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Keeping Sark at Seven Wins: UCLA at USC

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Seven-win Sark has been a running joke during his tenure as a head coach. How can UCLA keep that joke going?

Owamagbe Odighizuwa will need to get pressure on Cody Kessler
Owamagbe Odighizuwa will need to get pressure on Cody Kessler
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Sarkisian has been unable to make his way over seven wins in a season during his tenure as a head coach at Washington and now at USC. The one time that his team managed to, he had left for the position at USC. The name "Seven-win Sark" has stayed with him as he attempts to get over that seven win hump in the battle for the Victory Bell against UCLA. The Bruins want their third straight victory over USC, and they have a clear path to the Pac-12 South title if they can win out. To keep Sark at only seven wins, UCLA needs to prepare for a multidimensional offense and a defense that has found its stride.

Offensively

UCLA has a struggle on their hands facing Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defensive line. Williams is going to be a top five pick in the NFL draft in April, and seemed to be pushing back whoever was on him during the game against Cal. UCLA has to negate his presence, or at least make him semi-invisible. There are a couple of strategies that the Bruins can use to negate him.

First and foremost is something that any team has plays in for, which is to move the pocket. Sliding the line in the direction of a rollout obviously puts more distance between the defensive tackle and Brett Hundley. This can be made into a run-pass option with Hundley, potentially running a pseudo quarterback sweep. This play could be run similarly to this one, with receivers running crossing routes to keep up with Hundley. Devin Fuller in particular has been in a possession receiver, and he would be targeted in this sort of passing game.

The second idea would be to double-team Williams and take a page out of the Boston College team that ran for 452 yards on the Trojans. The Bruins need to break out the inside and outside zone read plays that Oregon runs to great success. Using the read play allows for the offensive line to ignore the outermost defensive end, the guy that is going to be read, and allows for the offensive line to have an extra blocker for a double-team block in the middle. UCLA used the read to essentially bail themselves out against Colorado. With a running threat in Paul Perkins, the read game can be successful no matter who ends up with the ball. The UCLA offensive line has struggled in pass blocking this year, but has been surprisingly good in the run game, so the offense can definitely be up to the task

Defensively

Lucky for the UCLA defense, Cody Kessler does not run, so that's one less person to focus on. The Bruins have two key players to focus on defensively. Javorius Allen, the running back, and wide receiver Nelson Agholor are the main threats in a thin USC offense. UCLA managed to hold Arizona to 2.6 yards per carry along with keeping Anu Solomon below a 40% completion percentage, so the results can be repeated.

UCLA stopped Arizona in a Stanford-like fashion, ergo they got a ton of pressure on Anu Solomon, and they consistently made open field tackles to limit yards after catch or got off block to stop the running back with only a short gain. When there was a sack, it came off of a straight up pass rush. While there was a twist used on this particular play, Owamagbe Odighizuwa got the sack by getting a good jump off the snap off the snap, ripping through the offensive lineman, and getting his hands on Solomon. The other sack of the night, made by Takkarist McKinley, came on another straight rush, where McKinley came inside of a the left tackle on a direct line and made an easy sack. McKinley will be a key player in the pass rush as someone who can throw Kessler off his game. McKinley originally committed to Cal for the class of 2013, but was unable to qualify and went to nearby Contra Costa College, where his star rose. He decided to come to UCLA mid-season as the Bruins hadn't started school yet, and is going to be a force for the UCLA defensive line for years to come.

There isn't as much of a blueprint for UCLA on defense as on offense. The keys are all in fundamentals and will, such as shedding blocks to get to the ballcarrier and putting pressure on the quarterback in a simple four man rush. UCLA has linebackers that are talented at making open field tackles in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. Ishmael Adams is a standout in the secondary and will be put on Agholor in order to slow him down. Unlike with the offense, there isn't something that can consistently be done except to play fundamentally and to be consistent. It is a cop-out, but USC is incredibly talented on offense, and sometimes the onus lies on consistency in play to pull a team to victory. The Bruins are capable of winning their third straight matchup, they just have to play a complete game on both ends, which they are very able to do. Their preparation will have to speak for itself on Saturday.