Bruins Were More Impressive Than Trojans
This hasn’t happened many times in the past 10 years, so when it actually does occur, it has to be pointed out.
Are you ready? UCLA’s football team was more impressive than USC’s on Saturday.
That’s right, the Bruins were better, playing more consistently on both sides of the ball, taking control of the game with favored, 23rd-ranked Houston from the start, knocking Heisman candidate Case Kennum out of the game and hardly giving Coach Rick Neuheisel a chance to flash that now famous frown throughout a 31-13 romp.
The Trojans, on the other hand, were sporadic again, although they improved slightly from the first two weeks. Their run defense was better and their own running game revved up some, but there are still too many penalties and quarterback Matt Barkley continues to misfire more than he should. Let’s not forget, the Gophers, who were beaten the previous week by — ahem! — South Dakota, actually led 14-13 in the third quarter of this one before Robert Woods’ momentum-changing 97 yard kickoff return helped get Lane Kiffin’s kids home intact, 32-21.
UCLA had no such uncomfortable moments. The undersized visiting Cougars were pushed around up front, Kevin Prince, apparently healthy for the first time, ran well and operated the Pistol offense with skill and poise and Johnathan Franklin rushed like a feature tailback. Defensively, stars Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore and up-coming-star Patrick Larimore all had big games.
So what does it mean? Well, the Trojans, at 3-0, have one more week on cruise control before they’ll have to turn the switch and begin playing legitimate Pac-10 teams. The question is, will they be able to raise it a notch, or two or four, when needed?
That still isn’t clear. The best thing they did in Minnesota was emphasize the running game, bruising their way for 216 yards, even if they have reverted to a tailback shuttle system. Kiffin has said all along he wants to revive the power running game that helped USC win a lot of games, especially early in the Pete Carroll era.
If he can do it, and the defense can continue to stop the run the way it did Saturday, then the Trojans still have a chance to make the conference race interesting.
But let’s remember who the opponent was, too. Running the ball down Minnesota’s throat is one thing. Running it down Stanford’s for Oregon’s is something else.
The Bruins, now a relieved 1-2, still have to go to Texas this Saturday, where, if nothing else, they’d like to be competitive. A victory is probably too much to ask, but if they can play the way they did against Houston, at least it won’t be embarrassing.
After that, Neuheisel’s group gets to catch its breath against Washington State, and then it, too, could create some problems for a few of the more highly-regarded Pac-10 teams.
So here’s an interesting question to ask at this early point in the season: Forget their respective records. If USC were playing UCLA this week in the Rose Bowl (where the game is scheduled this year, by the way), which team would you pick?
The surprising answer is I’m not sure. And if nothing else, that has to make this an encouraging week for Bruins fans.
Some quick hits from another rousing football weekend:
Tell me, you think the Jets are sorry they didn’t let Mark Sanchez throw the ball downfield vs. the Ravens now that he’s thrown three touchdown passes against the Patriots and outplayed Tom Brady? . . .
Don’t say I didn’t tell you about Robert Woods. The kid is a superstar in waiting at USC . . .
Ah yes, it was reassuring to see the real Peyton Manning and the Colts dismantle brother Eli and the Giants . . .
That was a huge win for Mike Stoops and Arizona against Iowa. Winning in Tucson now might be just as difficult as winning in Eugene or Palo Alto . . .
The best new example of how important it can be to have the right offensive coordinator in the NFL: Mike Martz in Chicago . . .
If I’m Oklahoma and Texas, I’m now really worried about Nebraska . . .
No, Andy Reid, you won’t, under any circumstances, be able to sit Michael Vick now . . .
Is it just me, or did Brett Favre look really old on Sunday? . . .
— STEVE BISHEFF