No. 18 USC vs. No. 17 UCLA
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Fox
Line: USC -4
A year ago, USC put a 50-0 beat down on rival UCLA, marking the largest margin of victory for either team in this hotly-contested, Southern California rivalry. For both programs it truly was a changing of the guard… just not in the way anyone expected.
For USC it was supposed to be a springboard into a big 2012 season, one which simply hasn’t lived up to expectations. The Trojans have struggled all season long on both sides of the ball and enter this one at just 7-3 overall. Meanwhile last year’s loss also served as a springboard for UCLA– straight into the Jim Mora era, where the Bruins find themselves at a surprising 8-2 on the season.
The tide appears to turning in Los Angeles, and entering Saturday’s game, something much bigger than pride is on the line: A Pac-12 South title. The winner here will advance to the conference championship game, while the loser, well, they’ll have 12 months to get ready for next year’s cross-town matchup.
So who’ll have the edge at the Rose Bowl on Saturday? Let’s take a look.
For USC to Win: Well, to be blunt, they’ll need their best defensive effort of the season.
Now to the Trojans credit, they were better last weekend against Arizona State than they’d been of late, and limited the Sun Devils to just 17 points. However, that was game was also after back-to-back losses to Arizona and Oregon where the Wildcats and Ducks combined for over 100 points and over 1,300 yards of offense on the Trojans.
Safe to say, that’s not a good look for the USC defense, and bad news as the Trojans prepare to take on UCLA’s white hot offense. That’s because as bad as USC’s defense has been in recent weeks, the Bruins offense has been equally as good. UCLA has averaged 48 points in their last three games and have put up 100 in their last two.
For USC, they’ll need their best defensive effort of the season to slow down these Bruins.
For UCLA to Win: They simply need to get off to another hot start.
That’s because as good as this offense has been the last few weeks, the Bruins ahve been especially good at the beginning of games. UCLA put up 37 points in the first half against Washington State last Saturday, a number which would’ve been impressive… if they hadn’t put up 42 the weekend before against Arizona.
And really, that’s the scary thing about this UCLA offense right now: For as good as they’ve been and as many points as they’ve put up, they’ve actually backed off in the second half. Things could’ve been even uglier than they were.
But with last year’s 50-0 beat down still on the minds of Bruins fans and their coaches, don’t expect them to back off this time around.
Key Player, USC: Who else could it be other than Marqise Lee?
By now we’ve established pretty clearly that USC is going to have trouble slowing down this UCLA offense, meaning that to stay competitive, they’re going to have to continue to put up points of their own. Thankfully for the Trojans, they just so happen to have college football’s most dynamic receiver, a guy by the name of Marqise Lee, who no one has been able to stop the last couple weeks. In his last three games, Lee has totaled 38 catches for 563 yards and a staggering five touchdowns as well.
Also, don’t forget this: Whether he’ll admit it or not, Lane Kiffin is clearly trying to get Lee the stats needed to get him to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Expect Lee to again be a very prominent part of the Trojans offense Saturday.
Key Player, UCLA: Quarterback Brett Hundley, who has quietly been the single best player in college football the last few weeks no one has talked about. In his last three games, Hundley has totaled a staggering 14 passing touchdowns with just one interception, as well as adding a rushing touchdown as well. Even more impressive, he’s completed 82 percent of his passes (41 of 49 passes) in the last two games.
While all the Heisman buzz is on Lee entering this game, could a huge afternoon from Hundley vault him into the discussion as well?
Key Stat: 25, which according to this ESPNLA article is the number of true and redshirt freshmen that UCLA has played this season. Meaning that as good as the Bruins have been in 2012, they should only be better going forward.
Could Saturday be the beginning of a new era of Los Angeles football?
The possibility is certainly there.
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.