The USC Trojans have two games left in the season, both against rivals the UCLA Bruins and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Trojans sit at 5-5 on the season and need one more win to be bowl eligible. This week against a bottom of the barrel UCLA team, is USC’s best hope to notch a sixth win and go bowling.
After a solid offensive showing against Oregon State, the USC Trojans once again sputtered trying to move the ball downfield last week against Cal. Was USC’s offensive woes strictly due to offensive coordinator Tee Martin calling plays? That does not seem to be the case after the Trojans’ loss to a mediocre Cal Golden Bears team.
Last week, quarterback JT Daniels had another lack luster performance, going 21 of 34 for 180 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Though the young freshman seems to be struggling, do not expect USC to go with dual-threat Jack Sears against UCLA. Whether or not a quarterback change is needed to create a spark, head coach Clay Helton has made no indication that the staff will be benching Daniels for Sears.
With USC’s leading wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. still nursing a shoulder injury, it is unclear whether or not he will play on Saturday. Luckily one thing the Trojans do not lack is depth at the receiver position, so look for Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown to help pick up the slack.
UCLA sophomore safety Quentin Lake is familiar with both Daniels and St. Brown as they played high school football together at Mater Dei. Lake has 46 tackles and two interceptions on the year, and will likely be itching for a third especially against old teammates.
While UCLA’s defense is nowhere near as dominant as the Golden Bears’, it still has some key playmakers on its roster.
Senior defensive back Adarius Pickett leads the team in total tackles with 107, he also has one interception and three pass break ups. Last week against Arizona State, Pickett lead UCLA with 12 total tackles. As a box safety with impressive speed, Pickett can easily move down to support the Bruins’ front seven in limiting the opponent’s run game.
Bruins linebacker Krys Barnes is also one the Trojans should be wary of. On the season he has 68 total tackles and was not far behind Pickett in total tackles last week with eleven. He will look to limit Trojan leading rusher Aca’Cedric Ware on Saturday.
Ware has had a stellar senior season, even though the Trojans’ ground game has been hit or miss throughout the weeks. Against a top Cal defense he rushed for 103 yards and now has a chance to break 1,000 yards on the season if he performs well in USC’s two remaining games, and a still uncertain bowl game.
UCLA is only one of many teams in college football who have had uncertainty at the quarterback position. Wilton Speight the graduate transfer from Michigan, had won the position battle before the start of the season, but suffered a back injury in the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati. Since then it has been a back and forth rotation between him and dual-threat freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Both quarterbacks have not put up impressive numbers by any means, with a 5-4 and 7-4 touchdown to interception ratio, but if UCLA decided to roll with Thompson-Robinson on Saturday, his dual-threat ability could cause problems for a USC team who has a tendency to struggle with mobile quarterbacks.
Trojan corner back Iman Marshall is having a phenomenal last hurrah with his squad, allowing only 0.62 yards per cover snap and will need to continue to be a lock down corner against a familiar face.
Former USC tight end Caleb Wilson leads UCLA in receiving yards with 718 and four touchdowns and may just be the most talented player the Bruins have on offense. On the ground, the Bruins’ leading rusher Joshua Kelley is also someone the Trojans should not underestimate.
With 899 yards and eight touchdowns, Kelley has had five 100 plus yard games and will need to be shut down by USC’s front seven and linebacker Cameron Smith if the Trojans want to completely dismantle UCLA’s offense.
UCLA is much like USC in that it can’t solely rely on its quarterback to win the game. Establishing a dominant run game makes achieving a victory that much easier for both teams, and it just might be what determines the outcome of this crosstown match-up.