Tonight we will witness another installment of the Crosstown Rivalry between USC and UCLA. We spoke with the people at Bruins Nation to get some insight on tonight's matchup.
CC: Things haven't gone completely as planned for the Bruins this season. What exactly went wrong with UCLA?
Robert Bastron: Lots. It started with the transition to a pro-style offense, which wasn’t an immediate success, to put it kindly. The O-Line is down anyway this season, no matter what system was being run, and these guys hadn’t been recruited to block for power running schemes, nor did it seem like they were ever taught how to do so effectively. Then, the receivers have had a severe case of the drops all season. Third, Polamalu isn’t proving to have the chops to be an offensive coordinator and calling the plays. These were problems even before Josh Rosen was knocked out of action. Rosen out, and Fafaul--a former walk-on--in, and you are left with the current state of the offense at UCLA. When the defense has been good enough (sometimes great!) to keep the Bruins in games, the special teams have let down as well.
AnteatersandBruins: There’s such a list. Start off with an offensive line that looks like they haven’t been coached properly and can’t create a lane to save their lives. With that you end up with a terrible run game. Our offensive coordinator is totally in over his head, and while he was great at his job last year, clearly wasn’t ready for the promotion. This was all ugly before Rosen even got a paper cut. Now he’s out and we have a fifth year walk-on that doesn’t have an entire game’s worth of playing time under his belt and here we are.
Joe Piechowski: Since Spring practice, I’ve been saying that there were problems with the Offensive Line. Those problems weren’t solved and it snowballed from there. It’s why Josh Rosen got hurt. It’s why the offense has run the ball well. The only problem with the offense that can’t be traced to the o-line is the fact that our wide receivers have been dropping a lot of passes.
CC: Is it safe to say that the loss of quarterback Josh Rosen, kind of brought some morale down from the team or is it much more than that?
Robert Bastron: I may be drinking the kool-aid a bit, but I believe Mora when he says the morale hasn’t been too down, and that he hasn’t “lost the locker room,” as he put it in a post game press conference. There have been some spats visible on the sidelines--most notably Rosen with Kenny Walker, so that was before he was out--but it hasn’t been as bad as it could be. The other players seem to like Mike Fafaul (he’s a pretty likeable guy), and respect his hard work and positive attitude.
AnteatersandBruins: I think the issues go deeper than that. I can’t imagine the team not respecting Mike Fafaul, and I’m sure they’ve all had experience in their careers playing for a back up of some sort. It didn’t help that Rosen went down, and the problems we already had just seemed bigger.
Joe Piechowski: I don’t think the loss of Rosen has brought down morale. It just exacerbated the team’s issues.
CC: What have some bright spots for Bruins this season?
Robert Bastron: The defense, especially Takkarist McKinley. You’ll see this guy all over the field on Saturday night. At times both the offense and special teams have been terrible, but the defense good enough to keep the game within a score. The pass defense is one of the best in the country, the run problems from last year are mostly gone.
AnteatersandBruins: Defintiely the defense. They’ve kept us in games we should have lost by much more.
Joe Piechowski: Absolutely the defense. It’s the reason that our losses have been as close as they have.
CC: Mike Fafaul had to step in after Rosen went down to injury. Tell us a little more about the Bruins quarterback.
Robert Bastron: From Maryland, he somehow connected with Noel Mazzone who gave him a preferred walk-on spot at UCLA five years ago. He redshirted his first year, and was mostly a scout team guy until his name surfaced as part of the pretend “competition” among four QBs after Hundley left, though we all knew Rosen would get the job. He threw something like 8 interceptions in his first two games as a starter plus part of the ASU game, but has cut down on the mistakes a little bit. He doesn’t have the tools to make the plays that a guy like Rosen (or really, any Pac-12 caliber QB) could, but he’s doing his best, and we appreciate that. Why our backup is a former walk-on? Well, that’s not on him…
AnteatersandBruins: Seems like a soft spoken, nice kid. Can’t imagine him barking orders or taking over like a big headed tyrant at all. I can tell in his interviews that he is genuinely loving the chance to be at the controls and desperately wants to be successful. He has improved over the last few weeks, and I feel bad for him sometimes, because he’s working out preseason mistakes in weeks 8, 9, and 10.
Joe Piechowski: He’s a good guy who’s been put in a tough spot. He’s seemed underprepared at times for what he’s been dealing with and that falls on the coaching staff.
CC: Who are some "under the radar" players that we should keep an eye on this Saturday?
Robert Bastron: He hasn’t gotten much love outside Bruin fans, but Darren Andrews--our top receiver--has formed a good connection with Fafaul, and has been the most reliable receiver in getting open and catching the ball.
AnteatersandBruins: I don’t know if you’d call him under the radar, but Randall Goforth is EVERYWHERE.
Joe Piechowski: I’ve got to go with linebacker Jayon Brown. He just doesn’t miss a tackle.
CC: What are some keys to Saturday's game for the Bruins?
Robert Bastron: The big key is field position, specifically not allowing USC to start drives in their own, say, red zone, which has been a bad habit over the last few games as a product of turnovers, or poor special teams. It’s pretty difficult to score on the UCLA defense if you’re starting inside your own territory. Much easier when you start in field goal range. This is obvious, yes, but we’ve given the ball away far too often inside the 30-yard line.
AnteatersandBruins: Fafaul learning to stop throwing into traffic. He almost always ends up with an interception when he does this, and he needs to learn what his skill set truly is. He can’t exactly thread the needle. We also need to punt and pin the Trojan offense deep, rather than allowing them to start midfield.
Joe Piechowski: The biggest key to a rivalry game is turnovers. Taking the ball away when your defense is on the field and not putting the ball on the ground or throwing interceptions. Whoever wins the turnover battle should win the game.
CC: What's one Match up you're looking forward to?
Robert Bastron: Takkarist McKinley vs. Sam Darnold. I guess it’s more McKinley vs the O-Line, but he currently is #2 in the nation in sacks. Can he get in the backfield and throw off the redshirt freshman?
AnteatersandBruins: Robert stole my answer, but I’d say Takk vs. just about anybody. I love watching him play.
Joe Piechowski: The Bruin receivers vs. Adoree Jackson and Takk vs. the Trojan offense are two of the biggest matchups tomorrow.
CC: Any predictions to Saturday nights game?
Robert Bastron: For UCLA to win, the game is going to have to be ugly. I think UCLA will succeed in ugly-ing it up, but play just a bit too ugly themselves to pull off the upset. Do I have to give a score? Hmm….Something like 21-13.
AnteatersandBruins: This game always brings out the best in everyone. You almost never know what to expect. It’s going to be dirty, and get back to one of those 13-9 type games, hopefully in our favor. I don’t think you’re going to see anyone run up the score.
Joe Piechowski: Rivalry games have a completely different nature to them. Anything can happen and, frequently, it does. After the season UCLA has had, logic dictates that Southern Cal should win. But, like the Presidential Election, this game has the capability of defying logic. The team that forces that other to make more mistakes will come out ahead.