It’s that time of year again — rivalry week in Los Angeles. Coming off two road victories, USC will face crosstown foe UCLA Saturday afternoon as the Trojans look to pick up a third straight win and finish the regular season 8-4.
USC’s Air Raid offense was electric against Cal, putting up 41 points against a typically stingy secondary.
The Trojans’ young offensive talent was on full display. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis posted his third 400-plus-yard outing in four games, while freshman wideout Drake London had his first game with more than 100 yards receiving.
Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell called for numerous deep balls against Cal, allowing for the Trojans’ elite wide receiving corps to come down with big plays.
“We have receivers who can go make plays down the field,” Harrell said. “So as always in the game plan, they were playing a coverage that allowed us to take some shots and have the opportunities to get some big ones, and then we did.”
Unlike Cal’s secondary, UCLA’s defensive backfield has been subpar, allowing 298.4 receiving yards per game and 27 passing touchdowns over 10 games. With Slovis’ hot hand and the talent of London and receivers senior Michael Pittman Jr. and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Trojans will look to exploit UCLA through the air.
Although the Trojans’ offensive productivity is hardly concerning given that the team is putting up 31.5 points per game, USC cannot afford to become complacent. Two games ago against Arizona State, the Trojans put up 28 first-quarter points but were only able to punch in a single field goal the rest of the game, allowing ASU to come within striking distance.
USC must also put together a defensive effort similar to that against Cal to be successful Saturday. The Trojans allowed the Bears just 17 points, only 7 of which came in the second half. This came after two straight poor defensive performances: USC conceded 56 points at home to Oregon and then allowed its contest against ASU to become a close game.
The key to maintaining a solid defensive effort will be coming away with turnovers. The Trojans picked off Cal redshirt junior quarterback Devon Modster twice, resulting in the Bears’ abysmal second half.
UCLA sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been struggling with accuracy this season, throwing 10 interceptions through nine games. He had an absurd 507-yard outing against Washington State earlier this season with five touchdowns to boot but has not had a performance over 250 yards since.
The Trojans cannot simply focus on Thompson-Robinson’s passing ability, though; they must also consider his shiftiness in and out of the pocket. He has four games this season with a rush longer than 20 yards, demonstrating his ability to create plays when his receivers aren’t open. Freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson, who had a sack on Modster last week, will play an integral part in containing Thompson-Robinson.
Although Utah’s dominant victory against UCLA narrowed the Trojans’ already-slim Pac-12 chances even further, USC is not taking this game lightly.
“[We’ve] just [got to do] our part really, win every game that we can,” junior offensive lineman Austin Jackson said. “We’ve got UCLA coming up. It’s a rivalry and Pac-12 South matchup, so it should be fun, and we’ve got a lot of work to get to.”