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Rivalry Week: Player match-ups to watch when USC takes on UCLA

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The USC Trojans will battle the UCLA Bruins in the penultimate battle for LA and for hopeful bowl eligibility for the Trojans.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Toa Lobendahn vs. Otito Ogbonnia

One of the most heralded players of yesteryear will line up across from a relatively unknown freshman. The result could go either way. Toa Lobendahn was an All Pac-12 second teamer as a tackle just last season. It’s funny how these things change. This season, in his supposed natural position at center, Lobendahn has struggled in consistently snapping the ball, and has stumbled as the leader of one of the team’s weakest units.

It was Lobendahn’s botched snap safety last week that put Cal on the scoreboard. His snaps have been inconsistent and he has failed to take charge of JT Daniels’ protections.

NCAA Football: California at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Lobendahn will line up across from Otito Ogbonnia, a 6-foot-4, 315 pound freshman nose tackle. Though Ogbonnia has not been statistically dominant throughout the season, he has 20 pounds on Lobendahn, and will try to clog running lanes for running back Aca’Cedric Ware. If the Trojan senior cannot win this matchup, USC can expect next to nothing from its running game on Saturday.

Marvell Tell vs. Caleb Wilson

Caleb Wilson is UCLA’s leading receiver, with 718 yards on 47 receptions and four touchdowns on the season. USC fans recognize Wilson as the preferred walk on who transferred to the Bruins. As a big tight end target (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) with great hands and instincts, Wilson will be USC’s biggest threat in Pasadena. Wilson is a solid route runner with good speed for his size.

The Trojans will throw different defenders on Wilson throughout the game, from John Houston to Jordan Iosefa to Kana’i Mauga. Ultimately, it will be on Marvell Tell to make sure that Wilson is covered and accounted for on each play. Tell will shade toward Wilson in coverage, cover for breakdowns, and occasionally double Wilson. Though Tell will not line up across from Wilson every play, he will be tasked with preventing Wilson’s game-breaking ability.

NCAA Football: UCLA at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson’s big game explosion was on full display this past Saturday. He gained 164 yards on 11 receptions against the Sun Devils, recording a cool two touchdowns in the process. USC’s defensive leader and tackling machine is tasked with stopping him.

Tyler Vaughns vs. Darnay Holmes

The Trojans’ own offensive game breaker is Tyler Vaughns. A skinnier 6-foot-2 receiver, Vaughns is not the jump ball receiver that his height would indicate. Rather, Vaughns relies on his speed and fluid route running to create separation over the top of a defense. Vaughns can go deep, run intermediate routes, and make plays in space. He is a true number one receiver.

Vaughns has showcased all of these skills, but he may be able to take advantage of his height in jump balls against Darnay Holmes, UCLA’s 5-foot-10, 200 pound cornerback. Vaughns is significantly taller than Holmes, so Daniels may feel more comfortable throwing those deep jump balls to Vaughns when Holmes is in coverage. This may not even be necessary, however, as Vaughns is actually listed as lighter than Holmes, despite a four inch height advantage. Vaughns will have the opportunity to take the top off of the UCLA defense, opening up the rest of the field.

Still, Holmes is no pushover. Against the Sun Devils, he recorded one pass breakup and one interception returned for a touchdown.