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December 1, 2006

Pac-10 Game of the Week: USC at UCLA

"This is the game Olson NEEDS to start imo. If he is not the future of the program, then the program does not have a future. He needs the pressure, he needs the experience for a game like this. Otherwise what do we have to look forward to next year?"
-- sxewesley1 on the The Bruin Lounge message board on BruinBlitz.com.

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At this time last year Patrick Cowan was a redshirt freshman quarterback, biding his time on the bench behind a pair of Olsons.

At the same time, C.J. Gable was finishing up his senior season at Sylmar (Calif.) High School.

Injuries intervened over the last 12 months, forcing UCLA's Cowan and USC's Gable into key roles for each of their teams in Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl.

Cowan - UCLA's starting quarterback after the departure of Drew Olson and the injury to fellow sophomore Ben Olson - is trying to ensure a winning season for the Bruins by ending USC's seven-game win streak in the series.

The true freshman Gable - stepping into the shoes of Reggie Bush - is trying to keep USC in national championship contention for the fourth consecutive season. Gable is a symbol of the depth that has kept No. 2 USC (11-1, 7-1 Pac-10) in this position.

Bush and LenDale White left Los Angeles for the NFL. True freshman Emmanuel Moody led the team in rushing for the first three games before being sidelined with a sprained ankle. Junior Chauncey Washington took over for the next six before being slowed by a knee sprain. That brought the Trojans back to Gable, who started the opener against Arkansas before giving way to Moody and Washington.

When he returned to the starting spot against Cal, his big-play ability and 159 all-purpose yards sealed USC's fifth consecutive Pac-10 title. In the next game against Notre Dame, his 128 total yards moved USC one win away from facing No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8.

"When he takes off, he is going to get every single drop out of every single snap and squeeze it," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He is really fun to watch. Fortunately, we have needed it desperately here at the end of the season where we have been banged up and he has just risen and really given us a great boost."

UCLA's (6-5, 4-4 Pac-10) depth has also been challenged - especially at the quarterback position.

Once a highly touted recruit, Ben Olson finally got his chance to start. His opportunity was short-lived when a torn medial collateral ligament knocked him out of UCLA's 27-7 win over Arizona on Oct. 7.

Cowan started the next six games in Olson's place. Cowan didn't fare as well as Gable did across town. Cowan lost his first four starts before setting into the role in the last two games, wins against Oregon State and Arizona State.

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Olson was cleared to play Nov. 15, but has not taken a snap in a game. Cowan has remained the starter.

"I did make the decision before practice (Wednesday) that we would go with Pat, and I talked about it with both of them and they understood," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "Pat has a little more seasoning with all the experience he has been playing with the last several weeks."

It hasn't been an ideal situation for Dorrell. However, the key for UCLA may be on the other side of the ball. The Bruins are greatly improved under new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. His unit will be the last barrier between the Trojans and another chance for the national championship.

"We have had our ups and downs and challenges throughout the season but we have been able to survive primarily with the quality of depth that can come off the bench and fill the voids," USC's Carroll said. "We have had a lot of challenges and it speaks of the mentality of our players and coaches to get the guys to step forward on these challenges and play at the level that is necessary to maintain winning ways."

Pac-10 Game of the Week: No. 2 USC at UCLA
USC running game vs. UCLA run defense: First-year coordinator DeWayne Walker has turned one of the biggest weaknesses of last year's team into a strength. The Bruins were last in the Pac-10 and 116th in the country against the run last year, but now lead the conference in rush defense (93.1 yards per game). USC answers with Gable, who has been the team's leading rusher in the last two games. Behind Gable are question marks. Chauncey Washington, the team's leading rusher, has been limited in practice because of a knee injury. Emmanuel Moody returned this week after missing two games because of an ankle injury. Edge: UCLA.
USC passing game vs. UCLA pass defense: Walker's arrival has turned around UCLA's pass defense, but not quite as much as the run defense. The Bruins are allowing 209.6 yards per game through the air this year. UCLA has recovered since allowing 709 passing yards in a two-game span to Notre Dame and Washington State. However,USC's passing game has improved as well - thanks to Dwayne Jarrett's improving health. Jarrett had seven catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Notre Dame last week. On the flip side, USC quarterback John David Booty threw two interceptions in the first half against Notre Dame and three more against Oregon three weeks ago. Edge: USC.
UCLA running game vs. USC run defense: UCLA's Chris Markey hasn't been as effective as he was last season. Now the primary back, Markey excelled in spot duty the last two years in place of Maurice Drew. Markey has rushed for 912 yards and has caught 32 passes out of the backfield for 250 yards. Markey has had to handle more of the load in recent weeks with backup running back Kahlil Bell (ankle) missing the last four games. Markey will face a tall order against the USC run defense, led by linebackers Rey Maualuga, Dallas Sartz and Keith Rivers. The Trojans have allowed only one back to gain 100 or more yards this season. Edge: USC.
UCLA passing game vs. USC pass defense: The Bruins will stick with Cowan rather than Ben Olson, who started the first five games of the season before a knee injury sidelined him. Cowan lost his first four starts, throwing six interceptions. But in the Bruins' last two wins he's 26 of 47 with four touchdowns and an interception. Although Brady Quinn threw three touchdown passes against the Trojans, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes because of USC's pass rush. Pac-10 co-freshman of the year Taylor Mays has a team-leading three interceptions. Cal and Oregon also struggled in the passing game in USC's last three games. Edge: USC.
USC special teams vs. UCLA special teams: The Bruins would rather not settle for field goals against USC. If they have to they're in good hands with Justin Medlock, who is 24 of 28 on the year - including two from 51 yards. The Bruins have blocked four kicks this season. UCLA took a hit on special teams when Terrence Austin's season was cut short. USC answers on special teams with Gable, who has averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return. Edge: UCLA.
USC coaches vs. UCLA coaches: This is Pete Carroll's time of year. Carroll is 5-0 against the Bruins and wrapped up another undefeated November, to give him a 20-0 record in the month as USC's coach. The Bruins have improved in the last two games, but not nearly enough for us to give Karl Dorrell the edge. Edge: USC.
USC will win if: The Trojans continue to play as they have since the upset at Oregon State. Since then, USC has allowed 43 points in four games - 24 coming in the last game to Notre Dame. On offense, Dwayne Jarrett has returned to form while C.J. Gable has emerged in the backfield.
UCLA will win if: The Bruins play a near-perfect game. Markey will need a big day running the ball and the UCLA secondary will need to avoid the lapses it had against Notre Dame and Washington State early in the year. UCLA will also likely seek a big play on special teams. The Bruins have blocked four kicks this year and used a fake punt against Arizona State to set up a field goal.
X-factor: Cornerback Alterraun Verner. The Bruins are in good hands with their top cornerback Trey Brown (four interceptions), but the other side needs a little help. The Trojans' duo of Jarrett and Steve Smith presents quite a challenge. The true freshman Verner is fourth on the team in tackles and has two interceptions - including one returned for a touchdown this year.
Notes: UCLA is coming off a bye week after defeating Arizona State 24-12 on Nov. 18. UCLA defeated USC eight times in a row before the Trojans won the last seven. USC has won its last four games by a combined score of 144-43. USC running back Emmanuel Moody (ankle) practiced this week and was cleared to play. UCLA linebacker Aaron Whittington, who has missed the last month due to ankle injury, returned to practice this week and should play Saturday. UCLA will face Florida State in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Francisco.
Fox's pick: USC, 35-10
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: USC, 35-21
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: USC 31-14
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: USC, 42-17
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: USC, 28-21
Make your picks on Rivals.com Pick 'Em.

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