Some of the luster normally associated with the rivalry clash between UCLA and USC was wiped away last week when Arizona State clinched the Pac-12 South. The game would have assumed more time in the spotlight if a potential spot in the conference title game was on the line.
That said, it's still a matchup that pits two rivals that are both ranked inside the Top 25 against each other. And since this game would carry extra weight regardless of the surrounding circumstances, it should make for an intriguing battle on Saturday night.
Knowing that, let's examine the biggest key for each team as it looks to end the regular season on a winning note while also taking down a longtime rival.
UCLA: Open Running Lanes For Brett Hundley
One of the biggest differences between the UCLA offense earlier in the season and the one Bruins fans have watched in recent weeks is the lack of running room for Hundley.
His dual-threat ability is a major asset, whether it be on designed runs or escaping the pocket under pressure. Over the past two games, however, the sophomore quarterback has just 20 yards on 25 carries and no rushing touchdowns. That lack of production was felt against Arizona State, as he gained just five yards on the ground in a five-point loss.
The Bruins offense has a lot of playmakers. From Myles Jack and Paul Perkins in the running game to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller in the aerial attack, it's easy to see why UCLA is averaging nearly 37 points per contest.
But the offense goes to another level when Hundley is able to make plays with his legs. Not only does it give opposing defenses an extra thing to worry about on every snap, it also gives the Bruins more play-calling options, particularly when a defense is worn down in the second half.
Against USC, the Bruins should make a concerted effort to establish Hundley on the ground in the early going, which should open up the field for the team's other key players. It's a far more dangerous unit when he's clicking on all cylinders.
USC: Keep Building Off Recent Success
The best sign for USC in its upset victory over Stanford a few weeks ago was the confidence it played with. After grabbing a halftime lead, the Trojans never looked like a team ready to collapse when the Cardinal fought back to tie it in the third quarter.
Ed Orgeron's team went on to win that game with a late field goal and has overcome the early-season turmoil to put together a solid campaign. Ending the regular season with a victory over rival UCLA would be a major statement.
The Trojans must rebound from a sloppy fourth quarter last week against Colorado, though. They were up 30 at the end of three but let the Buffaloes get back within 11 before finally slamming the door. Many of the same mistakes that doomed them early on, especially on defense, were present again.
Luckily for USC, those mistakes didn't cost it the game. Getting back to the basics—Javorius Allen pounding the rock, Cody Kessler working in some play-action and stopping the run defensively—is essential to score another Top 25 team.
Ultimately, the Trojans definitely hold the momentum advantage coming into this game. If they can first maintain and then build off that recent success, they should be able to finish the regular season on a six-game winning streak.
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