The Obvious from Los Angeles: USC Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn says there’s no timeline on whether to retain or dismiss Clay Helton as the Trojans’ head football coach, the CFP poll this week placed the Trojans at a surprising No. 23 in its national rankings, and on top of it all comes the 89th crosstown rivalry between the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-2 Pac-12) and the UCLA Bruins (4-6, 4-3 Pac-12) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m. PT). And the intriguing aspect to all of this is that after this weekend’s game between the Trojans and the Bruins, Bohn’s timeline and the Trojans’ CFP ranking could change exponentially.
The Not So Obvious: So, let’s get real for a moment. Mike Bohn knows there’s nothing he can do in terms of Clay Helton’s future until the Pac-12 South Division race plays itself out, so no revelation there. The Trojans’ slim hopes of winning the Pac-12 South rests with beating the Bruins, and either Arizona (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12 South) or Colorado (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12 South) upsetting No. 7 Utah (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12 South). Quite frankly, the chances of Utes losing to either the Wildcats (Saturday night in Tucson) or next Saturday (Nov. 30) in Salt Lake City against the Buffaloes are slimmer than a snowstorm appearing in downtown Los Angeles.
The Clay Helton head coaching resolution could come as early as Monday or Tuesday if the Trojans lose to the Bruins or next week if Utah wins the South Division or – if the Trojans receive a miracle and make the Pac-12 title game by coming through the proverbial backdoor – or receiving a major bowl invitation? All the “or” conjunctions on Clay Helton’s future sounds like a Trojans depth chart. And, then there is this “or” clandestine option possibility: As distasteful as it may be to the “enough is a enough” passionate Trojans fan base as it pertains to Helton, what happens if Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn actually elect to give Helton another season to prove he is not a national championship coach? More on that in our IMHO Sunday column.
The Obvious: The unranked Trojans opened a 13 ½ -point favorite to defeat UCLA.
The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the big opening line has to do with the fact that last weekend the Trojans destroyed Cal, 41-17, in Berkeley and Utah destroyed UCLA, 49-3, in Salt Lake City. Now for some numbers.The Trojans have won four of their last five games are now back home after a victorious two-game road trip. UCLA has won just five of the last 20 meetings in the series with Troy, but the Bruins dominated last year’s game. The Trojans have won 66% of the time against unranked UCLA teams and nearly as frequently versus Bruin teams coming off a loss. In games against UCLA in the Coliseum, including in years when the Bruins were the home team while it was their home stadium, Troy holds a 39-21-7 lead (not including the Trojans’ 2005 win that was vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record, 40-21-7). The Bruins have posted just one win over the Trojans in their last 10 trips to the Coliseum, which is an ominous sign for the Bruins considering if they upset the Trojans, they will be knocked out post-season play, unable to reach six wins even with one game to go against Cal in the Rose Bowl next Saturday.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised on ABC (12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The ABC broadcasters will be Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst) and Todd McShay and Molly McGrath (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from the Coliseum will air live on KABC 790 AM (12:30 p.m. PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will provide selective perspective.
The Trojans’ overall KABC AM 790 broadcast from the Los Angeles will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 10:30 a.m. (PT). The pregame broadcast crew will consist of Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA broadcast (8 p.m. PT) can be heard on AM570 with Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Matt Stevens (analyst), and Wayne Cook (sideline).
Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 211/198) or online channel (960) and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 74 and a low of 51 degrees, 43 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Temperature at kickoff is expected to be sunny and 71 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans still have last season’s 34-27 victory on their collective minds and don’t want a repeat but rather revenge. We’ll see whether the Trojans can finish their season with a win against their crosstown rivals and remain one game behind Utah in the Pac-12 South with a week to go in the South Division schedule. We’ll find out whether this Trojans’ team has truly addressed some weaknesses that UCLA took advantage when the two teams met last season in the Rose Bowl.
Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can move the ball against a UCLA defense that has its own issues. The Trojans will feature surging true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who has been mostly sensational the second half of the season. The UCLA defense in many ways mirrors the Cal defense from a week ago. We’ll see whether the Bruins’ athletic secondary tries play the Trojans’ elite receivers, led by senior Michael Pittman Jr., man-to-man, a major mistake made by Utah and Cal in their losses to Cardinal and gold.
The good news for the Trojans’ elite receivers is that the Bruins are ranked 10th in the conference in pass defense, so you get the picture. We’ll also see whether UCLA elite defenders like senior linebacker Josh Woods, junior defensive end Osa Odighizuwa, and junior corner Darnay Holmes can hold limit big-play damage by the Trojans passing game while making sure the limited rushing game stays limited. No question that the Bruins will be looking to put enough pressure on Slovis to get him rattled. There is some good news for the Trojans’ backfield, as it appears that junior running back Vavae Malepeai is healthy again and will play on Saturday.
Defensively, we’ll find out whether the Trojans’ defense can show more marked improvement against the physical UCLA rushing attack than they did last season when the Bruins ripped the Men of Troy for 313 yards rushing. You can bet the Bruins’ offensive line, which starts two true freshmen, will test the Trojans’ run defense from the outset, and UCLA coach Chip Kelly would like nothing more than the USC defense going out of its mind trying to defend the UCLA run game led by senior Joshua Kelley, the second leading rusher in the Pac-12 who spent more time in the Trojans’ secondary last season than some of the UCLA receivers. If the USC defense, led by sophomore DT Jay Tufele, senior captain and linebacker John Houston Jr., and sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga, can’t stop the Bruins’ run, they are up the proverbial sewage creek without a paddle. With rapidly improving sophomore UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, we’ll see whether the Trojans can contain this dual-threat signal caller without giving Kelley a free reign of the field. The Trojans’ defense will be challenged by a UCLA offensive line that can show up at times unbalanced along with multiple use of their tight ends. We see whether the Bruins schemes become an added burden to a Trojans’ defense that remains vulnerable. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Bruins offense ha: been horrendous in the red zone, ranking last in the Pac-12.
On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll find out whether the Trojans standout placekicker Chase McGrath can outduel UCLA’s senior placekicker J.J. Molson, who ranks 7th in Bruins lore with field goals, 7th all-time on the school scoring list (292) and has hit on 85 straight extra point attempts. Molson, however, has had some consistency challenges this season. As always, we find out whether the Trojans can defend on kickoff returns because they will be tested by the Bruins’ all-purpose star Demetiric Felton, who is one of the best kickoff returner artists in the country, averaging 28.8 yards per return. One area of special team interest will be the battle of Australian kickers, as both teams feature punters from the Land Down Under: USC’s Ben Griffiths (41.47 avg.) and UCLA’s Wade Lees (42.7 avg.), respectively.
The Obvious: The Trojans offense averages 31.45 points while the UCLA defense allows 33.70 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA’s offense averages 26.70 points per game while the Trojans’ defense allows 27.09 points per outing.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach, who job status remains in jeopardy.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding UCLA, Helton says, “Don’t let last week (at Utah) fool you. The turnovers in the red zone crushed them. This team is a dangerous team because of the weapons they have offensively. You start off with the running back. Josh (Kelley) is one of the better running backs in the country. They really found their identity halfway through the season when they went into 12 and 13 personnel and doing the running plays in the interior with him (Kelley). He’s really good at that. DTR (QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson) has really improved, his progress from a freshman to this year and he has made some good decisions. Really, he’s been good at protecting the ball up until last game. Both those two runners (Kelley and DTR) are elite. We have to contain the quarterback on passing downs and contain Josh in the running situations. Defensively, we have to get them off the field or they’ll hold the ball like they did last year and wear down the defense.”
The Obvious: Chip Kelly is the second-year head coach of the UCLA Bruins.
The Not So Obvious: Commenting Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis, Kelly said, “He’s got great poise, and he seems to have a great understanding of what he’s trying to get accomplished. He has got a real good clock in his head when the ball is getting out, and he can keep the play alive. He’s not trying to run back there, but he’s trying to keep the play alive and let his receivers work and try to get open. He’s done a really good job. When you watch him on tape, he looks like he really got a vast repertoire.”
(On disrupting Slovis) “I think it starts with the pass rush and the coverage. It’s not just one over the other. You can’t just say it’s the coverage all the time and sit back there or he’ll pick you apart. You can’t just all-out blitz him on every single play because they have some really good receivers. You have to change up the looks that you give him. You have to disrupt the timing of the routes and get him off his spot. Don’t let him get comfortable back there.”
The Obvious: Last week, UCLA was crushed by Utah 49-3 in Salt Lake City.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 15-9-4 against UCLA when the Bruins are coming off a loss.
The Obvious: There was a time when both the Trojans and the Bruins shared the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: From 1929 to 1981, the teams shared the Coliseum as their home stadium and alternated yearly being the home team, and both wore their home uniforms just like today. When serving as the home team, USC is 24-15-4 against UCLA, while the Trojans are 23-17-3 as the visiting team (not including 1 home win and 1 visiting win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original records: 25-15-4 home, 24-17-3 visiting).
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for the USC Trojans is true freshman Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200).
The Not So Obvious: It’s a little unfair to compare a true freshman Slovis to past USC greats like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold etc. However, Kedon has at least two more seasons tossing the pigskin for the Trojans, and who knows what his final stat numbers will be when he eventually leaves? If there is a new USC coach in 2020, how will that affect Slovis? One thing for sure, it will be very interesting to see how UCLA’s Chip Kelly goes about defending Slovis and the Trojans’ version of the Air Raid offense.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for UCLA is sophomore Dorian Thompson-Robinson from powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.
The Not So Obvious: As we all know, there is nothing worse for a Clancy Pendergast Trojans defense than playing against a dual-threat quarterback like Robinson (AKA – DTR). DTR rates 7th in the Pac-12 in total offense per game (247.1). Playing against DTR will again severely challenge the discipline of the Trojans’ defensive unit.
The Obvious: UCLA has one of the best running backs on the West Coast in senior Joshua Kelley.
The Not So Obvious: Of course, USC fans well remember last season’s loss to the Bruns when Kelley exploded for a series record 289 rushing yards. Kelley had a big 55-TD run in the fourth quarter to cap the victory. It is now pretty well known that Kelley was a football transfer from UC Davis, the same University the Trojans will open the 2021 season in the Coliseum.
The Obvious: Trojans’ Ralen Goforth is a talented, true freshman inside linebacker.
The Not So Obvious: Goforth’s brother, Randall, was a cornerback at UCLA (2012-16).
The Obvious: This Saturday is the last regular season game for Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, who is retiring after being the director of the Trojan Marching Band for the past 50 years.
The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO feels like we have grown old together with Dr. Bartner. He was part of the John McKay era to the present. Dr. Bartner became part of the USC football program and the football program became part of the band. Today, they seem inseparable. Dr. Bartner’s replacement will have some huge shoes to fill, and it is certain that we will never see the likes of a band director like him again in our lifetime. As are many Trojans, the O/NSO is grateful to been able to watch the growth of the band the past two generations and the legacy that Bartner leaves. And by the way, what does the middle initial “C” stand for? Now that would be not so obvious.
The Obvious: Hector Aguilar has been Traveler’s rider since 2005.
The Not So Obvious: Hector will take his last regular season ride on Traveler and then will turn over the saddle to Dana Kastul, who will beTraveler’s first female rider.
The Obvious: Former Trojans’ safety Troy Polamalu is considered one of USC greatest football players.
The Not So Obvious: The two-time USC All-American will be honored on the Coliseum field on Saturday for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Obvious: The Trojans will recognize seniors and those players who will be playing their final game wearing the cardinal and gold. Prior to kickoff, those players will run through the traditional Heritage Tunnel comprised of former USC players.
The Not So Obvious: Those Trojans to be recognized include fourteen seniors and redshirt juniors: ILB Matt Bayle, OT Clayton Bradley, OG Jacob Daniel, WR-CB Dominic Davis, TB Chris Edmonson, PK Thomas Fitts, S Richard Hagestad, WR Matthew Hocum, ILB John Houston Jr., CB Justin Newell, S Brandon Perdue, WR Michael Pittman Jr., DL Christian Rector and OT Drew Richmond.
The Obvious: Former USC All-American and NFL All-Pro safety Ronnie Lott, a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, has given a $250,000 challenge gift to the Trojan Athletic Fund, the general fund supporting USC Athletics’ scholarships, to establish the Eric Scoggins Endowed Scholarship.
The Not So Obvious: At Saturday’s game against UCLA, fans at the Coliseum will be urged to donate a gift via text to the Scoggins Endowed Scholarship. USC also will conduct a phone campaign for donations in this week leading up to the game. To donate online, go to usctrojans.com/ets .
The Obvious: And finally, the Heisman Trophy is college football’s most prestigious award.
The Not So Obvious: The Nissan Heisman House tour will be on the South Lawn of the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park next to the Coliseum. Former USC football running back great LenDale White and ESPN Sportscenter host Neil Everett will be there, as well. There will be free giveaways and fun stuff like taking your picture with the actual Heisman Trophy Award. Heisman House hours on Saturday will be 8:00 am to 12:30 pm.