisel needs this victory to build support for retaining his job. In four seasons, he has a 21-27 record.

USC is banned from playing in the postseason but could defeat UCLA for the 12th time in 13 years, a week after beating No. 4 Oregon to reestablish alpha dog status in the Pac-12.

That's a double play Trojans fans would enjoy.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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