USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins: Complete Game Preview
The crosstown showdown between the No. 22 UCLA Bruins (8-3) and the No. 23 USC Trojans (9-3) has massive implications for both programs.
For the Trojans, this game could conceivably determine whether or not Coach "O" is named as the official head coach going forward. Finishing the season with 10 wins, including victories over a Top 10 team (Stanford) and a bitter rival (UCLA), would be rather impressive.
UCLA is still trying to take the next step in becoming a prominent program from a national standpoint. Although the Bruins won impressively last year in the Rose Bowl, the program hasn't beaten the Trojans in the Coliseum since 1997. A win here would go a long way in adding credence to the thought that UCLA is "for real" as a program in the city of Los Angeles.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 30
Time: 5:00 p.m. PT
Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
Radio: XM Sirius Radio
Line: USC (-3.5), per VegasInsider
USC Keys to Victory
Win the special teams battle
It's been a mixed bag of sorts for the Trojans concerning special teams. Kicker Andre Heidari won the game last week with a late field goal versus Stanford. However, Heidari has also missed seven field goals on the year. He's far from what anyone would call "consistent."
On the flip side, the return game is a potential strength for the Trojans. Nelson Agholor returned two kicks for touchdowns against Cal a few weeks ago. Both Agholor and Marqise Lee are electric returners that could hurt UCLA at any moment.
Take shots down the field
Test UCLA's green secondary early and often. Although not fully healthy, Lee will still be a handful to deal with on crossing routes and fly patterns. Agholor is another player that can pose problems with his considerable athleticism and pure speed.
It's not known whether starting cornerback Fabian Moreau will play or not for the Bruins. In the event that he doesn't, true freshman Priest Willis and redshirt senior Brandon Sermons will get the call.
That's a matchup that USC should be salivating over.
UCLA Keys to Victory
This is easier said than done. USC's defensive line will arguably be the best UCLA has faced all season. It doesn't help matters much when three true freshmen start on the offensive line for the Bruins.
In theory, USC doesn't need to generate pressure with blitzes. The Trojans could rely on the front four in order to force quarterback Brett Hundley into trouble. In order to combat this, a pass attack focusing on quick passes is needed. It'll alleviate the pressure that USC will likely bring. Short routes, screens and any passes that get the ball out of Hundley's hands quickly could be effective.
Cody Kessler isn't much of a threat to run the football. He certainly isn't the mobile threat that Taylor Kelly was last week.
With more of a pro-style offense, UCLA should have a bit of an advantage. USC's offense isn't incredibly dynamic or diverse. It's a type of offense that Lou Spanos and Jim Mora have seen repeatedly in the NFL.
Without a true running threat behind center, it'd make sense that UCLA will bring pressure and look to rattle USC's quarterback.
USC Players to Watch
USC's defensive line
Hundley was sacked nine times versus ASU last week. USC's defensive line is arguably the strength of its defense. UCLA is also starting three true freshmen on the offensive line.
This will be the key matchup on Saturday. If UCLA can protect Hundley reasonably well, it can sustain success on offense. If George Uko and Leonard Williams live in UCLA's backfield, it will be a long night.
USC needs Kessler to keep managing the game at a high level. He's played the best football of his career in recent weeks. He's thrown only two interceptions in his last seven games and has thrown seven touchdowns.
Kessler's ability to get the ball downfield and make good decisions has been paramount to USC's recent success. It's no coincidence that the Trojans' winning streak has coincided with Kessler's strong play.
UCLA Players to Watch
UCLA's redshirt freshman acquitted himself quite well against Arizona State last week, as he accrued 60 yards and a rushing touchdown on eight carries.
It's not known whether or not Myles Jack will reprise his role at tailback. In the event that he doesn't, Perkins will get the call as the starter. He needs to produce in order to take pressure off of Hundley and the passing game.
Barr's hit on former Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley will live on in UCLA/USC lore forever. It will go down as an emblematic memory of Mora's tenure as UCLA's head man.
The Bruins (and their fan base) would love to see another bone-crunching hit on USC's signal-caller Cody Kessler. At the very least, UCLA needs Barr to have a memorable game from a production standpoint. His matchup against tackles Kevin Graf and Chad Wheeler will be one to watch.
What They Are Saying
UCLA receiver Shaq Evans on USC:
Beating them last year and knowing that we're going to beat them again this year, especially when they beat us 50-0 a couple of years ago, we owe them a little bit when we go to the Coliseum. Last time we were there, they embarrassed us. So this year we're going to try and embarrass them, honestly.
USC defender Dion Bailey on the game: "All year we couldn't wait for this game. It's circled on my calendar. Especially because they think they are better than us."
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron on UCLA: "Come Saturday night, we're going to let those little boys from across town into our stadium and then we're gonna lock up the gates."
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on the game: "It's going to mean a lot. We're both right on the edge of where we want to be."
This one could truly go either way. USC doesn't have a ton of depth right now, but it's playing purely on the adrenaline that Orgeron has brought to the program. The enthusiasm, energy and pride has taken USC from an apathetic bunch to one brimming with confidence.
Almost every single person living in the greater Los Angeles area has ties to one of the programs. It's a fierce rivalry with ardent supporters galore. The atmosphere will be absolutely electric, and there figures to be a nice contingent of UCLA fans that will make the daunting journey to the Coliseum.
It should end up being a close game. However, the momentum that USC has right now will lead it to victory. It could be a case of the Trojans essentially playing for Coach "O's" job in this contest.
USC 24, UCLA 21