Saturday November 28, 2015
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
This is the moment that all local college football fans have waited all year for, rivalry week. One of the greatest rivalry’s in college sports, the cross-town rivalry, pitting (7-4) USC vs. (8-3) UCLA. What’s on the line; the Pac-12 South Division, a berth in the Pac 12 Championship game and another shot at Stanford. Stanford swept the Los Angeles schools in 2015, outscoring UCLA and USC 97-66. Although if either USC or UCLA go on to beat Stanford in a rematch, win the conference, will miss out on the college football playoffs due to USC’s four losses and UCLA’s three. The College Football Playoff’s have their detractors, just as the BCS system had, however one of the main reasons the Playoff system currently has four teams and not the coveted eight is because the group in charge did not want to have automatic qualifiers.
FBS commissioners did not want to see a three-or for that matter a four-loss conference champion in the bracket when there are obviously better teams available. Thanks to six members of USC’s Trojan Knights, also members of the SigEp fraternity, in 1941, surreptitiously seizing the 296-pound brass Victory Bell given to the UCLA student body in 1939 and subsequently hiding said bell from the Bruins for more than a year, causing tension an several shenanigans between the schools that led to then USC School President to threatening to cancel this contest leading to an agreement between the rivals to make the Victory Bell, the trophy for winning the game and earning the right to posses the bell for the following year.
It has been 1,106 days, since the college football narrative in Los Angeles changed. In regards to the Victory Bell; it sits guarded in Westwood, on a carriage, painted in UCLA ‘true blue’, and has resided there for last three years. USC leads the all-time series (44-31-7) in addition to the trophy series (39-31-4). UCLA holds the longest streak in the series at eight games (1991-1998). UCLA, currently, riding a three-game winning streak, outscoring USC 111-62. When UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora got to UCLA, USC firmly entrenched as the top team in the cross town rivalry and contenders for higher success with the Bruins known as pretenders that are not ready.
Jim Mora has become the difference in the rivalry, in the five years before Mora, the Bruins scored a combined 35 points including a 50-0 blowout in 2011. Coincidentally, UCLA mot lost and has scored over 35 points or more in the last three games. Things changed dramatically with UCLA’s 38-28 win in 2012. Equally important beating USC validated Mora’s position and since then the momentum has flipped to UCLA’s favor. In like manner, it is impossible to believe the Trojans have forgotten hearing Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora, in the locker room in 2012, shouting “We Own This Town”.
Since then UCLA found itself climbing the ladder to success, bowl-game wise , the last three years, earning berths in the Holiday, Sun and Alamo bowls. UCLA Bruin Head Coach Jim Mora has not lost to USC! Mora’s record 37-17 as well as 3-0 against USC. Mora is seeking his fourth win over his fourth USC coach. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue is the only UCLA coach to win more consecutive games in the series than Mora. Donahue won five straight from 1991-1995. USC coach Pete Carroll won five consecutive games from 2001-2005, although the 2004 & 2005 victories capriciously vacated by the NCAA for a matter 112 miles south of USC.
By the same token, this game provides USC Interim Head Coach Clay Helton the opportunity to break the pattern of losing to UCLA, not only …but also losing to Bruins Jim Mora as well as having him essentially fire another USC coach after the demise of Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian. USC has a 6-4 mark in the last 10 meetings. In light of the fact that Clay Helton’s coaching for the removal of the interim tag, the Trojans have played inspired football.
By the numbers; Offensively; UCLA ranks 22nd in the NCAA in Total Offense, 2,012 yards rushing, 3,202 yards Passing, amassing 5,304 total yards on 846 plays, averaging 482.2 yards per game with a 6.27 yards per play average. Comparatively, USC ranks 31st in the NCAA in Total Offense; 1,885 yards rushing, 3,193 yards Passing, amassing 5,078 Total yards on 775 plays, averaging 461.6 yards per game with a 6.55 yards per play average. Defensively; UCLA ranks 61st in the NCAA in Total Defense, allowing 2,019 yards rushing, 2,293 yards passing and 4,312 total yards, with a 4.91 yards per play average, on 878 plays giving up an average of 392 yards per game.
Comparatively, USC ranks 69th in the NCAA in Total Defense; allowing 1,511 yards rushing, 2,922 yards passing and 4,433 yards total yards on 779 plays surrendering on average 403 yards per game. Both UCLA and USC have played inconsistent football on both sides of the ball due to injuries and poor execution. The Bruins lost linebacker Myles Jack, DT Eddie Vanderdoos and cornerback Fabian Moreau this season. However, the Trojans have fifth-year Senior running back Tre Madden, guard Viane Talamaivo and safety Marvell Tell returning from injury. Wide Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster banged up, but will play hurt.
The USC Trojans have the opportunity to seize all of their season long goals in front of them. In contrast, this game essentially comes down to the USC Trojans answering their two most important questions of the week; 1) Can the Trojans stop freshman quarterback Josh Rosen? 2) Can the Cardinal and Gold block Bruin nose tackle? One week after allowing Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams a record breaking day and the time to throw more touchdown passes than completions. The Trojans have to shore up their secondary in concert with putting a tremendous amount of pressure on UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. At an inopportune time, the Trojans are down to their third-string center, tasked with blocking Bruin nose tackle Kenny Clark one of the best nose tackles in college football and a top pick that will play on Sunday’s for one lucky NFL team. The battle lines drawn, the usual suspects are in place, the only question that remains, will the narrative change or remain the same.