No. 22 UCLA (8-3, 5-3) at No. 23 USC (9-3, 6-2)
Location: Coliseum, Nov. 30, 5 p.m.
TV: ABC (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)
Last meeting: UCLA beat USC, 38-28, just the Bruins’ second rivalry win in 14 years. Anthony Barr ends Matt Barkley’s college career.
Key storylines: With conference implications out of the picture, USC and UCLA will be playing almost purely for pride. For coaches on both sides, however, the game will reshape the narrative of their respective seasons.
Jim Mora would remain perfect in the rivalry, becoming the second UCLA coach to open his tenure 2-0 against the Trojans. (Tommy Prothro did the same with wins in 1965 and 1966.) He would be in position to guide the team to its first 10-win season since 2005, and generate some momentum heading into a pivotal third year.
Should USC win, the Ed Orgeron groundswell would reach its apex. The Trojans are searching for a bigger name to fill its coaching void full-time, but a 7-0 finish to the conference slate plus wins over Stanford and UCLA would make it harder to look elsewhere. At the very least, the interim coach will strengthen his resume for a top job elsewhere.
There’s also the undercurrent of whether or not Shaq Evans gets to gloat over USC:
Key players: Let’s start with Javorius “Buck” Allen, arguably the biggest single beneficiary of Lane Kiffin’s firing (besides Ed Orgeron). Freed from depth-chart purgatory, the redshirt sophomore has emerged as one of the most effective tailbacks in the conference. His production over the past four games: 59 carries, 439 yards, nine touchdowns.
Seven of his 88 carries on the season have gone for at least 20 yards — a 7.95 percent rate that tops Bishop Sankey, Ka’Deem Carey, Byron Marshall, and just about every other big-name back in the Pac-12. UCLA has been decent in stopping the run, with its best performance coming two weeks ago when it held Washington to 102 yards on 36 carries.
Quarterback Cody Kessler has looked better over the past month or so, with the post-Kiffin staff trusting him more and more with each successive game. He has thrown just one pick through his past five games, and is third in the conference with seven pass plays of at least 50 yards. (Ahead of him are Cal’s Jared Goff and Utah’s Travis Wilson.) He won’t rack up touchdowns, but usually does enough to set up the Trojans run game. One thing to watch is how well the offensive line protects him: Kessler has been sacked multiple times in four of the last six games, including five times against Utah.
The USC defensive front is similar in style to what Stanford and Utah had, which doesn’t bode well for UCLA matchup-wise. The elite unit is ranked second in the Pac-12 against both the run and the pass, and is stocked with game-changers both in the trenches and at linebacker. Sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams has 12 tackles for loss and five socks, while senior linebacker Devon Kennard has 11 and eight. Hayes Pullard supplements his team-high 75 tackles with six pass breakups — 10th in the conference and more than any linebacker except UCLA’s Myles Jack (tied for first with 10).
Safety Su’a Cravens is the only player with the resume to vie for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors with Jack. Rated the top recruit in California, the Vista Murrieta product ranks top-ten in the conference in both interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (two). Dion Bailey is also skilled, though the secondary as a whole is not overwhelming. UCLA’s Brett Hundley should be able to take advantage if he has time to throw.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has also bested Noel Mazzone the last three times they’ve met.
Did you know?: The 295-pound Victory Bell originally hung from a Southern Pacific train, and was donated by the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939. It became the rivalry trophy in 1942.
Prediction: USC 30, UCLA 28.