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USC vs UCLA: Game Preview

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The annual Battle of the Victory Bell arrives as USC returns homes to face their crosstown rivals in the UCLA Bruins.

USC v UCLA Photo by Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The time has arrived. The USC Trojans coming off a decisive 41-17 road victory over California, now returns home to face a UCLA Bruins team reeling from a 49-6 defeat at the hands of Utah. The Trojans will look to finish out the regular season strong while hoping for the Utes to drop one of their remaining two games to stamp their trip to the Pac-12 Championship for a rematch with the Oregon Ducks. However, in order to be in that situation they must defeat the Bruins. Last year USC dropped a heart breaker to UCLA at the Rose Bowl in a game that slipped away from the Trojans. This year they will look to flip the script on the Bruins and win back the Victory Bell.

USC v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Offense

USC offense displayed what many fans were hoping to see all season. The air raid was in full display and put on a clinic against a stingy California defense. Kedon Slovis continued his outstanding play, reaching the 400 yard mark for the second straight game. He threw for 406 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also took care of the ball throwing for no interceptions and not fumbling the ball. He was also very patient in the pocket which made it harder for Cal’s secondary to contain USC’s wide receivers. Speaking of the wide receivers, they also put on a clinic. Senior Michael Pittman Jr. got a lot of the attention from the Cal secondary, however it didn’t make much of a difference. The senior managed to find ways to get open and won the 50/50 jump balls for most of the night. Pittman had 11 catches for 180 yards, and a touchdown catch towards the end of the second quarter. Those numbers put him over the 1,000 yard mark as he makes a late push at the Biletnikoff Award. Freshman Drake London also contributed to the air show in Berkley with another solid performance himself. The freshman had 6 catches for a career high 111 yards and one touchdown catch.

USC could find similar success against a less than stellar UCLA pass defense. The Bruins secondary currently gives up 298.4 yards per game through the air, which is the 3rd most in the Pac-12. Interceptions also don't come around as much for their secondary as they only have 4 on the year. UCLA cornerback Daranay Holmes only has one interception on the season along with sophomore defensive back Jay Shaw and Linebackers Josh Woods and Krys Barnes. Last week Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns in the Utes blowout win over UCLA. Their secondary will now have the task at covering the Trojans wide receiving group.

If USC is going to find success then the offensive line will have to perform better than what they did last week. The line gave up three sacks and had Slovis evading pass rushers against Cal. They also couldn't generate a push to help the run game as Stephen Carr and Kenan Christon failed to find running lanes and were held in check for most of the night. That will have to improve against a UCLA team that only allows 143.6 rushing yards and has 24 sacks on the season. Trojans will have to keep tabs on Linebackers Krys Barnes and Josh Woods. The duo are the team leaders in sacks with defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa at 3.5 sacks. UCLA has seen some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The USC offensive line will have to clean up their play this week or risk putting the offense in bad spots.

NCAA Football: Southern California at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Defense

The USC defense took advantage of playing a bad California offense despite starting off pretty rocky. The team managed to get their heads back in the game after losing defensive end Christian Rector to a targeting penalty that forced him to sit for the remainder of the game and giving up an early touchdown. Cal quarterback Chase Garbers, who was returning from injury, was kicked out of the game during the 2nd quarter. Devon Modster entered in the game where he wouldn’t have much success. The junior threw two interceptions in the game. One to Isaiah Pola-Mao, which he would fumble and give back to Cal. The other came during the fourth quarter when Greg Johnson jumped in front of Modster’s pass and almost returned it for a pick-six. The defense also collected 5 total sacks on the night which was the second most on the season.

Again California’s offense is rated as the worst in the Pac-12, however it was good to see the Trojans defense get it together after two weeks of questionable performances. They will have their work cut out for them against a UCLA offense that’s continuously improving through the last few weeks. USC once again will see a mobile quarterback in sophomore Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Knowing USC’s history with scrambling quarterbacks through the season, Chip Kelly will find ways to exploit the Trojans weakness on outside runs and lack of outside containment with Thompson-Robinson. USC defensive coordinator must find ways to contain the sophomore and force the Bruins to beat them through the air. An area that UCLA struggles. The Bruins sit at No. 11 in the conference in passing yards with 234 yards per game through the air. Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 2,056 yards with 17 touchdowns, however he also has 10 interceptions on the season. Last week he threw two interceptions in the loss to Utah.

On the ground the USC defense will once again see running back Joshua Kelly. The same guy who gashed the Trojans for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Bruins victory over USC last year. This season he has picked up steam again, leading the team in rushing with 939 yards and 10 touchdowns. USC has struggled with the run game this season, however the last four weeks saw the defense do a better job in containing the run. A lot of attention will be on Kelly and Thompson-Robinson’s running ability.

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

Key Notes

  • USC leads the all time series over UCLA 47-32-7
  • Last year UCLA defeated USC 34-27 at the Rose Bowl
  • USC and UCLA shared the Los Angeles Coliseum from 1928-1982.
  • Winner of the game takes home the Victory Bell. The two teams first played for the Victory Bell in 1942. The bell was a UCLA symbol until the Trojan Knights stole it in 1941. The two student bodies agreed to play for it a year later.
  • USC and UCLA campus are located 12 miles away from each other.
  • This is the 89th meeting between the two programs.
  • UCLA running back Joshua Kelly’s 289 rushing yard performance against USC last season was the most rushing yards by a single player in the rivalry’s history.
  • The winner of the game will give the respective university 10 points towards the SoCal BMW Crosstown cup.
  • USC is a -13 point favorite over UCLA. The Trojans are 5-5-1 against the spread this season while UCLA is 4-5-1. The Trojans are 6-1 this season when favored and 4-1 inside the Los Angeles Coliseum.