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Upon Further Review: USC-UCLA

From RichSC:

What can you really say about this game? It was over pretty quickly in my view, and all there was to do was sit back and enjoy it. Total domination from start to finish. Not only do we have clearly superior players at every position than the Bruins, but our guys work harder than theirs do, which makes all the difference.

Want an example of this? Look no further than the WR position. Robert Woods and Marquise Lee play to the whistle on every snap, they block, they initiate contact on collisions, they fight for every yard, they stick their routes on a dime, and they are always at full-speed. Compare them to Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario and it's a joke. Both run very soft patterns, both lope around when they're not involved in a play, and neither one plays with a fraction of the physicality than the much smaller Lee and Woods do. This sums up the difference in football these days between UCLA and USC. The Trojans are better, faster, and, most importantly, TRY harder. Oh, yeah, and they're far better coached, because that kind of effort and productivity doesn't happen by accident. It is coached up and drilled into each and every player, every practice, every game, every play.

I watched the game two more times after the live broadcast. The strategy was apparent on both sides of the ball. On offense, throw... and then throw some more. And while you're at it, get your key guys some records (Barkley's Pac-12 TD record, Lee's 1000 yards, McNeal's 1000 yards, Woods' USC reception record). And while you're still at it, make a statement: pitch a shutout and embarrass the Bruins (and by virtue of that, the powers-that-be who shut USC out of the Pac-12 championship).

We threw 42 times and ran 19. I'm not crazy about a 2:1 pass-run ratio, but this is who Lane Kiffin is. I semi-joked last week that he'd probably come out against the Bruins and throw 14 of the first 16 times despite having the obvious ability to run at will on UCLA. I haven't checked, but I think that prediction came startlingly close to reality. Heck, even up 43-0, the Trojans were throwing.

Defensively, again, very simple approach: shut down the effective Bruin rushing attack and make Kevin Prince beat us through the air. While Prince got his yards eventually and did find some spots in our zone (by virtue of the fact that our LB's were cheating up and giving up passing lanes beyond them), the gameplan clearly succeeded. UCLA didn't score.

And with that, some observations:

OFFENSE

* On Barkley's TD bomb to Lee on that first drive, DE Datone Jones lined up at DT and burst into the backfield with a clear path towards Matt, but luckily Matt stepped up in the pocket and Khaled Holmes made a terrific recovery block to knock Jones out of harm's way. What could have been a sack became 7 points. It's a game of inches.

* In a game where we were primarily throwing, it was fun to watch the OL on the occasions when we DID run the ball. They looked like a kennel of angry dogs being released when they got a chance to fire out and block; it was a very hostile and aggressive performance by all five guys.

* One of the unsung blockers of the game? Xavier Grimble. On the drive that started at our own 1 following UCLA's 4th down failure, Grimble made a nifty block downfield to free Lee up some running room on an 8-yard catch. He then drove the DE (Damien Holmes) out of the play on a double-team with Kalil which got Tyler 7 yards. And then he erased Holmes again on McNeal's 73-yard TD run off-tackle. Great performance by Xavier, capping off a very solid freshman year.

* An All-American performance by Matt Kalil. His block on McNeal's TD run was a thing of beauty; he rubbed off of the DE (letting Grimble finish the block) and jumped out on a LB, driving him backwards and out of the play. Kalil had a number of plays where he made more than one great block and was constantly downfield, pushing guys around right to the whistle. His pass protection, and the entire line's in general, was outstanding.

* The only sack allowed was when Larimore blitzed late and shot through a middle gap; for some reason John Martinez barely nudged him as he went by, must have been some kind of miscommunication there.

* One of Barkley's worst plays of the year occurred on the aforementioned 99-yard drive when he panicked and flung the ball into traffic with Holmes bearing down on him. Very lucky that wasn't picked... and we were only up 7-0 at that point.

* Add to the list of good blocking performances the name of Rhett Ellison, who many times had a LB crashing through a hole and meeting him shy of the LOS but never gave an inch, always engaging the LB until the RB had gone well past. Some of the biggest collisions of the game were on Rhett's lead blocks.

* While not a dominant blocker by any stretch, Randall Telfer had some nice blocks in this game, particularly on bubble screens, where he and Grimble and Carswell are all key guys. Their job is to occupy a DB and allow Lee or Woods any kind of soft gap to run through. Telfer, in particular, shined at that aspect vs. the Bruins.

* On his incredible 30-yard catch-and-run play down the middle, Telfer was met by #30 and dragged the guy 12 yards after first contact.

* What's remarkable about Barkley's performance is that on many of those throws to Lee and Woods, they're fairly well-covered. If Matt does come back for his senior season, I hope he looks around the field a little more, because there are some other WIDE open guys on many of those plays-- usually Telfer or Grimble.

* Can we just take a moment to appreciate the great HANDS we have in this receiving corps? For the entire season, I'm thinking that Woods maybe dropped 3 balls, Lee 2 or 3, Telfer a couple (early), and Grimble a couple (early). It's stunning how good these guys are at simply catching the ball and making it look easy. (Ask Oregon and UCLA what it's like to have WR's who don't always catch the ball.) Can't take that for granted.

* It seems like many of the bubble screens that Matt threw were his own audibles/decisions, where he'd see a lot of room for Lee or Woods to work and it was basically taking candy from a baby. And then when the CB's would creep up and play tight, you'd end up with the long shots downfield for huge plays. Pretty basic approach. I don't think it would work against LSU-- they can cover short and long with their athletes-- but against the UCLA's and Arizonas and Washingtons of the world? Yes.

* Along with the rest of his attributes, Lee is a very smart player. He is excellent at baiting a CB into thinking he's running a little slant or hitch route, only to put himself in position to seal that player to the outside to block on a running play. In short, he's tricking the defender and putting him at an immediate disadvantage. A joy to watch.

* Robert Woods is also a great blocker, and how amazing is it to watch a player of his caliber blocking a guy downfield on a sweep right with 2:00 to go in the game, up 50-0?

* Brice Butler made a huge early play when he beautifully stuck a button hook to move the sticks on 3rd-and-9 in the 2nd quarter (Aaron Hester may still be backpedaling). That kept that drive alive so that we didn't have to settle for a FG.

* I'm going to miss watching the violence with which Marc Tyler runs the football. He punished both Larimore and Zumwwalt a few times in this game, running right through their arms for an extra 2-3 yards each carry. Marc leads with his facemask and sets an attitude out there.

* It's a testament to Kiffin's confidence in the OL that he went 5-wide, empty backfield shotgun formation several times against UCLA.

* McNeal also got a PF for crushing the UCLA punter; I felt sorry for the poor guy, he got torqued.

* Matt's play on the fake field goal was a thing of beauty. That is not something he could have done last year, or maybe even the first half of this year. He's truly arrived.

* On Barkley, it's remarkable how many throws he made where the ball was only where his guy could catch it. I'm thinking the TD pass to Telfer in the back of the end zone, the fade TD to Woods, the 2-point throw to Grimble,

* On one of the few pass pressures I saw in the game, McNeal tried to cut block a blitzing OLB but whiffed.

* Khaled Holmes was beaten off the snap by DT Carter/Kalil missed a block on Zumwalt on a play which resulted in one of the few TFL of the day on a McNeal off-tackle run.

* On the late TD pass down the middle to Woods, UCLA blitzed their CB, leaving Jordan Zumwalt to try to cover Woody in the slot. Oops.

* As much as I enjoy stomping the Bruins, even I was shocked that we were still throwing so much up 43-0. Seems pretty clear that this was Kiffin's own private little Heisman push for Matt.

* McNeal is so strong that he ran right through the much bigger Damien Holmes to finish off an 11-yard run on USC's last drive.

* Interesting move on that final drive: Matt Kalil moved to RT and Graf to LT on a sweep right to McNeal; perhaps this was to ensure Moody reached the 1,000 mark? Anyway, Kalil got out beautifully to pull and lead that play, and Carswell chipped in with a seal block as well.

* On the pass to Robbie Boyer, you'll see Randall Telfer actually pushing a defender out of bounds to clear some room for the senior walk-on. You'll also see Khaled Holmes shout at Boyer to come back out to the field to give him a congratulatory hug. That's awesome to see.

* Nic Curry (senior walk-on WR) and Michael Cox (freshman TE walk-on) both got into the game for the last play or two. Also neat to see.

DEFENSE

* Even though he made some very nice plays, Lamar Dawson was very hobbled by his bad ankle; kudos to the kid for playing through it. What was missing for Lamar was his change-of-direction ability, he missed several tackles (e.g. a couple up the middle by Franklin) because he couldn't move laterally.

* One play which illustrates how much Dawson was hurting was on UCLA's first drive of the game; Fauria catches a ball down the middle and stops and changes direction and Lamar simply can't react and almost buckles trying to stop-and-start again.

* Dion Bailey was also hurting with his own ankle injury. But even so, he's one of the best I've seen at avoiding blockers on sweeps, negotiating his way through the humanity, and sticking the ballcarrier.

* Another great thing about Bailey: watching him backpedaling and then effortlessly turning/flipping his hips in zone dropbacks. He looks every bit the former defensive back, his speed and agility is a luxury at LB.

* If Bailey's gift is knifing through traffic to make tackles, Hayes Pullard's is reading a play, quickly scraping down the LOS, and violently filling the cutback lane to take down the RB. Another great game for Pullard, who along with Bailey, has to be given serious All Pac-12 consideration this season. And they're here three more years.

* Is it me or does Pullard play much "bigger" than his size? He may be small-ish but he carries himself and hits like a 6'2, 230 lb guy.

* Christian Tupou helped bottle up UCLA's rushing attack with some powerful bull moves up the middle where you'd just see him pushing a guard or center (or both) backwards.

* Great game by DaJohn Harris to cap off a fantastic senior campaign. Was in the backfield using his speed and power over and over again. And his young protege, George Uko, looked like a Harris-clone for much of the contest. These two were again a force in disrupting the interior line.

* One play which gave our defense trouble was on the triple option when Prince would fake to the dive man, then fake that he was on a keeper, but at the last moment would pull up and toss the ball quickly out to the motion man in the flat. Bailey gave up the edge the first time UCLA tried this and Jordan James gashed up for about 26 yards. The next time, we shut it down (Bailey stayed home), but in the second quarter we were hit with it again successfully for about 24 to Josh Smith. Tricky play to defend; Arizona hurt us with a similar type play earlier this year.

* Solid performance by Wes Horton, who did a fine job in contain and pursuit the entire night. Also got a sack, which was in part due to excellent downfield coverage.

* Nickell Robey sealed a great season with two sacks and continued to be a force in run support; he's become one of the best hitters on the team and he is clearly our best cover man (though Wiley has performed very well).

* His two sacks aside, UCLA did burn us once or twice on some other Robey blitzes, but all in all it was a great strategy. Monte Kiffin clearly felt that Robey's quickness was too much for a UCLA lineman to "mark" (he was right, they never touched him, only the RB's had any success chipping him), and when you add the fact that Prince is a bit slow to pick up blitzes in his periphery... well, you get a result like Saturday night.

* Chris Galippo saved us on UCLA's goal-line series in the first quarter. It's 3rd down, Derek Kennard bit hard on "dive" on a read option and crashed inside, giving Prince an open lane to the end zone... but Chris came up and hogtied him for a short gain. The next play was the 4th down where we stuffed the Bruins for nothing.

* Previous play notwithstanding, Kennard did better later in containing the read option. On one nice QB keeper play he fought the OT all the way down the LOS and forced Prince to turn it inside, where Uko stripped him of the ball (UCLA recovered).

* Just a tremendous job by the entire defense at swarming around the ball the whole night.

* Jawanza Starling has obviously been a huge surprise this season and performed very well. His only deficiency is that he's stiff-hipped and doesn't change direction real well-- he got juked several times in this game in open space. But when he has a bead on a runner and is going straight ahead, he'll crack you.

* Not sure what was going on with the coverage on the play where Shaq Evans got open on a post for what should have been a TD pass (Prince overthrew him badly). Starling started in the slot to cover Evans and went immediately to the flat, essentially switching positions with Wiley, who had to drop off of his short man and suddenly cover the entire middle of the field by himself. A thankless task for Wiley in any event, I can't really blame him for getting burned there.

* Speaking of Starling, he's lucky the officials swallowed their whistles in this game. He could have easily been called for late-hits on two different occasions where he launched into a pile late.

* Very nice performance by Shane Horton in his final game. He was very active. Only downside was he failed to wrap on a RB in the 1st quarter and let him go another 4-5 yards after contact.

* Terrific red zone defense in this game. Well-timed blitzes helped (mostly with Pullard), but all in all I'd say our guys got the shutout because they simply wanted it more than UCLA did.

* On the TJ pickoff in the end zone, I have no idea how Nick Perry didn't get a sack on Prince-- he had a clear blindside shot at him, but Prince not only stayed upright, he actually threw a decent ball.

* On UCLA's final drive of the 1st half, we knocked 3 Bruins silly in the span of 4 plays: Marvray (who was dazed after Pullard pounded him over the middle), Prince (courtesy of Tupou's late-ish hit in a pile), and Embree (smacked by Pullard).

* Bad ankle and all, Dawson got out beautifully on a swing pass and stopping Coleman for zero early in the second half. Later, he scraped down the LOS and stopped a fly sweep to Anthony Barr for nothing. Great ability and smarts on display by the true freshman.

* The only obvious defensive subsitution we made up 50-0 was putting Madden, Galippo, and Shane in for the starting LB's.

* Former USC recruits playing for UCLA all did next-to-nothing in this game: Cassius Marsh, Dietrich Riley (out), Anthony Barr, Malcolm Jones, Jordan Zumwalt, Owa (not sure he played?)

* TJ McDonald again saves our bacon by staying home when Prince reverses field and tried to break things outside during UCLA's last goal line offensive series. And then breaks up the final pass to Fauria by closing very quickly on the ball (Tony Burnett was involved on the breakup as well).

* On Burnett, great to see him play so well on ST's after having a miserable few weeks. He had some big tackles and hits. Tre Madden is another key guy doing well on ST's of late.

* Cyrus Hobbi and Junior Pomee are two tremendously enthusiastic young men on the sidelines. They could be captains in the future with that kind of passion and intensity.

* Props to Kyle Negrete and Andre Heidari for finishing off great seasons; Negrete in particular kept UCLA's hopes down in this game with two huge punts.

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