It’s getting closer and closer…
In roughly 30 hours as of this writing, the two major institutions of higher learning in this nation’s second largest city will play football against each other for the 83rd time.
UCLA’s Bruins and the University of Southern California’s Trojans will hold their annual grudge match at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which they shared as their home field for 53 seasons before the Bruins moved to the Rose Bowl in 1982.
For the record, Las Vegas odds have the Trojans favored by three and a half points.
Considering how USC (9-3, 6-2 in the Pac-12) has played since they fired Lane Kiffin, winning six out of their seven games under interim coach Ed Orgeron, that sounds about right.
Though UCLA (8-3, 5-3 in the Pac-12), under second year head coach Jim Mora, has played well, the Trojans have been lights out and are frankly playing better than the Bruins at this moment.
Which really means nothing as the old cliche goes, “You throw the records and statistics out in a rivalry game.”
All right, enough with the platitudes – here’s how I see this game unfolding:
Both teams will obviously come out hard as even though a berth in the Rose Bowl is no longer at stake thanks to Arizona State and Stanford, who will meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 7, there is still quite a bit to play for besides the Victory Bell and bragging rights in L.A.
The #22 Bruins will try to break a seven game, 16-year losing skid in the Coliseum while ‘SC will try and complete their 180 degree turnaround and give athletic director Pat Haden even more of a reason to remove the “interim” label from Orgeron’s job title.
Much like in their huge win over Stanford, the 23rd-ranked Trojans will use the energy provided by their hostile crowd/atmosphere to overwhelm their crosstown enemies.
I look for Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and the rest of USC’s front seven to take advantage of the inexperience of UCLA’s offensive line – three true freshmen will start there on Saturday – and blitz quarterback Brett Hundley as often as they can.
However, unlike other quarterbacks Hundley has an edge in that he can get yards with his legs as well as with his arm, rushing for over 500 yards this year and scoring seven touchdowns on the ground.
Look for him to scramble and give the Trojan defense fits with first downs, as they have had with running signal callers for a while.
As for the Bruin defense, I won’t lie or sugarcoat it;
They will have their hands full as ‘SC will try and establish the run, namely Javorius “Buck” Allen with his 11 trips to the end zone, like they have done during their current five-game winning streak.
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor will be looking to take advantage of Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth and the rest of UCLA’s young secondary as well; I think Adams and company will be up to the task and though they will give up some yardage…
That Bruin secondary will not give Agholor and Lee any spectactular highlight film material like they have had in recent weeks.
Since Agholor is dangerous in the return department, scoring two long touchdowns against the Cal Bears, I can more or less guarantee that the Bruins will neither be kicking nor punting to him, taking the ball out of his hands.
The UCLA front seven, including linebackers Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Erik Kendricks and Myles Jack, has a decent chance of success as far as pressuring USC quarterback Cody Kessler, which will be the number one key in stopping the Trojan attack as if Kessler has no time to throw, Agholor, Lee and the rest of the ‘SC receivers won’t be able to do any damage.
I feel that Barr and his mates will be able to do that, especially if they blitz as Kessler is not nearly as much of threat to run as Hundley is.
And speaking of Jack, don’t expect Mora to line up the freshman behind Hundley at running back as much as he did against Arizona State, as he will be needed at linebacker more.
Jack will get a few carries, but I don’t see him getting more than ten, and then only in third-and-short and goal line situations.
The biggest thing that the Bruins will have to overcome on Saturday is the Trojan crowd – the students, band, alumni, and fans – who will be at the Coliseum looking for blood.
They were a significant factor in ‘SC overwhelming then-4th ranked Stanford, and I expect them to be even more intense – a 25 on a scale of one to ten – against their crosstown rivals as roughly 90,000 will be showing their hate.
The question is, can / will UCLA overcome that and pull off the win.
Not too many people outside of Bruin Nation thinks they will, particularly considering how hot the Trojans have been while the Bruins have been kind of up and down, losing to Arizona State in their last game after a bad first half and going 3-3 since their 5-0 start.
However, I think that coach Mora will have them ready to face the Trojans and their “Family”, and, well…
Though it will be an extremely close and extremely hard fought game, here’s my official prediction of the final score:
UCLA BRUINS – 31
USC TROJANS – 27
I’m not much of a betting person, but if I were one, much like what head stylist Cinna said to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, I’d be betting on the Bruins.
We’ll soon see how right or wrong I am.