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USC-UCLA breakdown with John Robinson and Terry Donahue

The former Trojan and Bruin coaches, who were 5-5 in games against each other, know this rivalry inside out and offer unique perspectives on Saturday's momentous clash.

November 16, 2012|By Chris Foster and Gary Klein
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UCLA's Terry Donahue and USC's John Robinson know the UCLA-USC rivalry, and each other, very well. Donahue coached UCLA for 20 years and had a 10-9-1 record against the Trojans. Robinson coached USC for 12 years in two stints. His record against the Bruins was 5-7. Head to head, Donahue and Robinson's teams were 5-5 against each other. This week, The Times asked the former coaches for their insights on Saturday's matchup at the Rose Bowl. Here, in part, is what they had to say:

USC passing vs. UCLA defense

Robinson: The most successful approach against any accomplished passing team is to go after the quarterback and make it difficult. But that's scary, because any time you go after a good quarterback he can beat you with one play, especially with great receivers.

Donahue: When you're ranked 103rd in the nation against the pass [as UCLA is], that's not very good. USC has two very, very good receivers and UCLA is going to have problems matching up with them. The decision will be which poison are you going to drink? You can take Robert Woods out of the game; you can take Marqise Lee; you can't take them both out.

USC running vs. UCLA defense

Donahue: UCLA is deep, they roll a lot of players, they have guys who have made a lot of plays this year. The offensive line is not the strength of USC. This bodes well for UCLA.

Robinson: In any big game, any game that is within a touchdown with two to five minutes to go, the clock becomes the most important thing. If you have the ball, you have to keep the clock going. You can't throw the football. You just need the run. [Silas] Redd and [Curtis] McNeal have done a nice job of getting an extra yard or two.

UCLA passing vs. USC defense

Robinson: With a mobile quarterback, it's frightening when it's third-and-six or third-and-four. If the quarterback can run and get the first down … you can't get to him with pass rushers. If you get out of your lanes and leave a big gap for the quarterback to run, you'll have problems.

Donahue: UCLA is very explosive and plays at a high tempo. They throw the ball well and have certainly demonstrated that they can put up a lot of points on you. Brett Hundley is the guy who makes it go, no question. He makes everyone on the offense better.

UCLA running vs. USC defense

Donahue: Johnathan Franklin and Damien Thigpen are both excellent backs. They can alternate them or play them both at the same time. It keeps them fresh, which is always a good thing. UCLA has a young offensive line, but you learn how to run block much quicker. UCLA has the advantage in the run game.

Robinson: The middle linebacker has got to keep handling the running game with some help. If the offensive line knocks you off the ball then you're going to get beat. That's one of the truths to all football.

Special teams

Donahue: I think these two teams are close. UCLA does have [punter] Jeff Locke and he can give them a field position edge. But you never know in a UCLA-USC game. Some guy can go out and have the game of his career.

Robinson: USC has a very proactive approach to special teams, trying to get advantages and get turnovers. You can't drop a punt or rough the kicker or those types of things.

Red zone performance

Robinson: If you've got a good running game, stay with it. If you've got Marqise Lee on the team, you keep looking for him. Sometimes you can out-think yourself .... If you have big tight ends, they can wall off defenders. It's a little guy trying to defend a big guy.

Donahue: UCLA has advantage because of their tight end. [Joseph] Fauria is a difference-maker near the goal line. He is so big [6 feet 7] and so physical, USC has to account for him. Inside the 10-yard line, you have to look to go to him.

Players who have never won vs. players who have never lost

Donahue: USC will go into the game more confident about winning because they have experienced victory in this game. Most of their players have won it three times. The flip side is UCLA players will be more motivated to win because they haven't won this game and they know they have a real shot at winning. They will be ready to roll the dice. So flip a coin as to who has the advantage.

Robinson: There's incentive in both directions. There's a confidence if you've never lost. You just have the feeling … you're invincible.

Coaches

Robinson: These are the highlights of your life. Your coaching career, I think, is measured by how many of these kinds of games you get in, not just how many you win. When Terry and I were in it, it was a national game. Ohio State-Michigan was on early and we were on right after. The whole nation saw it. This one, you get to go to Oregon [for the Pac-12 title game].

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