Week 13 Pac-12: USC at UCLA

    USC (7-3) at UCLA (8-2) Nov. 22, 8:00, ABC Here’s The Deal: College football’s most famous crosstown rivalry gets a well-earned center stage as the

    November 21, 2014

    USC (7-3) at UCLA (8-2) Nov. 22, 8:00, ABC 

    Here’s The Deal: College football’s most famous crosstown rivalry gets a well-earned center stage as the flagship of an otherwise vanilla slate of Week 13 games. 

    Thanks to Oregon State’s upset of Arizona State last Saturday, UCLA is the only team that controls its own destiny in the tightly-packed Pac-12 South. Beat USC and Stanford within an upcoming six-day span, and the Bruins will get a rematch with Oregon on Dec. 6 in Santa Clara, Calif. These next two games also afford UCLA a chance to once and for all reconcile the rocky moments of 2014 that looked as if they’d completely derail the promise and excitement that existed throughout the preseason. 

    It’s been an odd year at Troy, Steve Sarkisian’s first as the coach. The Trojans have been unpredictable, from the highs of defeating Stanford and Arizona on the road to the lows of losses to Boston College, Arizona State and Utah, the latter two in the final eight seconds. But, fair or not, the final grade assigned to Sark’s team hinges on how it performs these next two weeks versus rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. Oh, and with a win in Pasadena, coupled with one more Sun Devil loss, USC will supplant the Bruins as the South representative in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

    Why USC Might Win: The Bruin defense still hasn’t hit its stride. 

    The end of the regular season is near, yet UCLA has yet to approach the individual potential that exists on its defensive two-deep. Jeff Ulbrich has had a rough debut as the defensive coordinator, piloting a group that’s allowed 30 points in six games, and is 102nd nationally in sacks. If the Bruins don’t win the line of scrimmage, a common theme in 2014, RB Javorius Allen will run wild and QB Cody Kessler will get the time he needs to find receivers Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith. UCLA, in general, has lacked money plays from this side of the ball, generating only 12 takeaways all year. 

    Why UCLA Might Win: This is a very different team than the one that stumbled through September, and lost back-to-back games in October. 

    The Bruins have won four in a row, including the last two by double-digits over Arizona and Washington. The offense has diversified beyond QB Brett Hundley, the O-line isn’t a liability and the defense is tightening up its fundamentals. Oh, and the luxury of a bye week preceding this clash has given the team extra time to rest, refocus and prepare for a South Division title run. Multi-faceted quarterbacks can cause problems for the USC defense, and Hundley ranks second on the Bruins with 564 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Sure, UCLA has permitted 31 sacks this season, but numbers are often deceptive. Only eight of those sacks occurred in the last five games, an striking example of progress that’s been aided by the return to health of OG Alex Redmond. Now, the Bruins must keep the momentum going against a menacing USC front seven featuring next-level DE Leonard Williams and versatile LB Su’a Cravens, who’ll charge hard off the edge. 

    Cravens will be very active on Saturday night. So will the rest of the linebackers in this game. Hayes Pullard, Troy’s man in the middle, will be focused on containing Hundley as well as RB Paul Perkins, who’s been a real gem in Westwood this season. On the UCLA side, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack form one of the most nation’s productive tandems at the position. Uber-efficient USC QB Cody Kessler won’t threaten the Bruins with his feet, but Allen will. The Tallahassee native has eight 100-yard games, and he’ll bounce off tacklers that don’t wrap him up.

    The USC O-line is green, starting freshmen guards Khaliel Rodgers and Viane Talamaivao. UCLA should win at the point of attack, but where’s the track to feel confident about the Bruin pass rush? Kenny Clark aside, the Bruin linemen have largely underachieved this season. Ulbrich might have more success turning loose his smaller, faster defenders, like Kendricks and outside LB Deon Hollins. Hollins is not very big, but he’s explosive off the snap and unlikely to be sidestepped in the pocket by Kessler.

    DB Josh Shaw has been reinstated by USC following a 10-game suspension, but will he have any impact on this game? Shaw is going to play on Sundays, and prior to this season he was considered one of the Pac-12’s elite defensive backs. However, three months without contact or live action is a long time. Shaw should play some, possibly at safety, though his actual number of reps will hinge on his conditioning and how well he responds to making his 2014 debut in a game of this magnitude and significance. 

    What’s Going To Happen: USC and UCLA are close in more ways than just geography. And it’ll show for all 60 minutes in Pasadena. 

    There’s not much separating the Trojans and the Bruins these days. Both are balanced on offense, erratic up front and flush in individual talent on defense. Kessler has been outstanding this season, but Hundley will be heroic when UCLA needs him to be in the late stages of a toss-up game. The teams will see-saw back and forth throughout the night, with the Bruins remaining in the Pac-12 South driver’s seat on a Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal with less than a minute left in regulation. 

    Prediction: UCLA 34 … USC 28 
    Line: UCLA -3.5 o/u: 61 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: HBO’s State of Play – 1: Euros of Hollywood … 4 


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