USC Football Hosts Crosstown Foe No. 22 UCLA For Pac-12 Championship Game Berth|
Nov. 22, 2015
A berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game as the league’s South Division representative is on the line this Thanksgiving weekend Saturday when USC hosts No. 22 UCLA in the 85th rendition of the nation’s most famous crosstown rivalry. The Trojans have yet to play in the Pac-12 title game (Troy finished first in the Pac-12 South in 2011, but could not play in that inaugural contest because of its NCAA sanctions, so UCLA took its place). The Bruins have won the series’ last 3 meetings, including in 2013 in their first victory in the Coliseum since 1997, but they have been victorious in only 4 of the past 16 meetings. Ranked UCLA teams have had the upper hand over USC in the past. The game, which is approaching a sellout, will be shown live nationally on ABC or ESPN2, depending on the region. It’s the final home appearance for USC’s 24 seniors. Also at stake Saturday are year-long city bragging rights, possession of the Victory Bell and points in the Crosstown Cup standings. Both teams will don their home jerseys. The matchup features players, coaches and athletic department staff with connections to the “other” school (including UCLA head coach Jim Mora, whose parents and a sibling have attended USC). Interim head coach Clay Helton’s USC club had its 4-game winning streak snapped on Saturday at Oregon. Despite that, the Helton Trojans have done a good job of running the ball, stopping the run and winning the turnover battle. Unitas and Senior CLASS Award finalist QB Cody Kessler guides an offense that is highly ranked in completion percentage and passing efficiency. He is in USC’s all-time Top 4 in TD passes, completions, passing yards and total offense (and above Matt Leinart’s school career records for completion percentage and interception rate). WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, remains in the Top 10 nationally in receiving yards and receiving TDs. TB Justin Davis had a career showing at Oregon (141 rush yards), while exciting Freshman All-American candidate TB Ronald Jones II needs just 31 yards for the USC freshman season rushing record owned by Heisman winner Charles White (Jones could be just the second Trojan first-year frosh to top the squad in season rushing). Jones is among 15 USC true freshmen to have played in 2015 (4 have started). USC’s defense has been winning the turnover battle (+0.9), is 13th in the nation in sacks (getting 23 since Helton took over) and has 4 defensive scores this year. That defense is led by Butkus and Bednarik Award semifinalist OLB Su’a Cravens and 3-way star CB-WR-RET Adoree’ Jackson (the only player in the country with 300 yards receiving, 500 yards in kick runbacks, 200 punt return yards and 20 tackles), a Hornung Award finalist who has scored TDs now via receptions, an interception, kick returns and, last week at Oregon, a punt return. Mora’s Bruins are coming off a tight win at Utah last Saturday and they have now captured 9 of their past 10 Pac-12 road games (and 14 of their last 15 road contests). UCLA sports a Top 25 ranked offense (482 total yards, including 291 through the air, while scoring 33 points a game), thanks to the precocious play of true freshman QB Josh Rosen and the productive running of RB Paul Perkins. Rosen hasn’t thrown an interception in his past 218 passes (a school record) and he ranks in the Top 25 nationally in passing yardage and total yards. Perkins, a national Top 25 rusher, is third on UCLA’s all-time rushing list (3,328 yards). Senior WR Jordan Payton, in the nation’s Top 25 in receiving yards and receptions, is UCLA’s career receptions leader (194) and has a catch in the last 27 contests. Fellow WR Thomas Duarte is 15th nationally in receiving TDs. UCLA’s offensive line is surrendering just 1.1 sacks a game (best in the Pac-12). The Bruin defense, 17th nationally in pass efficiency defense, is allowing 391 total yards and 23 points per contest. Top UCLA defenders include LBs Jayon Brown and Kenny Young along with DL Kenny Clark. PK Ka’imi Fairbairn, the Pac-12’s career scoring leader (407 points), is in the Top 10 nationally in field goal percentage and field goals.