USC football has a rivalry test vs. UCLA with the Pac-12 South on the line
In what can only be described as a whirlwind of a season, we have already arrived at USC’s final contest of the regular season against cross-town rivals UCLA.
In a surprising turn of events, USC is no longer expected to romp all over the Rose Bowl field, as Chip Kelly’s Bruins have made significant strides in his third year as head coach in Westwood.
The Trojans are only 2.5-point favorites and their lack of a rushing attack, in combination with UCLA’s suddenly impressive ground game and pass rush has led many to believe that the Bruins may pull off the upset this Saturday.
So let’s take a look at both sides and determine who will go home with the Victory Bell Saturday night.
When USC football is on offense
It was thrilling…until it wasn’t
The primary takeaway from watching this USC offense week in and week out is this: expect inconsistency.
In an eerily similar performance to the 2019 ASU game, the Trojans decimated Washington State’s defense in the first quarter. As the beneficiaries of starting three of their first four drives in Cougar territory, Kedon Slovis found Amon-Ra St. Brown four times for touchdowns in the first quarter, all but ending the contest after 15 minutes.
The offense looked dynamic with Drake London catching balls over the middle and Graham Harrell dialing up a jet sweep to St. Brown to score in the red zone.
USC scored on a fifth consecutive drive with 7:11 remaining in the second quarter to go up 35-0 but then failed to put another touchdown on the board for the rest of the evening.
Sure, teams tend to relax when they lead an overmatched opponent, but the fact that the Trojans yet again failed to score 40 points and mustered FIVE rushing yards against Wazzu highlights this team’s inability to adjust in-game and truly bury an opponent when the opportunity presents itself.
Get the quarterback
On paper, this UCLA defense is what it has been for the last few years…terrible. They are poor at stopping the run and poor at limiting opponents on passing downs. Yet, they don’t give up big plays and they excel at sacking the opposing quarterback.
The linebackers lead the way with Caleb Johnson and Mitchell Agude racking up 12.5 combined tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.
On the defensive line, Osa Odighizuwa creates the most havoc in the backfield with six tackles for a loss and four sacks of his own.
In the secondary, UCLA’s best cover guys are their safeties. Stephan Blaylock and Quinten Lake have allowed just six completions in coverage through five games. However, on the outside, UCLA can be had. Jay Shaw has done solid work allowing less than a 50 percent completion rate, but his opposite corner, Obi Eboh, has allowed over an 80 percent completion rate on the year.
The Bruins attempt to mitigate their defensive mismatches by playing zone on 80 percent of snaps and I would only expect that number to rise to around 90-95 percent in this game, as USC has seen zone about 90 percent of the time.
How they matchup
I’m not sure if you’ve seen this film before, but breaking news: UCLA is going to drop seven players into a zone to force USC to throw short to their inside receivers and running backs.
Slovis averages just 7.6 yards per attempt through the air because defenses don’t respect the Trojans’ on the ground in the slightest. Last game, we finally saw the sophomore throw downfield with more success, and USC must try to build on that if they want to maximize the potential of this offense. Realistically, it would help to force the ball to London a few more times a game because he is USC’s best receiver and additional attention towards him only makes St. Brown more deadly.
All of this starts with an offensive line that has its hands full with the Bruins in the trenches. UCLA is terrible against the run, but don’t expect to see Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, Markese Stepp, or Kenan Christon make an impact on the ground.
Instead, this game will come down to strength on strength — the USC passing offense vs. the Bruins pass rush. The Trojans’ ability to protect Slovis while trying to stretch the field on crossing routes and through the seams to London is paramount to a victory for the Men of Troy.
The interior of the USC offensive line doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, so the Trojans’ will live and die by the individual efforts of Alijah Vera-Tucker, the receivers, and Slovis.