The Obvious: Assuming that undefeated Colorado beats Utah on Saturday morning in Boulder, it’s really quite simple, my dear Watson. In this crazy COVID season, all that stands in the way of the No.16 USC Trojans (4-0 overall, 4-0 Pac-12 South) from advancing to the Pac-12 Championship Game next Friday night in the Coliseum is this Saturday afternoon’s 90th meeting between the Men of Troy and the UCLA Bruins (3-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 South) in the Rose Bowl (4:30 p.m. PST). Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But nothing is really very simple when it comes to these crosstown antagonists and, of course, COVID-19 rearing its ugly head.
The Not So Obvious: The formula for Trojans divisional championship success is clear-cut. If the Trojans win on Saturday afternoon, it doesn’t matter what Colorado does earlier (9 a.m. PST/FOX)…unless the Buffaloes lose to Utah, which would make the Trojans South Division champs no matter the outcome against UCLA. However, if Colorado wins and the Trojans lose, then Colorado, under first-year head coach Karl Dorrell, advances to the Pac-12 title game against potentially Washington after the Huskies game at Oregon was cancelled due to UW’s bout with COVID. The Huskies are not a lock for the title game, and it’s possible that the Pac-12 will rearrange the whole championship game process. In other words, anything appears possible. Stay tuned.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 2-point favorite to defeat UCLA.
The Not So Obvious: Ya think UCLA still remembers last year’s rivalry game, a 52-35 loss at the Coliseum? Of course, they do. While the Men of Troy are spotless at 4-0, the combined record of their vanquished opponents is an eye-rolling 1-9 to put things into perspective. The Trojans are looking to be 5-0 for the first time in 14 years, and to add a little more intrigue, this is Chip Kelly’s best UCLA team, a major threat for the Cardinal and Gold. You might want to remind yourself before kickoff to place a bottle of Tums and some Tylenol Migraine by your couch.
The Obvious: Saturday afternoon’s game from Pasadena will be televised on ABC (4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST)
The Not So Obvious: The ABC broadcasters will be Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (analyst), and Holly Rowe (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday afternoon’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast will air live on KABC 790AM (4:30 p.m. PST) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody and John Jackson (analysts), and Jordan Moore (sidelines).
The Trojans’ overall KABC 790AM broadcast will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 2:30 p.m. (PST). The pregame broadcast crew will also include Sam Farber and former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The pregame show will also be simulcasted on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). The simulcast, called the Trojans Tailgate Show, will also feature performances by the USC Song Girls, Trojans Marching Band, Spirit Leaders, and will also provide viewers with fan involvement, which will also include prizes courtesy of the USC Athletic Department.
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA broadcast (4:30 p.m. PST) can be heard on local flagship stations KLAC 570AM with Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Matt Stevens (analysis), and Wayne Cook (sidelines).
Saturday afternoon’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 84) and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: This is the final regular season week of the 2020 Pac-12 schedule.
The Not So Obvious: Below is this week’s Pac-12 schedule, television channels, and kickoff times.
Friday, Dec. 11
ASU at Arizona (4 p.m./ ESPN)
Saturday, Dec. 12
Utah at Colorado (9:00 a.m./ FOX)
Washington at Oregon (cancelled)
USC at UCLA (4:30 p.m./ ABC)
Cal at WSU (7:30 p.m./ FS1)
Oregon State at Stanford (7:30 p.m./ ESPNU)
Note: All times above are Pacific Time.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Pasadena weather forecast calls for partly cloudy with a high of 68 degrees, a low of 50 degrees, 41% humidity, and 5% precipitation. Temperature for the 4:30 p.m. (PST) kickoff is expected to be mostly sunny and 65 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can defeat UCLA without a semblance of a consistent running attack, and will USC’s constantly blitzing and attacking defense give up too many big plays to the balanced UCLA offense in order to secure a victory over the Bruins and a trip to the Pac-12 Title Game?
We’ll see whether USC’s offense is able to beat UCLA without much of a rushing attack. Last week against hapless Washington State, the Trojans netted 5 yards rushing while defeating the Cougars 38-13. It would be shocking if UCLA doesn’t drop back 8 defenders and turn the Trojans passing circus into short gains. Let’s remember that the last time these two city rivals played, Kedon Slovis lit up the Bruins’ secondary, throwing for 515 yards and four touchdowns. UCLA will have that in mind when trying to contain Slovis, who probably hasn’t forgotten last season’s success against the Bruins.
One thing for sure, the Trojans offensive line better protect Kedon Slovis because the Bruins will be coming with one of the best pass rushes in the Pac-12. Then again, there is the question of which Trojans offensive linemen will be available? We’ll find out whether Slovis moves outside the pocket or at least has a rollout package. If not, we’ll see whether Slovis’s health can last four quarters in this rivalry game. Hopefully, we’ll find out whether Graham Harrell has a few tricks up his sleeve: Hint – draws, screens, misdirection runs, rollouts.
In a media conference on Tuesday, Harrell showed limited to no concern about the Trojans inability to run the ball, pointing out the great first half passing performance of Slovis (5 TD passes and 17 completed passes in a row). However, Harrell should be concerned that the Trojans’ offense has not scored a touchdown all season in the third quarter and here’s another dirty little secret, the Trojans have not scored a touchdown in the second half of its last two games (Utah/Washington State). Oy veh!
Whether this defensive edition of UCLA can stop the Trojans’ Air Raid offense will be fascinating, but the Bruins have improved. Don’t expect the Bruins’ defense to play stupid like Washington State by playing the Trojans vaunted receivers man-to-man. The lad from Westwood will likely use some form of zone in the secondary and drop the now usual eight back into coverage. The Bruins will play some man, according to UCLA coach Chip Kelly.
No doubt, UCLA, which has a physical front, will be begging the Trojans to run the ball (and wouldn’t you?), and we’ll see whether that strategy works. If it works, it will be because the Trojans are still reluctant to take what they’re given or just doesn’t have the offensive resources to make it happen. And, please, no more post-game reasons why the Trojans didn’t rush the ball more. You really don’t have to look at the tape to know why the Men of Troy don’t run more.
UCLA’s defense, which is in the Top 20 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, is led by junior S Stephan Blaylock, redshirt junior LB Caleb Johnson (17th in the nation in sacks) and redshirt senior DL Osa Odighizuwa (26 tac, 6 for loss, 4 sack, 1 dfl), who can really put pressure on Kedon Slovis.
The UCLA offense is 16th nationally in rushing offense (they have hit 200-plus rush yards three times in 2020) and are outscoring opponents 36-9 in the fourth quarter. The Bruins offense will be the best the Trojans defense have faced this season, but it is does have its flaws. In junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is in the Bruins top 10in career passing yards, completions, passing TDs and total offense, the Trojans face a dangerous but at times error prone quarterback. One moment DTR makes an explosive athletic play out of the pocket and the next moment he coughs up a head-scratching turnover. We’ll see whether the Trojans’ defensive line can contain the athletic signal caller. The Trojans D-line will have to make a statement as a unit on Saturday.
Another thing the Trojans also can’t do is let UCLA’s electrifying redshirt senior RB Demetric Felton Jr. (5-10, 200), who is 11th in the country in rushing (115.6) and eighth in all-purpose running find any daylight. In Trojans DC Todd Orlando’s feast or famine blitzing defense, the Trojans must take it down-by down without taking a play off. If Troy’s defense gives Felton an inch, he can take it to the house, so we’ll see whether the Cardinal and Gold can contain a home run hitter like Felton. Part of the quickness of the Trojans defense to contain Felton will be missing, as junior nickel back Greg Johnson is out with a knee issue suffered against WSU. The injury will require surgery, and he is lost for the season. Needless to say, the Trojans can’t miss tackles, or they’ll pay dearly.
DTR and Felton aren’t the only threats on the Bruins offense. Redshirt sophomore WR Kyle Philips and redshirt sophomore TE Greg Dulcich join Felton as the top pass catchers and Duke grad transfer RB Brittain Brown helps the ground game. Brown doesn’t have Felton’s top-end speed, but he is a tough runner with some moves to gain valuable short yardage.
One USC area of concern is the Trojans depth at inside linebacker. Now that Palaie Gaoteote has gone to the transfer portal (Coach Helton did say this week that he’d welcome Palaie back if he wanted to return), we’ll see whether this affects the dwindling depth the next three games. That being said, one area of concern for UCLA’s offense should be Trojans junior strong safety Talanoa Hufanga, who is playing at an All-Pac-12 level of play. The Oregon native could definitely play on any of the previous USC national champions teams, the best strong safety, IMHO, since Troy Polamalu. It will be interesting to see whether UCLA does anything cute to try and disrupt the play of Talanoa.
We’ll also see whether special teams play a huge part of a USC victory. This will be the most high-pressure game in the career of true freshman placekicker Parker Lewis. The kid has done reasonably well, but the USC-UCLA rivalry adds a whole new dimension to the psyche. We’ll see if the youngster can handle the rivalry pressure with a divisional title on the line. This could be the game when Trojans punter Ben Griffiths (44.7 avg.) is needed more than ever for field position. UCLA counters with freshman punter Luke Akers (42.6) and redshirt freshman placekicker Nicholas Barr-Mira (3-3/ long 44yds.)
The Obvious: In 2020, the Trojans offense is averaging 33.25 points per game, while the UCLA defense is allowing 24.8 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA’s offense is averaging 32.6 points per game while the Trojans’ defense is allowing 21.75 points per contest.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is in his fifth season as the Trojans’ head coach (44-22) and is currently 17-12 in his last 29 games.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Helton said, “DTR is the best creator in our league. What I mean by best creator is that when bad plays happen, he finds a way to make them great. He gets 300 yards (running and passing) every time he steps on the field. He’s just an elite talent. It’s fun to watch him but hard to play against him. He’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The Obvious: Chip Kelly is in his third season as UCLA’s head coach.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Trojans pass offense and defending it, Kelly said, “Pass defense, it’s a combination of pass rush and coverage. We have to obviously matchup with Amon (Ra St. Brown), Drake (Jackson), Tyler (Vaughns), and the other great wide receivers that they have. We need to disrupt the timing of their routes, and we need to get home in our pass rush. What it comes down to is a lot of pass rush and winning the one-on-one battles. We been fortunate so far that we’ve had some guys that have won those one-on-battles. That will be the big test this week. It’s our pass defense against their pass game, which is obviously their strength.”
The Obvious: The Trojans are ranked No. 16 this week, but UCLA is not ranked at all.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 28-13-5 against unranked UCLA teams (not including one win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record 29-13-5).
The Obvious: Before 1982, the USC/UCLA games were played in the Coliseum, but in 1982 the Bruins decided to make the Rose Bowl their home.
The Not So Obvious: FYI, the Trojans are 23-17-3 against UCLA when Troy is the visiting team, and it’s 25-15-4 against the Bruins while serving as the home team (not including one home win and one visiting win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original records: 26-15-4 home, 24-17-3 visiting).
The Obvious: The Trojans will start sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200).
The Not So Obvious: Last week, Slovis threw for five touchdown passes against Washington State, more TDs than had he had thrown the entire season (three games).
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for UCLA is sophomore Dorian Thompson-Robinson (6-1, 200).
The Not So Obvious: “DTR” (52-of-90, 57.8%, 691 yds, 8 TD, 2 int in 2020, plus 36 tcb, 210 yds, 5.8 avg, 3 TD), played his high school ball at powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High. He also has been named to the UCLA Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for Spring 2020 and Winter 2019.
The Obvious: The Trojans running attack is led by four capable backs in seniors Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, and sophomores Markese Stepp, and Kenon Christon.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA has an explosive running back in senior Demetric Felton, who can score from anywhere on the field. A former wide receiver, Felton has developed into one of the most feared backs in the country.
The Obvious: The winner of the annual USC-UCLA football game gets year-long possession of the Victory Bell, a 295-pound bell taken off a freight locomotive.
The Not So Obvious: Originally given to UCLA in 1939 as a gift from the UCLA Alumni Association, several USC students took the bell in 1941 and hid it in a variety of locations for more than a year. A controversy ensued and school administrators had to intercede. In 1942, the bell resurfaced and, by agreement, became the trophy given to the game’s winner. However, tradition calls for the Victory Bell to spend most of the year in storage…or, rather appropriately, in hiding. Since the bell became a trophy, its carriage has been painted cardinal 43 times while in Trojans’ possession and blue 32 times while in UCLA’s hold (there were four ties and not including two USC wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 45).
The Obvious: There are a number of connections between USC and UCLA.
The Not So Obvious: Here are just a few: WR Tyler Vaughgn’s brother, JonJon, is a freshman defensive back at UCLA; ILB Ralen Gorforth’s brother, Randall, was a corner at UCLA; Snapper Nathan Weneta’s brother, Jay, was a long snapper for UCLA; TE Erik Krommenhoek’s parents both attended UCLA, ILB Spencer Gilbert’s mother, USC director of track and field Caryl Smith Gilbert, was a three-time All- American sprinter at UCLA.
The Obvious: Johnny Nansen is a former football assistant at Troy (2014-19).
The Not So Obvious: Nansen is now the UCLA defensive line coach.
The Obvious: USC’s nickname is the Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA has a linebacker named Jeremiah Trojan. However, the Trojans have no player with the surname of Bruin.
The Obvious: And finally, both teams will wear their home jerseys.
The Not So Obvious: For the first time since 1982, both USC and UCLA wore their home jerseys in the 2008 game (a UCLA home game in the Rose Bowl) and the teams have continued to do so since (except for 2011 when the visiting Bruins chose to wear white jerseys). Per an NCAA football-playing rule (no longer in effect beginning in 2009), because the 2008 Trojans were not in their white road jerseys, they were charged with a timeout at the opening kickoff. UCLA responded by calling a timeout immediately after to even things up. The tradition of USC in its cardinal jerseys and UCLA in its blue jerseys, regardless of whose home game it was, went on from 1949 to 1951 and then 1957 through 1982 before an NCAA football rule change required the visiting team to wear white.