USC is coming into their seasonal battle with UCLA with a fresh win against the Cal Bears 41-17. The Trojans have the possibility of finishing strong this season and with a win, they could still be in contention for the Pac-12 Championship. Three key matchups will make or break the Trojans in Saturday’s contest for the Victory Bell.
3 Key USC Matchups vs. UCLA
USC Quarterback Kedon Slovis vs. The UCLA Pass Defense
Kedon Slovis will need to lead the USC offense against the Bruins to maintain championship hopes. Not only will his leadership be front and center in the game, but also his passing against UCLA’s pass defense. Slovis is coming in hot with a close to perfect game against the Bears. In last week’s win, Slovis threw for 406 yards and four touchdowns. He had no interceptions, no fumbles, and was surprisingly calm in the pocket. That same energy will need to be produced against a not so highly rated pass defense.
Unlike Cal, UCLA’s pass defense is far less superior and it should be easier to have a good offensive game. Should be. This season UCLA has recorded only four interceptions and that is something that should alleviate some stress off of Slovis. However, with last season’s upset, USC will need to keep their foot on the proverbial offensive petal and not let that statistic ease them off.
USC’s Christian Rector vs. UCLA Running Game
Last season’s loss to the Bruins displayed the hole in USC’s defense. They allowed UCLA’s Joshua Kelley to have a night with 289 rushing yards. As for this season, Kelley is still on the list to watch out for the Trojans. He is the 2nd leading rusher in the Pac-12 Conference with 939 yards and ten touchdowns. ‘SC had no response for UCLA’s running game but this season, the leadership for a response will need to come from Christian Rector.
Defensive end, Rector, was ejected against the Bears after a strong hit in the first quarter for targeting. In the same breath, that hit sparked the momentum for the Trojan’s defensive line. For Saturday’s game, Rector will need to spark that d-line again and maybe without that strong of a hit, as they take on the Bruins and Kelley. Rector has recorded 16 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 sack so far this season. Along with the defensive line, Rector and the Trojans will have to bully the Bruins into a passing game where they will have a better chance of defending.
USC currently ranks 77th in rush defense, allowing 167.4 yards per game. Add Kelley to that mix and guarding against rushing plays will make winning a daunting task. However, if you force UCLA to pass the ball more, the Trojans can gain from the Bruins’ inconsistent quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The sophomore quarterback has made progress but is still missing the persistent variable needed to compete.
USC will have to make a choice. They can either defend a mercurial DTR or a solid Bruin running game.
USC’s running game vs. UCLA’s rush defense
The Bruins may have Kelley and a consistent running game, but so did the Trojans at one point. USC was once expected to have a stable running game but they have been hit with injuries that had them using their third and fourth reserves. However, the Trojans will be getting reinforcements as Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai are expected back for Saturday’s game. The Trojans can benefit from gaining running weapons and taking advantage of UCLA’s lackluster rush defense.
For a team so good at running the ball, their defense lacks. UCLA safety, Stephan Blaylock, leads the defensive pack with 67 tackles. That’s a pretty high number for a safety which means that the front seven is not doing enough to defend. Seems like Blaylock is the only line of defense when it comes to running the ball and so this is the matchup that USC could have the edge over.
Velus Jones Jr. is out with an ankle sprain, but the return of Carr and Malepeai can make up for the missing wide receiver. This is a turn around for the Trojans who have not had a healthy running back roster in a long time.
Battle for the Victory Bell
For Los Angeles, this isn’t just any game. It’s the anticipated crosstown rivalry for more than just bragging rights. Although bragging rights is literally enough. It is the game that represents history and for the Trojans a way to end the season on a positive note with inklings of a Pac-12 conference championship.