13 min Read

O/NSO: UCLA edition

The Obvious from Los Angeles: Still searching for what has become the illusive bowl eligibility minimum of six victories, the highly scrutinized USC Trojans (5-5 overall, 4-4 Pac-12 South) and their under-the-cardinal-and-gold microscope head coach, Clay Helton, travel to the Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m. PT) to come face-to-face with determined crosstown rival UCLA (2-8 overall, 2-5 Pac-12 South), knowing that a win over the Men from Westwood gives the Men of Troy a post-season invitation somewhere in the continental United States.

The Not So Obvious: This is the 88th meeting of the nation’s premier intercity collegiate rivalry and while the rivalry game on Saturday itself may not excite the casual football enthusiast – considering that both teams have a combined 13 losses and neither has a winning record – the ramifications of the result could be immense for the Trojans. If the Trojans win on Saturday, probably the most appealing post-season bowl would probably be the Las Vegas simply because of its location and glitz. The big deal also for Saturday is that if Clay Helton expects to return as USC head coach – and we know earlier that USC athletic director Lynn Swann strongly supports Helton – he can’t lose back-to-back games against the Trojans’ two biggest rivals, the Bruins and the Irish, or can he? There’s nothing that says Swann can’t change his mind if the variables dramatically change, right?

The Obvious: From a recruiting standpoint, the USC/UCLA game is still so big locally that it could really set the SoCal recruiting into a potential transition.

The Not So Obvious: Both Clay Helton and Bruins’ coach Chip Kelly are well aware of Saturday’s ramifications, and therein adds to the intrigue. Ironically, a Trojans’ win won’t necessarily appease the cardinal and gold fan base because those minds have already been made up regarding the future of Helton. However, a loss could position the fan base to hitting the program where it really hurts – future attendance, donations, support, and a basic financial boycott. So, yes, a lot is riding on the outcome of Saturday’s game – fair or unfair. With currently undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0) invading the Coliseum next Saturday night and looking to punch their ticket into the CFP semi-finals, Saturday’s game against the Bruins is probably the Trojans best opportunity to get their sixth win and plan for so bowl game fun.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 3 ½ -point favorite over UCLA.

The Not So Obvious: Three thoughts come to mind after seeing the opening line. One, the Trojans lost last week at home to Cal 15-14, and earlier this season, UCLA whipped Cal, 37-7, in Berkeley. Secondly, both teams lost to Arizona State. The Trojans lost to the Sun Devils 38-35 in the Coliseum and UCLA lost at ASU 31-28. Both teams lost by three points and the oddsmakers probably took that into account when making the opening line. Also take into account that the Trojans have a massive amount of pressure on them to win Saturday’s game while UCLA is not under the same type of scrutiny. It has been the experience of the O/NSO that when UCLA upsets the Trojans, the Trojans’ heads are not in the game from the opening kickoff.

The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised on FOX (12:30 p.m. PDT).

The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters will be Joe Davis (play-by-play) and Brady Quinn (analyst) and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from the Rose Bowl will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM (12:30 p.m. PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans radio game broadcast will be preceded by a four-hour pregame show beginning at 8:30 a.m. (PDT) and featuring Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Andy Kamenetsky, Chris Hale, Nick Alfano, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The UCLA broadcast can be heard on flagship station AM 570 with Josh Lewin(play-by-play), Matt Stevens (analyst) and Wayne Cook (sidelines).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channels 83/83 or online channel 83 and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Pasadena weather forecast calls for partly cloudy with a high of 71 degrees, low of 53 degrees, 49 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Kickoff temperature is expected to be sunny and 69 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can get up for UCLA after the terrible and frustrating loss to Cal. We’ll see whether this team can concentrate on the Bruins while Clay Helton rumors continue to get National Enquirer headlines and opinions. Helton said this week that he expects to around USC for a long time. Although UCLA lost a tough one last week at ASU, they appear to be coming into Saturday’s game with more momentum than the Trojans, who seemed to be in a stupor right after the Cal loss. We’ll see whether Helton can get his team ready to play. We’ll also see whether Trojans fans show up in the Rose Bowl for one of the most undesirable and blah games in the epic history of this captivating and unique rivalry. It won’t be shocking to see the Rose Bowl not near full capacity.

Offensively, we’ll see whether last week’s Cal game is a prelude to the UCLA game. The Trojans need to score early and often and not let the Bruins believe they can win. Thus far, the Bruins have shown no quit in recent games they’ve lost. We’ll see whether the Trojans will pound the ball on the ground and go at the Bruins’ porous run defense, and is this Trojans’ offensive line – now under the leadership of O-line coach Tim Drevno – going to make a difference? We’ll find out whether Trojans tailbacks Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai are healthy enough to attack the Bruins for the duration of the game. Both looked good this week in practice. The other good news is that it appears that Trojans’ star junior receiver Michael Pittman Jr. will return to action after recovering from a shoulder injury. And then there is the USC quarterbacking situation. We’ll see whether true freshman JT Daniels is able to function at a high level in this high-stakes rivalry game. And if he can’t, we’ll find out whether Clay Helton has any stomach to bring in redshirt freshman Jack Sears out of the quarterback bullpen. UCLA’s defense is led by senior DB Adarius Pickett (107 tac, 1 int, 3 dfl, 1 FR, plus 5 PR, 46 yds, 9.2 avg) who is UCLA’s top tackler, ranking 15th nationally in tackles (10.7, fourth in Pac-12), while junior LB Keisean Lucier-South (43 tac, 11.5 for loss, 4 sack, 1 int, 5 dfl, 2 FR, 2 FF) has been a positive.

Defensively, we’ll find out whether the Trojans’ can shut down Chip Kelly’s vaunted spread-option offense. The Bruins’ offense is led by Michigan grad transfer QB Wilton Speight (84-of-139, 60.4%, 895 yds, 5 TD, 4 int in 2018, plus 22 tcb, 42 yds, 1.9 avg). The Bruins’ leading rusher is junior RB Joshua Kelley (167 tcb, 899 yds, 5.4 avg, 8 TD in 2018, plus 25 rec, 179 yds, 7.2 avg), a transfer from UC Davis who has topped 100 rushing yards in five games this season. Kelley ranks 22nd nationally in rushing (99.9, fifth in Pac-12). We’ll see whether the Trojans front seven can stop an improving UCLA ground game led by Kelley. UCLA’s top receivers are junior TE Caleb Wilson (47 rec, 718 yds, 15.3 avg, 4 TD in 2018), the one-time Trojan, and junior WR Theo Howard (41 rec, 513 yds, 12.5 avg, 3 TD in 2018), who has a reception in the past 26 games. It figures that Chip Kelly will try and get the Trojans’ secondary into a state of confusion, and we’ll see whether that cardinal and gold secondary can not only hold its own, but also maintain its composure. All eyes will be on senior corner Iman Marshall to see if he’s not an object of Kelly’s UCLA game plan.

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether the Trojans special teams can match or surpass the Bruins’ special team performers. Left-footed senior P Reid Budrovich (39.3 P avg in 2018, plus 1 tac) has been the mainstay Trojans’ punter this season while sophomore walk-on PK Michael Brown (4-of-5 FG, 27-of-27 PAT) has filled in admirably for original sophomore starter Chase McGrath, who was lost for the season with a knee injury. As for UCLA, the Bruins are getting solid production from junior PK JJ Molson (10-of- 14 FG, 27-of-27 PAT) and senior P Stefan Flintoft (46.4 P avg), who is seventh nationally in punting (46.4, second in Pac-12).

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense is averaging 26.9 points per game while the UCLA defense is allowing 33.3 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the UCLA defense, head coach Clay Helton said, “They’ve improved drastically from game one to where they are now. I’ve been impressed defensively with what they’re doing. We’ve always been a fan of Darnay Holmes. I think he’s one of the premier corners out there in the country and doing a nice job as well as Adarius Pickett at safety. Great kid, a very physical safety, and showing up as a great run stopper.”

The Obvious: The strength of this UCLA team is its offense.

The Not So Obvious: UCLA’s offense is averaging 21.9 points per game, while, as mentioned, the Trojans’ defense is allowing 26.6 points per game.

The Obvious: Chip Kelly is in his first season as UCLA head coach.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Bruins’ offense and how Chip Kelly has changed his offense since returning from the NFL, Trojans’ DC Clancy Pendergast said, “It’s very similar. The running game is similar in a lot of ways. I think there was maybe more Veer blocking schemes than he had at Oregon. I think the passing game has become a lot more expansive since he’s been in the NFL. You can see a lot more concepts.”

The Obvious: The Trojans will start true freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who has started nine of ten games on the season.

The Not So Obvious: UCLA will start grad transfer Wilton Speight, a Michigan transfer who has played in big rivalry games before. Perhaps you’ve heard of Michigan and Ohio State? That would make a good trivia question: Who is the only known quarterback that has started in both the Ohio St/Michigan rivalry and the USC/UCLA rivalry?

The Obvious: The Trojans have not used their tight ends on a regular basis during the 2018 season.

The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the best UCLA offensive player is former Trojans tight end Caleb Wilson, who transferred after his father, Chris Wilson, was dismissed as the Trojans’ defensive line coach when Clay Helton was hired permanently as the Trojans head football coach. FYI, Chris Wilson has been the defensive line coach for the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The Obvious: One of the great traditions of the USC/UCLA rivalry is that both teams wear their home uniforms whether the game is played at home or on the road.

The Not So Obvious: One more standing ovation and round of applause to former Trojans’ coach Pete Carroll and former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel for agreeing to have both teams wear their home colors after that tradition was earlier discontinued because they no longer shared the same home stadium (Coliseum). That tradition was discontinued in 1982 and brought back in 2008. UCLA did elect to wear “white” uniforms in 2011, and that turned out to be a disaster, as the Trojans slammed the Bruins, 50-0, in the Coliseum.

The Obvious: Leading by far all other schools in New Year’s Day participation in Pasadena, the Trojans often refer to the Rose Bowl as their second home.

The Not So Obvious:  In games against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, the Trojans are 7-10, with wins in five of the past eight Pasadena meetings (not including 1 win and appearance vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record 8-10 and 6 of the past 9). The Trojans lead the series with crosstown rival UCLA, 47-31-7 (dating to 1929, a 76-0 Trojan win), not including Troy’s 2004 and 2005 victories that were vacated due to NCAA penalty (original record: 49-31-7). UCLA only has been victorious four times in the last 19 meetings dating to 1999.

The Obvious: Erik Krommenhoek is a sophomore tight end for the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: Both of Erik’s parents attended UCLA.

The Obvious: The winner of the USC/UCLA game retains the Victory Bell, a 295-pound bell 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 42 times while in USC’s possession and blue 31 times while in UCLA’s hold (there were 4 ties) (not including 2 USC wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 44).

The Obvious: This will be one of the rare times that neither the Trojans nor the Bruins are AP ranked.

The Not So Obvious: When neither team was ranked by AP (last occurring in 2010), USC is 12-6-4 against UCLA, with the wins in 1937-40-43 twice-48-49-56-63-64-99-2000-10, the losses in 1950-57-61-70- 83-96 and the ties in 1936-41-44-58.

The Obvious: Both the Trojans and the Bruins lost last week to Cal and ASU, respectively.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 15-10-2 against UCLA when coming off a loss, while the Bruins are 8-15-4 versus the Trojans when coming off a loss. When BOTH teams are coming off a loss, UCLA owns a slight 4-3-2 edge (wins in 1950- 61-83-96, losses in 1938-40-10 and the ties in 1936-41).

The Obvious: USC has an enrollment listed at 45,000 students.

The Not So Obvious: UCLA has an enrollment listed at 31,002 undergraduate students.

The Obvious: And finally, next Saturday, the Trojans will host Notre Dame in the final game of the regular season.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 20-20-2 (.500) against UCLA in seasons when Troy’s next game is against the Irish.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

More Articles By Greg