Seated at a chair while dissecting information on his office laptop, offensive coordinator Norm Chow winced when questioned about his offense, then bowed his head and squeezed both eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
The topic wasn't his current UCLA offense, but his first offense at USC.
Yes, it was that bad. And, yes, Chow's memory of how ghastly remains vivid.
He said many similarities exist between the Trojans' 2001offense and the Bruins' current offensive play, somethingUCLA coach Rick Neuheisel constantly tells his staff and players as they prepare to host No. 5 USC on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"(UCLA) looks better coached," said Pete Carroll, whose USC head coaching career began in 2001. "We were lousy thatyear. We stunk it up. They've looked cleaner at times on both sides of the ball, but then the turnovers have disrupted their season. I thought we were lousy. It's the most regrettable part of these eight years. We stunk."
The one glaring difference between USC's offense in 2001 and UCLA's current offensive blight is quarterback development. Carson Palmer improved as the season developed, then morphed into aHeisman Trophy winner and a first-round NFL draft pick the next season.
UCLA's Kevin Craft, a junior college transfer, appears to have regressed. He has not thrown a touchdown pass, at least not one to his teammates, since the winner in the closing seconds against Stanford on Oct. 18. He has thrown 12 interceptions in the four games since, and five of them were returned for scores. He is expected to battle redshirting freshman Kevin Prince and incoming freshman Richard Brehaut of Los Osos High of Rancho Cucamonga for the starting duties next season.
"There were deficiencies in both programs, which is why Pete took over and Rick took over," Chow said. "I think they've both had similar ups and downs in the first season. I think USC had the benefit of a returning quarterback, what amounted as a two-year starter. That was a plus."
Yet so many other things from Chow's first season coordinating USC's offense offers striking parallels to the problems afflicting these Bruins.
USC finished the regular season 6-5, then lost a dreadful Las Vegas Bowl 10-6to Utah. The Trojans had oneyard rushing and 151yards oftotal offense.
The Bruins (4-7) are not bowl eligible, and have failed to score an offensive touchdown in four games this season.
In both instances, inadequate play from the offensive line made running the football nearly impossible and put too much pressure on the quarterback.
"I think the biggest deficiency (at USC) was in the lines. It's always in the lines," Chow said. "I remember when we first got there, I asked Pete where the offensive linemen were. They were already out there practicing."
The major statistical categories, through 11 games, also support the ties between the 2001 Trojans and the 2008 Bruins.
USC was 109th (of 115 teams) nationally in rushing offense at 95.6 yards per game and ranked last in the Pac-10 in that category. UCLA is 116th (of 119) at 86 yards per game, and last in the Pac-10.
USC was 49th in passing offense (233.8 ypg). UCLA is 64th (208.8 ypg).
USC was 94th in total offense (329.4 ypg). UCLA is 110th (294.8).
USC was 61st in scoring (26.6 ppg). UCLA is 107th (18.6 ppg). Both ranked eighth in the Pac-10.
USC's leading rusher was Sunny Byrd, who had a team-leading 305 yards entering the bowl loss. KahlilBell leads the Bruins with 358 rushing yards.
"You would have had to of been there (in 2001) to know that there is a slight difference," said third-year UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who was a USC assistant in 2001.
Perhaps a not-so-slight difference was at quarterback, a position in which Palmer began to blossom. He completed 206 of 351 passes for 2,567 yards, with 13touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He threw twointerceptions in the last three regular-season games, and the Trojans entered the Las Vegas Bowl with a four-game winning streak.
Craft is 221 of 389 for 2,252yards, with seven touchdowns, and tied UCLA's single-season record of 19 interceptions. He also has taken a physical pounding by opposing defenses behind a porous offensive line that has allowed 35 sacks, more than 109 other teams.
"Craft has taken a beating, and he plays like that all the time," Chow said. "There's a lot to that young man. He's a tough guy. He's mentally strong. He's made some big errors but hung in there. At halftime (against Arizona State) he was hurt. He had something wrong with his shoulder, and I said, `Hey, you gotta play here.' And he did.
"It's obviously been a real struggle on offense, but I do have to admire the young guys because they've worked their backsides off."
on Christmas Day