#22 UCLA BRUINS (8-3, 5-3 in the Pac-12) vs. #23 USC TROJANS (9-3, 6-2 in the Pac-12)
THE 83rd MEETING
PLACE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 30, 5:00 p.m. PT
TV: KABC Channel 7 (in the SoCal area)
LINE: USC by 3 and a 1/2
LAST MEETING: UCLA won, 38-28
ALL-TIME SERIES: USC leads, 46-29-7
At first glance, this looks like a match-up between a team that’s been banged up with injuries that, to be honest, had been playing better football earlier in the year as they have gone 3-3 since a 5-0 start, having been ranked as high as ninth.
Who is going up against a crosstown rival that is playing arguably the best football in the nation, having won six out of its last seven games under an interim coach who, to be blunt, turned their season around after the firing of the previous coach.
As far as 22nd-ranked UCLA is concerned, last year’s 38-28 win at the Rose Bowl in the rain over their bitter rivals was great, but…
It’s one thing to beat your rival at home in your friendly confines. It’s a whole other animal to do it at their place in front of what promises to be a very hostile and – dare I say it – downright nasty crowd that is looking for revenge and will desperately want to get the Victory Bell, the trophy awarded to the winner of this “Battle for L.A.”, back.
Which the Bruins haven’t done since 1997 – a span of 16 years as the #23 USC Trojans’ winning streak over their Westwood adversaries at the Coliseum currently stands at seven.
Interestingly enough, however, when I took my annual pre-showdown look at the season statistics for the two teams I found them to be fairly similar, with only Javorious “Buck” Allen‘s 11 rushing touchdowns in only 88 carries – that’s a touchdown for every eight times he’s touched the ball – leaping out at me.
Brett Hundley has the obvious edge at quarterback with his 2,637 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, combined with his running ability as his seven TDs on the ground leads Jim Mora’s team, but Cody Kessler hasn’t exactly been a slouch as he has thrown for 2,449 yards and 15 scores, signifying a solid performance in his first year as the Trojans’ starter.
UCLA hopes that Jordon James, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry before his injury woes, will be able to play against Ed Orgeron’s squad because he will be sorely needed, and Paul Perkins has done a decent job in his freshman year as his 536 rushing yards leads UCLA.
Every one of the over 90,000 fans at the Coliseum, however, plus the millions watching the game on TV, will expect Myles Jack to get some carries, though not as many as he got against Arizona State as his presence at linebacker will be crucial to the Bruins’ hopes.
Despite the highlight reel material provided by ‘SC receivers Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee – his sitting out the Colorado game notwithstanding – in recent weeks, their 47 and 44 catches, respectively, are not much more than their Bruin counterparts, Shaq Evans (42 catches and eight touchdowns) and Devin Fuller (40 catches and four scores), who will be a game-time decision as he is one of the walking wounded.
And I could hardly believe it when I saw that Agholor had only four receiving touchdowns on the year, as I thought he reached the end zone a lot more than that.
As for the defenses, while UCLA has been solid, particularly their linebackers as Anthony Barr leads the Bruins with eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss, with Eric Kendricks‘ 95 tackles likewise leading the team, USC has an edge here as their defensive unit has done a 180-degree turnaround from last season.
While the Trojans don’t have a huge night-and-day advantage on defense, they have enough of one to the point that Bruin Nation should worry as their 33 sacks, 82 tackles for loss, and 16 interceptions beats UCLA’s 23, 68, and 12, respectively.
Leonard Williams and Devon Kennard have been the biggest beasts on the USC front seven, Williams having 13 tackles for loss (leading the Trojans) and six sacks while Kennard has 11.5 TFLs and eight sacks (which leads ‘SC), helping that unit in giving up a stingy 122.1 rushing yards per game. Dion Bailey has five of the Trojans’ 16 picks, with freshman phenom Su’a Cravens‘ four right behind him.
Considering that three of the five players on the Bruins’ offensive line were playing on their high school teams last year, and though they’ve done a decent job have played like it at times, particularly at the end of last week’s ASU loss where two of them were called for holding on UCLA’s last drive as they were getting beat, on top of giving up nine sacks…
That line has to be at least 1,000 times better against Williams, Kennard, and the rest of that Trojan d-line.
In fact, the Bruins have to play a near-perfect game on both sides of the ball, if not a perfect one, against the Trojans for them to have a chance at winning.
Pressure the quarterback.
Make Kessler run for his life.
Simply stated, if they are successful in that, it will take the pressure off of the Bruin secondary. If Kessler has all day in the pocket to throw, UCLA is doomed as Agholor, Lee, and the other ‘SC wideouts will torch that young backfield.
There is one more crucial factor for UCLA to overcome:
The atmosphere that the USC “Trojan Family” will bring to the Coliseum.
Put it like this:
Picture the extremely intense atmosphere that the Trojans provided against Stanford; the loud-as-teenage-girls-at-a-Beatles-concert noise and the post-game rushing of the field by what seemed to be 90% of the 93,000 fans that November 9th night.
Multiply that by ten.
That is what is awaiting the Bruins on Saturday as it will be akin to facing Mel Gibson’s (as William Wallace) Scottish army from the movie Braveheart in a horror chamber.
If they can overcome that nasty environment and beat USC in their house, in my eyes at least it will mean that UCLA football is – once and for all- back.
As for how I see this game unfolding, who I think will win and what I think the score will be…
An article discussing exactly that will appear on this site this coming Friday.