UCLA vs USC Is Unrivaled

UCLA vs USC Is Unrivaled
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Rivalry week in Los Angeles is inherently different than anywhere else. The schools are only a dozen miles apart from each other. One used to play in the stadium the other still calls home. They have an agreement to both wear their home uniforms. It harkens back to a tradition from when they both called the Coliseum home. But even by uniqueness standards, this year UCLA vs USC is unrivaled.


USC is under the guidance of an interim coach, Donte Wiliams, who took over when Clay Helton was fired back in what now feels like several seasons ago. Both teams, at times have gone into this game with an interim coach. But this is different because this is not a job audition. Williams is not going to get the permanent job. USC went the route with hiring the interim before. His name was Clay Helton. The SC fan base demands a big name with all the sizzle that goes with that.

The Trojans are using two quarterbacks, freshman Jaxson Dart and the veteran Kedon Slovis. But they are running the exact same offense with each quarterback. They are not running special sets based on the skills of each one. It’s the same offense. Just taking turns running it. They are also missing their top receiver, one of the best in the country, Drake London. He broke his ankle two weeks ago and is done for the season. The Trojans are 4-5 overall and need to win two of their last three to become bowl eligible. That last three consists of Saturday’s game against UCLA, at home against BYU, and then a road make-up game against Cal.

Different Distractions At UCLA

On the other side of town, things are different but no less unusual. The Bruins have secured a spot in a bowl. The win over hapless Colorado got them their sixth win, making them bowl eligible for the first time in the Chip Kelly era. They can improve their bowl status, and the revenue that goes with that, with another win or two in their final games against SC, and Cal.

That doesn’t mean things are quiet in Westwood. Kelly has been catching his share of heat even with the bowl game secured. Even if UCLA wins out, including a bowl game, Kelly’s four-year record at UCLA would be 19-25. UCLA has fired coaches that had records dramatically better than that. But while his status heading into the last year of his current contract remains an open question, his future has other rumors attached. A national publication had his name on the list of potential coaches for the newly opened job at the University of Washington.

Chip Kelly

Kelly, who has become noticeably more abrupt in his answers to media questions the last couple of weeks, addressed that issue when asked Monday before practice. “We’re getting ready to play USC and I have not talked to anybody,” he said referring to the folks at Washington looking for a new coach. That does not mean Kelly’s representatives have not talked to UW on his behalf, but that is another issue. Kelly to Washington is a long shot. The question and Kelly’s answer to anything regarding Washington were edited out of UCLA’s official You Tube release of the media gathering, but they still exist thanks to reporters carrying cell phones.

He was asked about Nicholas Barr-Mira. The placekicker has missed at least one field goal in each of the last four games. Every one of the misses was wide left. He missed a PAT last Saturday when it hit the upright…the left upright. Kelly dismissed a question about why the glitch in the kicks has not been fixed yet as, “silly.” That is just the temperament lately.

Kelly is not one who gets particularly amped up for rivalry games. In his four years at UCLA, he has preached treating every game the same, as if it is the biggest game, because it is the next game.

The Players Get It

For those who want to feel the specialness of rivalry week, it gets left to the players. Bo Calvert talked about one of the unique things about this rivalry. Familiarity. “This one means a little more just because you’re playing those guys across the street,” Calvert said. “A lot of those you played with them in high school. You know a lot of them. Or you played against them in football, or you grew up with them.” Calvert, a one-time verbal commit to USC, said in any Pac-12 game they know a couple of the players. But when it comes to USC, “I know a bunch of those guys”, he said. He referred to it as being similar to playing backyard football.

Calvert said he stays away from smack talk during the week on social media or in any other messages. He said there was no need for it during the week, because the trash talking that goes on during the game far exceeds anything that would or could be said in a public forum. “There’s a lot more things I can say on the field than I can say on social media,” he said. “And I am sure they are going to say a lot more things that we wouldn’t repeat here.”

Familiarity Breeds Temporary Contempt

Calvert said last year’s game at a Rose Bowl stadium that was empty due to Covid had a weird vibe to it. He said without the crowd noise everyone on both sidelines could hear all of the trash talking that was going on. He said even without the crowd it was still intense, “Because you are playing against the little boys across the street.” He went on to say, “Obviously USC, they’re up and down throughout this season. We’re looking to put the final dagger in them this week.”

So many players on both rosters were recruited by both teams. Inevitably there are many who spent some recruiting visit time together. Calvert said each player made their decision. “We’ve made our choices. Now you kind of draw your line in the sand and get ready to take down those guys.”

The over-arching storylines for the UCLA program are not going away. Kelly’s job security, or other jobs; the first winning season in his tenure at UCLA built on wins against bad teams; a senior-laden team getting its last chance at college success. But listening to Calvert and others, that stuff can wait for a beat or two because it is rivalry week, which is different in Los Angeles compared to anywhere else.

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