Daily Trojan sports managing editor Aidan Berg chatted with Daily Bruin sports editor Sam Connon about this year’s Victory Bell matchup.
DT: Which UCLA team will show up to the Coliseum: the one that got destroyed by Utah or the one that went on a three-game winning streak just before that?
DB: I’d like to say the one that went on the three-game winning streak. Even though head coach Chip Kelly has a losing record overall, his teams have typically come up in big moments. The Utah game is definitely a speed bump, and I don’t want to completely overlook it since there were some pretty glaring flaws. But part of me thinks that was a good learning moment for the team and that it’ll be more of the past month’s team coming to USC as opposed to the Utah game.
DT: Redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley killed the Trojans last year. What are the chances he takes over the game again?
DB: I think they’re pretty high because it’s one of his last games at UCLA. He’s a big emotional guy, and I think this would be a great moment for him. Just based on that alone, I think he’ll have a good day. Early in the game, they’ll look to establish the running game through Kelley. If UCLA can get out to an early lead and force two or three three-and-outs in the first quarter for USC, then the whole game rests on Kelley. I don’t think he’ll be breaking records again, but if UCLA wants to win this game, then he has to be a big part of the offense for sure.
DT: How do you think these two teams match up?
DB: UCLA is a team that plays really well as the underdog. When they have games where they’re favored, like San Diego State or last year against Cincinnati, then they haven’t really done too well. But when the expectations are low, that’s when they thrive. When they can kind of be sneaky and scrappy as an underdog, I think that’s when they play their best football.
DT: UCLA has an identical 2-3 record both home and away. Does it matter that this game is at the Coliseum?
DB: I don’t think it does. The Washington State game was a pretty tough environment, and they came back. They’ve been embarrassed at home against San Diego State, whom they’d never lost to. Whether it’s because the Rose Bowl crowd is weak or if it’s because they’re a surprisingly good road team, I don’t know. But just going back to two years ago, USC was the better team but UCLA made it a good game and almost came back and won despite it being a big crowd at USC. Because it’s L.A. versus L.A., the crowd doesn’t really matter all too much.
DT: From a UCLA perspective, what part of USC’s game are you most looking out for?
DB: The Michael Pittman Jr. against Darnay Holmes matchup. I assume they’ll do man on Pittman, and I’m just curious to see how that goes. UCLA has played some pretty good teams, but Pittman’s probably the best receiver they’ve played next to CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma, and Lamb tore them up. I think that Pittman is going to do so too, but I’m curious to see what Kelly and defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro have learned from getting torn up by Lamb two months ago.
DT: It’s been an up-and-down year for Dorian Thompson-Robinson. What do you expect to see from him Saturday?
DB: Well, if you just go by recency bias, then he’s very turnover-prone. Against Utah, he had four, he’s had at least one turnover in every game this year. He’s had a couple where he’s had multiple turnovers. That’s definitely a big issue with him, but at the same time, he’s a great runner. He can stay alive in the pocket for so long, he can scramble, he can get these chunk plays, break out 20-yard runs seemingly with ease. And that’s just something that’s huge for UCLA, something they didn’t really have last year. So Thompson-Robinson has come a long way as a runner, but he still needs to fix the decision-making and ball security.
DT: Who is an unsung player you think could play a huge role for the Bruins Saturday?
DB: I think on the offensive side, it has to be freshman wide receiver Kyle Philips. He’ll have his games where he picks up 10 receptions, and then they’ll have games where he only gets two. And that’s the way the offense works this year; there hasn’t really been a go-to guy, but when he’s racking up those receptions, and when he’s an easy go-to guy, whether it’s outside the numbers or in the slot, I feel like that’s when the offense moves best. And they’re going to need to move really well to keep up with USC.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.