LOS ANGELES – It’s been a dull USC football season, to say the least. Coach Clay Helton fired after Week 2, alternating wins and losses, mistakes more than nodding off mistakes. This has made it difficult for the Trojans to generate energy in practice and even during games as everything piles up week after week.
But this week? It’s UCLA week.
USC cornerback Chris Steele said, “Shoot, it’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen so many friends here to practice.” “It tells me a lot about where our heads are. People are trying to do their best against this team.”
The natural increase in energy comes in a crucial week for USC. The Trojans sit at 4-5 (3-4 in the Pac-12) and must win two of their last three games to earn Bowl eligibility.
14 BEU for Senior Day next weekend at the Coliseum, a win against the Bruins is necessary to keep alive the hope of playing postseason for USC.
“Obviously it’s a really big game. There’s really no need to stress over the fact that it definitely helps the team,” Steele said. “Everyone has the same goal, the same mission. Everybody wants to beat the Bruins.”
Courtesy of the Bruins There’s been a little pregame trash talk. UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert summed up USC’s year of the year as follows: “They’ve been up and down this whole season and we want to put the final dagger in them this week.”
USC wasn’t cutting though.
“Let them talk,” said linebacker Drake Jackson.
Generally lively Steele said, “I can’t really say what I want to say, but I look forward to playing against them all.”
When UCLA Has the Ball
The Bruins (6-4, 4-3) have two sides to their offense that make them a poor matchup for the USC defense: a strong fast attack and a mobile quarterback. UCLA averages less than 200 rushing yards per game, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson likes to extend plays with his feet.
That’s problematic for the USC defense, which has given up an average of 219 rushing yards in its five losses this season. The Trojans tried to work on tackling the fundamentals during the goodbye week to negate some of the damage they had done to UCLA on the ground.
“Everybody thinks ahead of football and believes they are the only people on the field,” said USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. “I think the problem with you when you’re running ahead of football is that the people behind you are trying to figure out what angle you’re taking.”
Briton Brown’s return to UCLA for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury after being limited in Wednesday’s practice is doubtful, but Michigan transfer Zack Charbonnet still gives UCLA a formidable pace attack.
When USC Has the Ball
All eyes will be on freshman quarterback Jackson Dart as he makes his career debut. With Caydon Slovis sidelined with a leg injury, the darts will try to revive a USC offense that has been spread over three halves after receiver Drake London suffered a season-ending ankle fracture.
It’s a tough matchup for Dart to get into. UCLA is a team that loves to blitz and bring in extra pressure. And USC’s offensive line is in a state of transition, with the Trojans experimenting with using seniors Jalen Mackenzie and Andrew Voorhees to contrast the redshirt freshmen, who began the season in the positions.
Dart’s maneuverability gives him the opportunity to stop and avoid the sacks. But it would put extra pressure on USC’s receivers to open up early and give the dart a chance to make plays.
“When you bring the pressure, you can get into the quarterback at times, but you’re also vulnerable at times, so that’s going to be important,” said USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. “With Jackson, it’s no different for him. He has to go through his reading, he has to understand what we’re trying to do, understand what his watch is when they’re trying to blitz.” Will have to speed it up a bit.
USC. in UCLA
When: Saturday at 1 pm
where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
TV/Radio: Fox/AM 790