Renowned rivalry to resume at the Coliseum

The Trojans will take on UCLA as they look to finish the season on a high note.

USC football has excelled at the Coliseum under Head Coach Lincoln Riley, going a combined 11-2 in both seasons with Riley under the helm. (Bryce Dechert / Daily Trojan)

Former Trojans O.J. Simpson, Lynn Swann, Anthony Munoz, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Matt Leinart and numerous other NFL stars all have one thing in common. They’ve all clashed with various former Bruins: Troy Aikman, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ken Norton or Josh Rosen in the Pac-8, Pac-10 or Pac-12 conference. 

Saturday’s matchup between these fierce rivals will be the final year they meet in the Pac-12 conference. Instead, they will start a new distinguished rivalry when both teams head to the Big Ten next season. 

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Coming into the matchup, USC (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) has immensely struggled on both sides of the ball, losing four of its last five games, bringing the team to four losses on the season. The last time Head Coach Lincoln Riley had such a stretch in his career was during his time at East Carolina University in 2010 as an offensive coordinator, where his team lost five of the last six games of the season.

“It pushed me to be better, it pushed the program to be better,” Riley said in a press conference Tuesday. “I didn’t have as much perspective. Now, I stay a little bit more even-keeled because I know what the good is. I know what the bad is. I know what we got to do to fix it. I know what it’s going to take. I know that we’re going to get it done.”

USC’s defense didn’t struggle as much in the loss to Oregon (9-1, 6-1) as they had been. Giving up 36 points in Eugene to the number one scoring offense in the country, averaging 46.3 points per game, seems like a win in their books. 

However, Interim Defensive Coordinator Shaun Nua had mixed feelings about the defense’s performance, who only had one week to prepare because of the firing of former Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch.

“It’s hard because … we never accept losing,” Nua said. “Obviously, you got to evaluate them … but it’s the same story: the big plays that’s killing us. We got to find a way to not only minimize but eliminate them.”

Now the focus shifts to a UCLA (6-4, 3-4) team that has also been struggling. They lost 17-7 to the team with the worst overall record in the Pac-12, Arizona State (3-7, 2-5), Saturday. The main root of their problems has been their quarterback play. 

The Bruins have had three different quarterbacks under center this season: freshman quarterback Dante Moore, redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers and redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee. They thought they had their quarterback of the future in five-star recruit Moore, but things haven’t panned out very well for him. Before being benched in UCLA’s week 8 against Stanford, Moore threw for 10 touchdowns but a surprising seven interceptions.

Saturday’s battle for the coveted Victory Bell will come down to two opposite ends of the spectrum. Will USC’s dreadful defense, ranked 120th in scoring defense, finally stop a subpar offense in UCLA’s, ranked 70th in the country in points scored? And will USC’s run-and-gun offense, ranked third in points per game in the country, keep up its firepower against an excellent UCLA defense, which is tied for ninth in the country in scoring defense?

“Defensively, they’ve done a nice job,” Riley said. “They got a tremendous front-seven. Those guys have stayed healthy, they’ve been consistent and they’ve really driven that defense.”

One defender Riley could have been highlighting is senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu, who has been a nightmare for offenses around the country. The projected first-round pick in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft is fourth in the country in sacks with 11. 

Although the stakes aren’t as high as last year in playing for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, this is still a heated rivalry that players on both sides care about. 

From last year’s improbable hero of the game in junior defensive lineman Korey Foreman’s game-sealing interception to the year prior’s dominant quarterback performance from UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, anything could happen in this game. 

This will most likely be junior quarterback Caleb Williams’ final game at the Los Angeles MemorialColiseum, given that he is projected to be the first overall pick of the NFL draft. He has surely made a name for himself in the cardinal and gold, where he has thrown for 7,786 yards, 71 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Adding on to those out-of-this-world numbers, Williams has run for 523 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

When asked what he wants to be remembered as, Williams was clear: “A player that went out there and gave his all every play every chance he got. A player that cared for his teammates. A player that wanted to go out there and win every single game that we had.”

Williams is fifth in school history in passing yards and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns behind guys who played one, two or even three more seasons than he has.

Junior inside linebacker Raesjon Davis had vivid memories of this historic rivalry during his childhood; all he can recount is USC always winning. The Southern California native said he hopes to keep that same narrative Saturday. 

“That’s the whole jist of the rivalry is trying to get the win, trying to have the most out of the rivalry,” Davis said.

USC will take on UCLA Saturday at the Coliseum at 12:30 p.m. to see who is crowned king of Los Angeles.

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