The Victory Bell will be on the line once again on Saturday when UCLA ventures into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to play crosstown rival USC.
The Trojans (4-5, 3-4 Pac-12) got an unexpected bye week last week when their game against California was postponed to Dec. 4 due to COVID-19 issues for the Golden Bears. It means that USC got an extra week to prepare for their biggest rivalry game of the season. That means there won’t be any excuses and the Trojans will play well, right? RIGHT!?
Meanwhile, the Bruins (6-4, 4-3) come into this game with momentum, securing bowl eligibility with a convincing 44-20 home win over Colorado last Saturday. Now Chip Kelly's team has a chance to end their two-game losing streak to USC by winning in the Coliseum for the first time since 2013 (0-3).
UCLA at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: UCLA -3
When UCLA Has the Ball
Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson missed the Oct. 30 loss to Utah because of a finger injury, but after the benefit of a bye to recover, it sure looked like he was close to 100 percent last Saturday against Colorado. DTR's dual-threat abilities were on full display in the Rose Bowl, throwing for 257 yards while running for 99 on just nine carries in the 24-point win over the Buffaloes. He tossed an interception but also scored on the ground.
DTR could give USC's defense fits, particularly when you pair him with a backfield of Zach Charbonnet and Brittian Brown. The running back duo is both in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in rushing, combining for 1,479 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground alone. Add that to DTR's production and you get the conference's fifth-ranked rushing attack, one that's averaging 204 yards per game and has scored 25 times. The Trojans have done a serviceable job against the run, holding teams 163 yards per game, but they have allowed 19 touchdowns and were gashed by Arizona State (282 rushing yards) the last time they played. The Sun Devils and UCLA are similar in that both teams have more than one effective running back as well as a quarterback who can run too.
When USC Has the Ball
Saturday is going to be Jaxson Dart's day. The freshman quarterback is getting the start due to an injury to Kedon Slovis, but the argument could be made that Dart should get the start even if Slovis were healthy. Fortunately for Dart, he had an extra week to get used to the offense and what will be expected of him. The extra time could prove critical in establishing a connection to a receiver not named Drake London, who is out for the rest of the season. The Trojans had been too reliant upon him and now they’re going to have to find a way to make up his production. It won't be easy, as London still leads the Pac-12 and is in the top 10 nationally in receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,084).
This could mean a shift to the run with Keaontay Ingram heavily involved. In the last game against Arizona State, USC ran the ball 27 times (Ingram getting 14 of the carries) compared to 45 passes attempted between Slovis and Dart. The Trojans only gained 92 yards on those rushing attempts, but the passing game didn't fare much better with each quarterback throwing an interception.
Defensively speaking, UCLA is much more susceptible to the pass compared to the run. The Bruins are last in the conference in passing yards allowed per game (267.2) compared to ranking second against the run (124 ypg). The interesting contrast to this is that UCLA has surrendered more touchdowns on the ground (19) vs. through the air (14). The issue for USC is whether this offense can take advantage of the Bruins' tendencies with no London and the unproven Dart at the helm.
USC got a respite last week because of Cal's COVID-19 issues, but it does little to remove the impression the Trojans left in their 31-16 road loss to Arizona State two weeks ago. The offense managed 312 yards and just one touchdown while the defense gave up 282 rushing yards to the Sun Devils. The only thing that kept the game from really getting out of hand was ASU's three turnovers.
USC has two more shots at becoming bowl eligible, but here comes a UCLA team that has momentum and would love to add to its crosstown rival's woes. Kelly doesn't need extra motivation to beat the Trojans, as it's something he has relished going back to his days at Oregon. He loves doing it, and he’s fairly good at it. Based on the overall product we’ve seen from both teams this year, one would have to be a significant homer to think USC is in a position to dictate the outcome of this game.
Prediction: UCLA 43, USC 21
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.