On a four-game win streak, and with eight wins under its belt for the first time since 2005, the UCLA football team is on the upswing and in a position to put itself at the top of the Pac-12Â ““ if and only if it can beat the two teams in the conference that have historically gotten the better of them.
The Bruins will be looking to redeem themselves against the No. 21 Trojans on Saturday after playing sloppily at times against Washington State last weekend; they were outscored 29-7 in the second half and racked up 12 total penalties for 126 yards ““ yards they cannot afford to give the Trojans.
The biggest question is how the defense, which gave up seven touchdowns to USC last year, will perform against the Trojans’ numerous offensive weapons.
“There are four guys on their offense who jump out at you ““ Matt Barkley, jumps out at you; Marqise Lee, jumps out at you; Robert Woods, jumps out at you; Silas Redd, jumps out at you,” said coach Jim Mora.
While those mantras have been repeated ad nauseum and are sure to be focal points for UCLA’s defense, Mora emphasized the importance of not losing the forest for the trees.
“I still think it’s important that you learn the scheme. The trouble with it is that there’s not one (guy), there are four and five; they’ve got them all over the place, and that’s why they’ve got such a great offense. You still have to stick to the fundamentals, the things that you know best,” Mora said.
For UCLA, the fundamentals have been a balanced offensive attack and a much improved pass rush. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley was watching from the sidelines at last year’s game, but grasps the importance of this matchup and is ready for his shot.
“We’re looking toward what’s going to happen this weekend. I honestly believe every game means something. This game means a lot too, but all the other previous games have built up to this as well,” Hundley said.
As for the intensity of the rivalry, Mora said he would encourage his players to play with passion but stressed that it must remain under control.
“It’s going to be emotional; you’ve got to capture that emotion, and you’ve got to control it. The last thing that I want is chippiness on the field. I think it takes away from the concentration that’s necessary to perform a particular play.”
Redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin comes into the game averaging more than 100 yards a game and six yards per carry. Franklin will have his last chance to beat the Trojans, and wants it, as much as, if not more than anyone else on the team.
“It’s my last shot at it. I haven’t beat them since I’ve been here,” Franklin said. “I’m excited, the emotions are going around. I’m looking forward to it.”