By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
The Obvious: In the 85th meeting between two old crosstown rivals, the unranked USC Trojans (7-4, 5-3 P-12 South) will host the No. 22 UCLA Bruins (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12 South) for the Pac-12 South Division Championship on Saturday afternoon in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (12:30 p.m. PT/ABC/ESPN2 depending on your region).
The Not So Obvious: We’ll, as the old O/NSO says, “It’s not how you got here but that you got here.” And that certainly applies to the Trojans who were picked to win the Pac-12 South Division back in the summer. It might have taken two coaches and a roller coaster journey, but if the Trojans can beat the Bruins on Saturday, they have fulfilled the preseason conference expectations in terms of winning their division and advancing to next Saturday’s Pac-12 Championship Game in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 3 ½ -point favorite to defeat the Bruins.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans will be looking to desperately snap a three-game losing streak to the Bruins. The Cardinal and Gold lead the series with UCLA, 44-31-7 (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: 46-31-7).
The Obvious: The USC/UCLA game will be televised on ABC/ ESPN2 (12:30 p.m. PT).
The Not So Obvious: The ABC/ESPN2 broadcasters for Saturday’s kickoff against UCLA will be Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (analysis), and Todd McShay (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio broadcast of the UCLA game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 12:30 p.m. PT with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans four-hour ESPNLA 710 pregame show on Saturday begins at 8:30 a.m. PT and will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz (9:35 a.m.), Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the game with Chris Fisher and Shaun Cody.
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA broadcast can be heard on flagship station KLAC 570 AM with Bill Roth (play-by-play), Matt Stevens (analyst), and Wayne Cook (sidelines).
The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather report for Saturday calls for mostly sunny with a high of 65 and a low of 42 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Bruins will physically take it to the Trojans yet again and impose their will as they have in the previous three victories over the Men of Troy. Whether the Trojans defense can get to true UCLA freshman quarterback sensation Josh Rosen, whose offensive line has done a good job protecting its young prodigy, is a major key to the game. Rosen doesn’t like to scramble, but he can and is dangerous when he makes up his mind to run. If the Trojans don’t get to Rosen and rough him up legally, he will carve up the suspect USC secondary, which returns impressive freshman safety Marvell Tell from injury (collarbone). Whether the Trojans defensive front can get to Rosen is questionable. Two Trojans defensive linemen, DT Delvon Simmons and NT Antwaun Woods will be key to mounting a rush on Rosen. It could come down to whether Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is willing to gamble on some stunts, blitzes, and twists up front and throw caution to the wind. If there is a difference maker, watch for the Trojans All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens – a Butkus and Bednarik Award semifinalist – who has the talent to create major turnovers.
Getting Rosen also won’t be easy because the Bruins have arguably the best running back in the Pac-12 in junior Paul Perkins who is third on the UCLA all-time rushing list. Perkins is a workhorse and can take it to the house on any carry. Whether he wears down the Trojans defensive as the game progresses remains to be seen, but you know they will be attacking, aside from veteran insider linebacker Anthony Sarao, the Trojans young and inexperienced inside linebacking corps. The Bruins have a fleet of good receivers, especially senior Jordan Payton, who is in the nation’s Top 25 in receiving yards and receptions. Watch for the Bruins to pick on Trojans true freshman corner Iman Marshall, who has been the go-to target by opponents the past several weeks. We’ll see whether Marshall can handle the biggest of stages, the crosstown rivalry game.
Offensively, the Trojans will need to pound a UCLA defense that is riddled with injuries. Whether the Trojans take advantage of the losses of UCLA stud defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and marvelous linebacker Myles Jack remains to be seen. The Trojans offensive line will have to play at peak efficiency and not make the same undisciplined mistakes they made last week at Oregon. Whether the Trojans O-line can opened enough holes for Trojans standout tailback Justin Davis and Ronald Jones ll will be crucial to Troy’s success, and it’s promising that senior Tre Madden will be available. It also appears that starting right guard Viane Talamaivao (knee) is available after being held out last week at Oregon. For Trojans senior quarterback Cody Kessler, this will be his defining game. Whether he can go out a winner and not lose to a true freshman quarterback like Rosen is critical. Kessler and his array of receivers led by sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will play with an array of ailments, will try and find openings in a strong UCLA secondary that is 17th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Many USC-UCLA games have come down to the placekickers. The Trojans Alex Wood, who was held out last week at Oregon due to concussion symptoms suffered at Colorado, is questionable for Saturday. If Wood can’t go, it will be up to inexperienced sophomore Matt Boermeester, who was perfect in four PAT attempts at Oregon. On the other hand, UCLA’s senior placekicker Ka’imi Fairbairn is the Pac-12’s career scoring leader (407 points) and is in the Top 10 nationally in field goal percentage and field goals.
Perhaps as big a key to the game as any will be whether Trojans two-way star Adoree’ Jackson has a major influence on the outcome of the game. Last weekend at Oregon, Jackson got the Trojans back with an explosive 41-yard TD punt return, you can bet the Bruins will know where Jackson is on the field at all times – both offensively and defensively.
The Obvious: The Trojans second-time interim head coach is Clay Helton.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding his seniors beating UCLA, Helton says, “What a neat experience it would be for a bunch of seniors that have not only faced adversity this year but throughout their career. To walk off the field as Pac-12 South champions, it would be something truly special for a Cody Kessler, Soma Vainuku, Jahleel Pinner, and an Antwaun Woods and all those seniors. It would be something special.”
The Obvious: In his fourth season with the Bruins, UCLA’s head Jim Mora Jr.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding his success against the Trojans (3-0), Mora, whose parents and siblings attended USC, said, “No common thread, every game has its own personality. We’ve been fortunate to play well and catch some breaks. To me, every week, every year, every team, every situation is different. You have to come out and prepare well during the week and execute on Saturday. That’s what we’ll try our best to do.”
The Obvious: Through 11 games, the Trojans offense is averaging 35.6 points per game while the UCLA defense is allowing 23.7 points per outing.
The Not So Obvious: Through 11 games, the UCLA offense is averaging 33.5 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 25.0 points per game.
The Obvious: The Trojans will honor their departing 24 seniors prior to kickoff, having them run through the Heritage Tunnel of former players.
The Not So Obvious: The 24 Trojans include redshirt juniors who do not plan on returning in 2016. Appearing at their final home game in the Coliseum are: P
Kris Albarado, ILB Lamar Dawson, CB Ryan Dillard, TE Cyrus Hobbi, OG Erick Jepsen, WR George Katrib, QB Cody Kessler, WR Robby Kolanz, TB Tre Madden, WR David Mellstrom, DE Claude Pelon, FB Jahleel Pinner, ILB Anthony Sarao, SNP Nick Schlossberg, CB Kevon Seymour, DT Delvon Simmons, QB Conner Sullivan, WR Christian Tober, DT Cody Temple, DE Greg Townsend Jr., C Max Tuerk, FB Soma Vainuku, PK Alex Wood, and DT Antwaun Woods.
The Obvious: The winner of the Saturday’s crosstown rivalry game will keep the “Victory Bell” for a year.
The Not So Obvious: The Victory Bell is 295-pound bell from a freight train. Since the bell became a trophy for the winning team, its carriage has been painted cardinal 39 times and 31 times blue.
The Obvious: UCLA’s starting quarterback is true freshman Josh Rosen.
The Not So Obvious: It’s hard to fathom that at one time there was heated debate between Rosen and former Trojans freshman Ricky Town as to which player had the greater potential and upside. As this season concludes, Town as already transferred (Arkansas), and Rosen is the odd-on choice for Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.
The Obvious: This is one of the few times that the Trojans have been unranked while playing a ranked UCLA team.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 16-19-1 against an AP-ranked Bruins team.
The Obvious: This is the 17th time that USC and UCLA have played each other on Thanksgiving weekend.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans record against UCLA on Thanksgiving weekend is 10-6.
The Obvious: As with every Trojans home game in the Coliseum, there will be recognitions and awards throughout the course of the game.
The Not So Obvious: Besides the pregame salute to the 24 Trojans senior playing their final game in the Coliseum, the Trojans will recognize the defending Pac-12 champion men’s swimming and diving team, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and former patient Jake Olson (USC’s blind long snapper).
The Obvious: And finally, a regular season racked with drama and intrigue – not to mention disappointment on and off the field – will conclude on Saturday.
The Not So Obvious: Lost in some of the rhetoric of this week’s big divisional title game is that fact that should the Trojans beat the Bruins, they’ll be one step away from playing in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2016.