UCLA vs USC Match-up

UCLA vs USC Match-up
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There have been UCLA versus USC games with Rose Bowl implications, national rankings, and conference championships on the line. And there have been rivalry games where just getting through to the end of the season was what was on the menu. And then we have this year’s UCLA vs USC match-up where a mix of everything is what we are looking at.

UCLA’s Respectability At Stake

The Bruins go into the game having already secured a bowl game. The six wins, if that is all there is, will get them to the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl at SoFi Stadium. While it sounds like fun to get to go see the new stadium, it is a low tier bowl game that has yet to even announce what the payouts are for the participating teams. A win over USC gets UCLA to seven wins and something more substantive like the Las Vegas Bowl. A win over USC coupled with one over Cal next week, and the Holiday Bowl in San Diego is a real possibility. Real money, a real TV time slot, and real respectability come into play then. UCLA is a program in dire need of all those things.

And then there is the Chip Kelly factor. We are nearing the end of year four of his five-year contract. He is 16-25 thus far. The buyout associated with his contract dissolves in mid-January. He cannot go into year five without a contract extension. He would be a lame duck coach trying to convince parents to send their kid to play for him. If UCLA plans to keep him beyond this season, now is the time, before the December early signing period, to make that announcement. The fact that they have not could mean he is still in to-be-determined status. That means in addition to the team goals on the line Saturday, Kelly’s future also could be.

UCLA Offense

Another question is the status of running back Brittain Brown. He was injured in the win over Colorado last week. It appeared he injured his hand. But when he left the field with about two minutes left in the game Saturday, heading to the tunnel with a trainer, he walked with a noticeable limp. Since UCLA football imposes a ban on discussing the details of injuries, we do not know what the injury is or if he will play against USC.

When asked about the status of the sixth-year senior, Kelly said Wednesday, “He’s available. We’ll see exactly how available. But we plan on Brittain being available.” A scan of the field had Brown not dressed out for practice, but in the weight room instead. If we had access to Kelly after Wednesday on a game week, he would say, “Yeah, but it’s Wednesday and lot of things can change between now and game day.” Available or unavailable is all anyone gets for an update until we see them on the field the day of the game.

The rest of the offense is well known to USC’s interim head coach Donte Williams. This week he referred to UCLA starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson as, “A great quarterback. He is super athletic.” Indeed Thompson-Robinson had one of his best performances of the season last week against Colorado. He was 18 of 27 passing for 257 yards and a touchdown. But he was also the leading rusher with 99 yards with a touchdown on nine carries.

Jaxson Dart vs UCLA Pass Defense

There will be plenty of curiosity on the other side of the ball. USC starting quarterback Kedon Slovis is out for the game with a lower leg injury.  Starter in waiting, Jaxson Dart will be playing the entire game. He and Slovis had been splitting snaps like they did two weeks ago in the loss to Arizona State. Dart has also missed playing time with injuries this season. While it sounds ominous for USC, the two quarterbacks have combined to give the Trojans the #17 passing offense in the country at 310 yards per game.

Kelly said who would be starting for USC did not change the game prep this week. “The offense isn’t very much different when Jaxson is in compared to Kedon,” Kelly said. “We’re still defending what Graham Harrell is running. Williams confirmed what Kelly said about the USC offense. “The offense won’t change much,” he said. “As far as the play calling with Graham, and the things that we do and the things we like to do, those things won’t change.” And of course the UCLA pass defense is still one of the worst in the country, as it has been each of the four years Jerry Azzinaro has been the defensive coordinator. The Bruins currently rank 113th out of 130 teams.

Williams is coaching more for his resume than he is his job. He will not be given the head coaching job at USC at the end of the season. His name is not marquee enough for the USC boosters. At 4-5 overall USC needs two wins in its last three games to get to a bowl game. They have UCLA, BYU, and Cal left on the schedule. No matter how weird this season is for both programs, a win over the crosstown rival puts an exclamation point on the next step in the process.

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