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Pac-12 Championship Game or bust

The Trojans are one win away from the Pac-12 Title Game

Washington State v USC Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The USC Trojans are one win away from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game and have to go through rival UCLA Bruins in the process. Ahead of the 2020 iteration of the battle for the Victory Bell, the Trojans seemingly have every advantage over the Bruins, even if UCLA is a game above .500 for the first time in Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach.

We take a look and give a brief explanation as to why each unit has the advantage.

Quarterbacks

Well, this one is quite simple. Kedon Slovis is dishing it and Dorian Thompson-Robinson is too prone to turnovers. To date, here’s how both stack up in 2020:

Slovis: 119-165, 1,249 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT
DTR: 53-92, 699 yards, 8 TD, 2 INT

Thompson-Robinson has been a factor on the ground but that’s a highly-volatile metric to base your offense on.

Running Backs

The Trojans have the advantage here because of their rotation. UCLA RB Demetric Felton may be among the best individual players at the position in the Pac-12 but behind him, Duke-transfer Brittain Brown has proven to be the only capable backup.

USC, however, has a trio of backs that is capable both on the ground and through the air as the combination of Markese Stepp, Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr have each scored two touchdowns on the ground and ran for over 130 yards apiece.

Give me three any day of the week.

Wide Receivers

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Bru McCoy, Drake London, Erik Krommenhoek — need I say more?

Kyle Phillips is UCLA’s leading receiver in terms of receptions (23) but has just 246 yards. Tight end Greg Dulcich is their leading receiver in terms of yards (312) but hasn’t gone over 28 yards in the last two outings.

Offensive Line

Alijah Vera-Tucker is widely seen as the best tackle in the conference and perhaps even in the country and is certainly in the first-round discussion for next year’s draft. Jalen McKenzie has been terrific in 2020 and the guard combination of Liam Jimmons and Andrew Vorhees have been equally as good. Even when Brett Neilon went out with injury, there has been little downgrade with Justin Dedich at center. USC’s offensive line is a well-rounded machine.

UCLA’s offensive line has been solid at most positions including Alec Anderson and Sean Rhyan at tackles and Sam Marrazzo at center. However, their guard combination of Duke Clemens, Jon Gaines, Atonio Mafi and Paul Grattan have been a trouble spot all year. Those four players have combined to give up 21 pressures including six combined sacks and hits.

Defensive Line

UCLA’s biggest potential advantage may in fact be here on the defensive line as Osa Odiighizuwa, Mitchell Agude and Caleb Johnson have proven to be a terrific set of pass-rushers in 2020. Outside of those, however, the best pass-rushers have been secondary players in Mo Osling and Qwuantrezz Knight. USC’s quick passing game makes it incredibly difficult for blitzing secondary members to both leave their underneath coverage areas as well as even get home with pressure because of how quick the ball is out.

USC’s combination of Nick Figueroa, Drake Jackson and Hunter Echols outside have combined for 39 total pressures while the Tuipulotu brothers on the inside are unstoppable in both run defense and on the pass-rush.

Coverage

Lumping the second-level of defenders into coverage makes it easier to look at the units as a whole. We know how stagnant it’s been for opposing offenses to throw on star CB Chris Steele this season, including his first time at nickel a week ago against Washington State. In fact, for the season, Steele has been targeted 15 times and allowed just seven catches for 66 yards. He’s recorded three pass breakups even if one was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, has an interception and is seeing a 31.5 passer rating when targeted.

Outside of Steele, there is the new combination of Olajiah Griffin and Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who played outside against Washington State and was dominant.

Then there’s the patrollers of the middle in Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao — who, of course, have combined for five total plays on the ball in 2020.

UCLA has seen great play from their outside cornerback in Jay Shaw as well as their safety trio of Knight (a nickel/slot/linebacker hybrid), Quentin Lake and Stephen Blaylock. However, the biggest area of concern for the UCLA defense has been linebackers in coverage, specifically Bo Calvert.

Calvert has been a liability for the Bruins in coverage this season — and with him patrolling the middle of the field — expect a big day for the underneath routes from Drake London specifically.

Kicking

Parker Lewis has missed just two kick attempts this season including a perfect 16-for-16 on extra points. He’s not missed a kick from 40 yards out or further while Ben Griffiths is averaging 44.7 yards per punt with a net punt average of 41.4. Nicholas Barr-Mira has missed an extra point for the Bruins this year (20-21) and is only 3-of-3 from field goals. Luke Akers is averaging 42.6 yards per punt with a 40.5 net average.

Advantage USC.

Overall

The Trojans do truly have the best roster in the Pac-12 and going up against the Bruins is only further proof that this game should not be decided by fewer than 10 points. With Slovis slinging the ball and his favorite target in London expected to be wide open or on a mismatched defender, expect a big day from that duo.

USC Fights On and advances to the Pac-12 Title Game with ease.