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UCLA Bruins vs. USC Trojans Preview and Prediction

Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen

Roughly 10 miles separate the campuses of UCLA and USC, an element of the Crosstown Showdown that Trojans head coach Clay Helton says makes this rivalry unique.

USC Trojans QB Sam Darnold

"It's one of those rivalries where we're in the same city. There are major rivals across the country where teams are miles and miles apart. We're literally across the street," Helton said. "We all know each other, we grew up together."

Indeed, UCLA star quarterback Josh Rosen played Pop Warner football with Helton's oldest son, Reid. Both teams feature players from across the Southern California prep landscape, from such places as Serra High School in Gardena, Long Beach Poly, Crenshaw and San Clemente.

That's where USC quarterback Sam Darnold came to USC from, in the same signing class as Rosen. The two standouts will be on opposite sides for the first, and maybe only time, after Rosen missed the 2016 encounter due to injury.


Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: USC -16

Three Things to Watch

1. Dueling quarterbacks

The one and maybe only meeting of potential first-round NFL draft picks Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold headlines Saturday's prime-time contest. Both quarterbacks have faced some challenges in the 2017 season, whether turnovers for Darnold or an injury for Rosen; but both also have excelled, showing off the qualities that make them future pros.

Darnold is coming off his best stretch of games since the 2016 campaign, while Rosen electrified in a critical Bruins win last week over Arizona State.

In games Rosen plays, UCLA has the best passing offense in the Pac-12, and the second-most prolific passing attack in the nation. Despite losing standout pass catchers Caleb Wilson and Darren Andrews for the season, Jordan Lasley, Theo Howard and others continue to carry the load.

Likewise, Darnold's cultivated a consistent corps of targets between Deontay Burnett, Tyler Vaughns, Steven Mitchell and Michael Pittman Jr. The prospect of big yards and a lot of points exists.

2. Run, Ronald, run

It's no secret the UCLA rush defense has struggled mightily this season, and Bruins head coach Jim Mora knows it. A bevy of injuries badly depleted UCLA in the front seven, and opponents have capitalized to the tune of 302.3 rushing yards per game.

USC RB Ronald Jones II

Last time out, UCLA allowed 294 yards to Arizona State, as the Sun Devils churned out 4.8 yards per carry (and two touchdowns) on a whopping 61 attempts.

Conversely, USC running back Ronald Jones II comes barreling in with 552 yards in his past three outings. He passed LenDale White, Reggie Bush and Mike Garrett in the Trojans record book, all on the same day, and can move to fifth all-time ahead of O.J. Simpson with 131 yards against the Bruins.

"He is, without a doubt, a great running back," Mora said. "We'll have to make sure we're consistent in our run fits and do a good job of tackling."

3. Dictating pace

UCLA's 44-point outpouring against Arizona State demonstrated once again that in order to be competitive, the Bruins have to put up big point totals. They're certainly capable of doing so with Rosen behind center, a diverse corps of pass catchers, and the run game coming along behind Bolu Olorunfunmi.

Given UCLA's defensive woes, and USC clicking over its past three games — the Trojans' 38 points at Colorado last week marked their lowest total of the current stretch — winning a shootout might be the Bruins' only hope of scoring an upset.

Final Analysis

UCLA will come out with a sense of urgency on two fronts: First and foremost, the Bruins want to regain the Victory Bell after two years in USC possession. Secondly, UCLA needs to win one of its final two games to gain bowl eligibility. A loss at the Coliseum — which would drop UCLA to 0-6 on the road this season — turns next week's game with Cal into a make-or-break scenario.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: USC

That urgency is likely to manifest in a fast start. Expect this year's contest to follow a trajectory somewhat similar to 2016, when the Bruins hung tough early — but faltered down the stretch.

The margin of victory for USC is unlikely to be as high, given Josh Rosen has proven adept in tough situations. But the Trojans should simply bully the UCLA defense, keeping USC's hopes of crashing the College Football Playoff alive for at least one more week.

Prediction: USC 52, UCLA 35

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.