The Pac-12 conference championship will be underway soon, and we have a real interesting scenario upon us. As Stanford defeated the Bears this past weekend in the "Big Game" match-up to clinch the Pac-12 North, the South as usual has generated some problems. USC was deflated by the Ducks this past Saturday in Eugene, which was a must win game for the Trojans. On the other hand in Utah, the Bruins outlasted the Utes, giving the Bruins first place in the division. The scenario is now painted in black and white: whoever wins in the coliseum this weekend will be playing Stanford again for the Pac-12 championship.
The Bruins are 4-1 in their past five games and the main factor has been their offense. True freshman Josh Rosen has started to emerge in conference play, throwing for over 300 yards in three of the last five games and seven touchdowns. After throwing seven interceptions in the first six games, he has thrown none in the last five. Rosen has thrown for 3,124 yards, 17tds, with a 60% completion rate on the season.
Part of his recent success has to do with the play making ability from his wide receivers, particularly Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte. Payton has a career-high 71 receptions, with 1,009 yards, and four touchdowns on the year. The 6'1 212lb senior receiver is a team leader that is capable of taking advantage of defenders in man coverage. When Payton isn't making big plays you can count on fellow receiver Thomas Duarte to step in.
Duarte, who is arguably UCLA's best receiver, comes into this contest hauling in 46 receptions, 757 yards, and nine touchdowns. Duarte is a big body receiver who specializes in using his size to his advantage. Duarte possesses great body control and runs crisp routes to cause separation versus defenders. The Trojans secondary will have to game plan and match up well against these receivers including Paul Perkins out of the backfield. The Trojans played no pass defense whatsoever last weekend, giving up 407 passing yards to Vernon Adams and the Ducks.
USC will also have their hands full against the Bruins rushing attack, which was relied on heavily last weekend against the Utes. UCLA has a solid running back group that is still growing, but is getting better by each game. Paul Perkins leads a young bunch with 1,180 yards, 11tds, and 5.7 yards per carry average. Perkins has a mixture of balance, strength, and speed, as he can run through a defender or make one miss. He is the workhorse of this offense and it will be key if the Trojans can stop him in his tracks early. Perkins' back up is Soso Jamabo, a true freshman running back that has seen action since Perkins was injured earlier this year. Jamabo is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and runs with authority, especially in short yardage situations.
The Bruins boast a run game that averages 5.5 yards per carry, power runners, and a lot of speed but lacks experience. If the Trojans can bottle up the rushing attack it will force Rosen to throw a lot more, which can lead to those freshman mistakes. Despite the Trojans giving up 171 rushing yards to the Ducks on the ground, they will not be facing a team that lives by the option with many weapons. The Trojans front seven will have to close up gaps, get off blocks, and cannot let Perkins and company beat them to the edge.
USC's offense will have a chance to erase their first half woes, and start this game off with a bang. The Trojans are facing a UCLA defense that allows 392 yards a game, 183 being on the ground. If the Trojans game plan on getting the run going like it did against Oregon (186 yards), look forward to the Trojans keeping this game close. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II will have to make every carry count and make opportunities for themselves. This will open up the passing game on Saturday as the Bruins are giving up an impressive 208 yards a game. With weapons like Smith-Schuster along with Rogers and Mitchell emerging, the Trojans can very well challenge Randall Goforth and a solid secondary.
Despite the injuries that have derailed the Trojans throughout the year, they still have a fighting chance to beat the Bruins. When there's a rivalry on the line you never know what may happen and the unexpected shall be expected. If USC can actually cover someone this week and not let this game get out of reach early, then this showdown will be one for the books.