USC vs. UCLA: Key X-Factors in Battle for Los Angeles
When the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans do battle on Saturday afternoon, the storylines will be endless.
No. 17 vs. No. 18. Pac-12 South, along with Los Angeles bragging rights, on the line. Veteran Matt Barkley and Heisman candidate Marqise Lee going up against the impressive young gun Brett Hundley and explosive Johnathan Franklin.
But it's the players who are flying somewhat under the radar who will swing this intriguing matchup in either direction.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Is it cheating to list Robert Woods? Probably, but in the words of Cartman, I do what I want.
Woods was a legitimate Heisman hopeful entering this season, and thinking of him as an X-factor almost seems blasphemous, but thanks to the unstoppable play of Marqise Lee, Woods has fallen slightly off the radar.
Well, about as far as someone who has 61 catches, 653 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns can fall.
The 20-year-old soon-to-be early-round NFL pick doesn't quite have the home-run ability of Lee, but he still has plenty of speed to go along with tremendous route running, unbelievable hands and a solid IQ. If nothing else, he's a dependable option who's going to constantly move the chains and rack up receptions while Lee garners heavy attention.
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
We know the Bruins can move the ball. They trail just Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12 with 496.8 yards per game.
However, the Trojans aren't too shabby on the offensive side of the ball either, and if I were a betting man (which I am), I would bet that this game turns into an old-fashioned shootout.
What I'm getting at here is this: If either team gets into the red zone and has to settle for field goals, it's going to lose.
Enter Joseph Fauria.
The nephew of two-time Super Bowl champion, and most importantly, former Seattle Seahawk Christian, the UCLA senior has been an absolute monster once the Bruins get into scoring position. He only has 31 catches (3.1 per contest), but he's found the end zone an amazing nine times, which is less than only running back Johnathan Franklin, who has 10 total scores.
If Fauria can find pay dirt, the Bruins will be in good shape. In the two Pac-12 games he has failed to do so, they have lost to Oregon State and struggled against Utah.
Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
I have a hard time getting over the fact that his name makes me think he's the sister of the little girl in Zombieland, but then I watch him dominate opposing offensive tackles and all is forgotten.
Breslin doesn't get a lot of attention, but he's been a major force on USC's defensive line this season, racking up 15.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Both numbers, according to Sports Reference, rank him in the top three in the Pac-12, while he's ninth in the entire nation in sacks.
Who ya got?
Essentially, I feel bad for whoever has to block this 6'2", 250-pound freak of nature.
That's bad news for Brett Hundley and the Bruins' offensive line, which has given up 31 sacks this season, fifth most in the Pac-12.
The freshman Hundley has been a Godsend for UCLA this year, but if he sees constant pressure from Breslin and the rest of the Trojans, it could be a long night at the Rose Bowl.
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