It’s time for the annual battle of Southern California, as USC comes to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA for the semifinal game of the regular season. It’s been an off year for both of these teams for sure, but that won’t diminish the stakes in this one. This is one of the best rivalries in College Football, and the winner gets to take home the Victory Bell trophy as well as bragging rights across SoCal. This one is ripe for analysis and should be one of the best games of the weekend, so let’s get right into it.
UCLA vs USC Preview
It hasn’t quite been the year that either of these teams expected coming into the season. Chip Kelly’s first year in LA has been a tough one, as mistakes, youth, and lack of depth have dragged this team to a 2-8 record. UCLA fans don’t have much to do at this point except shake their heads.
For SC, meanwhile, despite the better overall record at 5-5, things seem a lot more drastic among the fanbase. For a big brand-name program that has championship aspirations year in and year out, this team now stands at risk of losing bowl eligibility with a loss, as their only game left after this is currently undefeated Notre Dame, a game they are unlikely to win. This SC fanbase is currently chomping at the bit to fire USC head coach Clay Helton, and it could very well happen if SC can’t get the win at the Rose Bowl. Given all this, you know UCLA would love nothing more but to put away USC’s season for good with a victory against their crosstown rivals.
Dorian Thompson Robinson – Quarterback
DTR sat out last week as Wilton Speight got the start against Arizona State. He had his best game as a Bruin, going 26/35 for 335 yards with 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 9.6 yards per attempt, and ultimately giving the team a chance to come out with a win at the end. I’ve been a cheerleader for Speight all season, and it was great to see him finally reach his potential in this one. It’s looking like he will get the start for a second straight week against SC.
This SC defense has suffered from injuries, none larger than that of linebacker Porter Gustin. They still have their fair share of stars to watch out for; namely, Cameron Smith and Jordan Iosefa at linebacker, as well as senior safeties Ajene Harris and Marvell Tell. Corners Iman Marshall and Isaiah Langley have also been playing well, so we’ll see how that bodes for UCLA’s hit or miss (mostly miss) group of receivers. Still, the team only has two interceptions on the season, and the defense is nothing special overall. If the passing game loses it for UCLA, it will likely be due to their own season-long inconsistencies more than anything else.
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
Wilson continues to lead this Bruin team in receptions, and he built on his season with another excellent game last week, totaling 11 receptions for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns with Speight at quarterback. Wilson will absolutely need to be a difference maker if the Bruins are to win this game. The matchup to watch here is how senior safety Marvell Tell will cover Wilson, either one-on-one or as deep help over the top. That may be the most important matchup for the Bruins offense and team as we head into this game. Let’s not forget that Wilson used to play at USC, and I’m sure he’ll be especially motivated coming into this one.
Andre James – OL
Andre James played pretty well last week until the end of the game, where he was beaten on a sack/fumble that was the beginning of a sequence on this line that lost UCLA the game at the end. Soo, that’s not good. The good news is that USC’s defensive line is not a strength, and SC has struggled to stop the run. That’s good news for Joshua Kelley, who looks to get back on track after a subpar game against Arizona State last week.
USC bid farewell to Sam Darnold earlier this year as he passed on a potential senior year at SC in order to declare for the NFL draft, where he would later get drafted third overall by the Jets. With that, SC turned the reigns over to JT Daniels, the freshman out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. Daniels was a highly touted recruit, 5-star prospect ranked as the second-best pro-style quarterback in the nation, behind only Trevor Lawrence.
But Daniels is also only 18 years old, and he chose to graduate high school a full year early in order to play football at the college level. As such, the transition hasn’t been quite as smooth as some expected, and JT Daniels and the SC offense have struggled with inconsistency. You do see flashes from Daniels when it comes to the arm talent, anticipation, and big-time throws he’s capable of making. But his numbers are subpar overall, and the offense has sputtered far more than SC fans would like. Whether or not Daniels and this offense can break out of its slump and get going will be key to whether or not UCLA can come away with the win.
Keisean Lucier-South – Linebacker
KLS has to make an impact in this game. We know he’s flashed potential. He currently leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss. The Bruin pass rush has been on and off without Jaelan Phillips, but the good news for KLS is that the USC offensive line has struggled this year, giving up 24 sacks on the season. JT Daniels has been under pressure quite a bit, and he’s not the athlete Sam Darnold is when it comes to escapability or twitch. He’s definitely more deliberate in his delivery and his reads, so if UCLA can speed him up, good things will happen. I expect UCLA to be aggressive in trying to get into the backfield because, despite the recent heating up of their secondary, the SC receivers can still beat them if protection holds up. But overall, I think this matchup bodes well for KLS.
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Pickett continued his absurdly productive season last week at Arizona State with double-digit tackles yet again, piling up 12 on the day, 10 of which were solo!! He still leads the team in tackles. He will be tasked with slowing down SC’s leading rusher, Aca’Cedric Ware in this one. Ware leads SC in rushing and averages 6.9 yards per carry. While the SC running game has been inconsistent at times, the fact of the matter is that UCLA’s run defense has been horrendous as of late, and last week was no different. They have to slow down Ware and make SC one dimensional in this one, otherwise they’re going to have a tough time going score for score with the Trojans.
There haven’t been a ton of UCLA (or Pac-12, generally) games to get excited about this year, but I’m excited for this one, and you should be too. It doesn’t get much better than USC vs UCLA, as these types of rivalries are what College Football is all about. Forget about the records; this one’s going to be a brawl up until the end.
Fortunately, there absolutely is a path to the win here for the Bruins. This is a slumping SC team coming into the Rose Bowl, having struggled on the road, with inconsistencies and weaknesses across the roster. And while their potential is probably better than that of UCLA’s, something tells me Chip Kelly’s going to have just enough up his sleeve to get the win in this one. Don’t underestimate this Bruin team going into this rivalry. They want nothing more than to put a dagger in SC’s season. And I think they will. One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait to find out.
Prediction: UCLA 27, USC 23