Football rides hot streak into rivalry matchup versus UCLA

Junior cornerback Iman Marshall is set to return to full action this weekend against UCLA. Photo by Austin Paik | Daily Trojan

The 11th-ranked Trojans extended their winning streak to three games last week as they defeated Colorado

38-24 to clinch the Pac-12 South. USC took to the practice field Wednesday to continue preparing for its annual matchup with rival UCLA on Saturday.

Focus on the Bruins

Head coach Clay Helton identified three points of emphasis from Wednesday’s practice. First among them was third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball. Neither offense is particularly dangerous in these situations, as USC and UCLA rank 39th and 49th in the nation, respectively, in conversion percentage. The Trojans hold a defensive advantage, however, ranking 29th in conversion percentage allowed compared to the Bruins’ 70th.

“You’re talking about a high-powered offense with UCLA,” Helton said. “Being able to get off the field is going to be critical, along with limiting their opportunities by holding onto the ball offensively.”

The Trojans also focused on their special teams. USC ranks 70th in the country in special teams efficiency, while UCLA places 59th in that category. Trojan punt and kick returners have been plagued by muffs and fumbles this season, and that can’t be the case against UCLA’s offense.

“Being able to set the field position in our kick coverage units is going to be imperative to try to make a long field for a very talented offense,” Helton said.

Finally, Helton preached the importance of playing a clean game with as few mistakes as possible. The Trojans rank 116th in the country with 7.6 penalties per game this season, and it will be an ongoing struggle to fix mental mistakes on offense and defense. In addition, USC has 21 turnovers in 11 games on the season and has not made it through a contest without a giveaway this year.

“If all of a sudden you have a couple of turnovers in this game against this offense, they can put points up on you like that,” Helton said, snapping his fingers quickly to indicate the explosiveness of the Bruins’ offense.

Stopping ‘Chosen Rosen’

The Bruins’ offense is led by star junior quarterback Josh Rosen, a possible No. 1 draft pick in next year’s NFL draft. Rosen has thrown for 3,094 yards and 21 touchdowns this season on a 62.2 completion percentage and 8.1 yards per attempt. The signal-caller has had to carry a UCLA squad that ranks in the bottom 10 in the country in yards allowed per game. Rosen has made a name for himself digging his team out of holes to overcome big deficits, most notably his 34-point comeback win over Texas A&M in Week 1.

“He has no fear,” Helton said of Rosen. “He sees a window, he doesn’t hesitate [and] he pulls the trigger. He has the arm strength to get it there, and he’s deadly accurate.”


Senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu returned to practice Wednesday after being held out Tuesday with a sprained ankle.

“We gave him about half the practice,” Helton said. “He moved around very well.”

Helton also mentioned that freshman running back Stephen Carr would most likely see an uptick in snaps this week.

“He’s looked good,” Helton said. “I think he’ll be able to contribute more. He’s looking very healthy this week, and explosive.”

Junior cornerback Iman Marshall is probable to play this week as he continues to recover from a sprained MCL that caused him to miss two games and limited his playing time against Colorado.

Helton also said that backup quarterback Matt Fink did not practice after suffering a knee sprain running into a teammate on Tuesday, but Helton expects Fink to suit up on Saturday.