Rose Bowl Preview

Jan. 1, 2008

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
5:10 p.m. ET - ABC

Big Ten Bowl Trip: Rose Bowl

ILLINOIS: Web | Roster | Stats

USC: Web | Roster | Schedule | Stats

Pts./ Game
Pts. Allowed/ Game
Time of Possession
Yds Allowed/ Game
Yds/ Game
Yds Allowed/ Game
Completion %

Overall: USC, 10-2
Last Time Out: 1996 - USC, 55-3
Noteworthy: The Illini hold a 3-1 record in the Rose Bowl, winning in 1947, 1952 and 1964 before falling in the 1984 game to UCLA.

In one of the oddest college football seasons in recent years, the 2008 Rose Bowl will kickoff with its two traditional conference partners, but with two teams whose season outlooks did not look so rosy. While USC is no stranger to the Rose Bowl, the Trojans entered the 2007 campaign ranked first in the nation and were thought to cruise to the title game, but then came lowly Stanford. The Cardinal shocked USC, and the world for that matter, 24-23, when they won as 41-point underdogs. That loss would eventually keep the Trojans out of the BCS national championship hunt and a late-season run all but stamped their ticket to their third-straight and 32nd Rose Bowl overall.

Illinois on the other hand, entered the 2007 season looking to improve on its 2-10 record from a year ago. Not only did the Fighting Illini record the nation's greatest turnaround, but they upset top-ranked Ohio State to give the Buckeyes their lone loss of the season, which in turn provided BCS hopes for the Orange and Blue. Big Ten Coach of the Year Ron Zook has led the Illini back the postseason for the first time since 2002 when Illinois fell to LSU, 47-34, in the Sugar Bowl. That game was Illinois' only BCS bowl appearance prior to this season. This season the Illini captured one more game than it did its previous four seasons combined.

Both teams own winning records in the Rose Bowl, although the number of appearances is far from similar. USC is 22-9 all-time in the Rose Bowl, including a 2006 BCS title game loss to Texas and a win over Michigan last season. Illinois is 3-1 in Pasadena, but has not played since losing to UCLA in the 1984 edition. USC owns a 10-2 advantage over Illinois, however the two teams have never met in the Rose Bowl.

The Illini might be entering the Rose Bowl with the conference's third-best total offense (423.3) and seventh-best scoring offense (28.8), but the horsepower behind Illinois' success this year has been in the running game. Illinois boasts the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack with a staggering average of 266.2 yards per game - 65 yards more than the conference's second-highest total in Wisconsin. Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Rashard Mendenhall set numerous records as a junior, including single-season school marks for rushing yards (1,526) and touchdowns (18). Sophomore quarterback Juice Williams was a dual-threat weapon for the Illini, as he ranked eighth in conference total offense (189.3) and 10th in rushing (64.5). He threw for nearly 1,500 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while running for a career-high 774 yards. He was the first Illini quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a career. Illinois' Achilles heel is the passing game however. While running the ball might be its first, second and third options, Illinois ranked 11th in the conference in pass offense with an average of only 157.2 yards per game. In addition, the Illini threw for 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on the season.

USC looks to counter the Illini rushing attack with its second-ranked defense, that allows only 258.8 yards total per game. The mark is roughly eight yards shy of Illinois' rushing average per outing. The Trojans lead the Pac-10 and are fourth in the nation with 15.9 points allowed each contest, although on their current four-game winning streak that number has shrunk to 12.7. USC is no slouch against the run either. The Trojans own a rush defense average of 79.2 yards per game, which is tops in the league and fourth in the country. And even with Illinois' limited passing attack, USC owns the nation's seventh-best pass defense, averaging 179.7 yards and just eight touchdowns allowed. The Trojans have picked off their opponents 10 times this season and recorded 40 sacks on the campaign, the second-highest amount in the conference and sixth-best in the country. Remarkably, USC's top tackler averages only the 28th-best mark in the conference. Linebacker Keith Rivers earns 6.6 stops per game, followed by teammates Rey Maualuga (6.2), Taylor Mays (5.2) and Sedrick Ellis (4.7). Lawrence Jackson ranks third in the league with 9.5 sacks, while his 14.0 tackles for loss are fifth. Ellis is sixth with 9.0 sacks.

Quarterback John David Booty has guided USC to four straight wins, but suffered a fractured middle finger in the Stanford loss and missed the next three games, which included a loss to Oregon. The senior has thrown for 2,106 yards this season with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His average of 234.0 yards per game is fourth amongst Pac-10 passers and has completed 62.7 percent of his attempts in nine games so far. In the last four wins, Booty has thrown eight TDs and only one interception. Senior running back Chauncey Washington was sixth in the conference this season with 81.3 yards per game, but only 4.9 yards per carry, which was the second-fewest in the league. Washington was not the only threat in the backfield as Stafon Johnson (56.9), Joe McKnight (34.6) and Stanley Havili (10.8) combined for nine rushing touchdowns on the year to equal Washington's total. Fred Davis was USC's leading receiver with 66.2 yards per outing, fifth-best in the Pac-10. As a unit, the Trojans ranked third in the conference in scoring (31.2), rushing (185.0) and total offense (418.4), and fifth in passing (233.4).

The Illini's defense is anchored by senior linebacker J Leman, who tied for third in the Big Ten with 10.3 tackles per game. Leman led the conference in tackles in 16 of the last 19 weeks dating back to last year. He was helped by fellow linebacker Antonio Steele's 6.9 tackle average, as well as cornerbacks Justin Harrison (6.3) and Vontae Davis (5.7). Will Davis was fifth-best in the league and 18th in the nation with 9.5 sacks, while senior Justin Sander managed to forced three fumbles on the year. Senior Chris Norwell recovered three fumbles and senior Kevin Mitchell tied for 17th in the country over the regular season with 1.33 passes defended each contest. Mitchell tied for third in the league with five interceptions, followed by Davis in sixth with four picks. Illinois has proven to keep opponent scoring to a minimum this season, ranking 19th in the nation with a defense allowing just 19.5 points per game. Like USC, the Illini take pride in the stopping the run, as the country's 23rd-best rush defense allowed 114.5 yards an outing. Overall, Illinois' defense was seventh in the Big Ten with an average of 355.4 yards per game, mainly due in part to a pass defense that ranked ninth in the conference at 240.9. The Illini allowed an opponent completion percentage of 62.8 and a per-catch average of 7.1, both of which were second-highest in the league.

Illinois needs to try and use what got the team here in the first place by running the ball. It all starts up front in the trenches. The Illini offensive line needs to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, while secondary backs and receivers will face their most important downfield blocking assignments yet. While Booty is primarily a pocket passer, his counterpart Williams will need to keep USC on its toes as an effective dual threat. The option attack will need to be flawless in order to penetrate holes in the Trojan defense. Should the Illini be successful with that, and keep USC to half of its offensive scoring average, they have a good shot of leaving Pasadena with their fourth Rose Bowl victory.