With a spot already in hand for the Pac-12 title game, and with a roster as healthy as it’s been in a while, the Trojans will now focus their attention on the UCLA Bruins, who arrive at the Coliseum with a 5-5 record for the annual crosstown rivalry.
If USC fans think it has been an up-and-down season for the Trojans, take a look across town and you’ll see a Bruin program that has also suffered through an injury-filled season yet it’s clear that they haven’t navigated things as well as the Trojans, and they still need one more win to become bowl-eligible.
At the top of the list of recently banged up Bruins has been quarterback Josh Rosen, who missed a game and a half with a concussion/hand injury yet is still 5th in the nation with 3,094 passing yards to go along with 21 TD’s and 9 interceptions. Rosen is third on the all-time UCLA career list for passing yards, pass completions and total offense. There will be a lot of talk during the game about the pro prospects of both quarterbacks, as they would both be high picks if they declare for the draft, and there’s no denying Rosen can throw the football.
Last week featured the 5th time the UCLA offense has put up 44 points or more this year as they came back from a 14-0 deficit to post a 44-37 victory, with Rosen throwing for 381 yards and Lasley catching 7 for 162. The leading rushers have been Bolo Olorunfunmi (484 yards) and Soso Jamabo (362 yards). The leading receiver has been Darren Andrews (60 catches, #4 on school all-time list with 162 catches, semi-finalist for Biletnikoff) but he is out with injury, as is former Trojan Caleb Wilson, who posted 38 catches as a tight end before getting hurt. Stepping in to their place has been Lasley (had 2 TD’s vs USC last year and is back from a multi-game suspension) and Theo Howard.
Center Scott Quessenberry anchors an offensive line that did not give up any sacks to ASU.
On defense, the numbers don’t lie. UCLA is giving up 499 yards per game (the Trojans have passed that mark 3 games in a row) and that includes 302 yards per game on the ground, the absolute worst mark in the country.
The Bruins d-line suffered losses to the NFL and there have been injuries (Matt Dickerson) so there has been primarily Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Rick Wade, and then a bunch of young guys. Mora says this is one area that is improving because the young guys are starting to get it.
Kenny Young (77) has been solid in the middle at linebacker, particularly with so many new faces in front of him and to the side of him. The secondary features Adarius Pickett (69 tackles) and the Bruins are hoping to get back Jaleel Wadood (neck).
The Trojans will be somewhere in the neighborhood of a two touchdown favorite in this game but that’s not the way these rivalries always go. Sure, it makes sense on paper to give USC that kind of edge, and the potential is certainly there for a big offensive performance against that UCLA defense, but Rosen is the kind of QB who can get hot and the Trojans have made several games this season closer than they should have been. It will be interesting to see how USC comes to play, without the need to win for a spot in the title game, but just to play well for the sake of beating the Bruins. Should be fun to watch.