One of the key areas for USC in its upcoming game with UCLA is the ability of the Trojans to stop the Bruins’ run game.
UCLA runs a no-huddle, spread offense featuring senior tailback Johnathan Franklin, who is among the nation’s leading rushers, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has been very efficient this season. The ability to successfully run the football has been a big part of why the Bruins are 8-2 in the first year under coach Jim Mora. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a familiar name for USC fans -- he was at the controls of the Arizona State offense in 2011 when the Sun Devils beat the Trojans in Tempe.
So far in 2012, the Trojans are giving up 3.9 yards per rush, while the Bruins are averaging 4.7 yards per rush with 45 attempts per game. USC has seen varying results against the run in recent weeks against teams who use a spread offense. The Trojans held Arizona State to just 71 rushing yards last week but gave up 321 yards on the ground two weeks ago to Oregon running back Kenjon Barner.
Here are three important ways the USC defense is built to perform in this game:
Stopping Franklin: The all-time leading rusher in UCLA history is also the nation’s No. 6 leading rusher with 1,270 yards. It will be critical for the USC defense to be aggressive and make early contact. The Trojans are No. 4 in the nation in tackles for loss, and that stat will be important to watch as USC hopes to limit the number of open-field runs for Franklin.
The Hundley factor: USC senior safety T.J. McDonald could play a major role here to help contain the young Bruins signal-caller. Hundley isn’t afraid to run the football -- he has 111 rush attempts -- and he has six touchdowns on the ground this year. He is a very steady player and hasn’t been rattled a lot this season but this game will be a step up on every level. Look for Monte Kiffin to use McDonald in different ways to confuse Hundley as much as possible.
Inexperience on the line: The Bruins start three freshmen on the offensive line, and you can be sure the Trojans’ defensive line will be looking to take advantage of that. USC is coming off one of its best D-line performances of the year, and Ed Orgeron’s group is getting production from multiple players right now. Senior end Wes Horton has battled back from an early-season injury to be playing at a high level, while Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams have been very effective as well.