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How to Watch and Game Preview: UCLA Bruins at Southern Cal Trojans
The Bruins and the Trojans meet for the 91st time this afternoon.
Today, the UCLA Bruins will travel across town to play their bitter rival the Southern Cal Trojans.
For anyone who has been living under a rock the past three months, Clay Helton was fired by Southern Cal AD Mike Bohn on September 13 following a 42-28 loss to the Stanford Cardinal.
While most Bruin fans probably would have loved it if SC had given Helton a lifetime contract, that wasn’t going to happen, but the fact he was fired just two games into the season really makes you wonder why Bohn brought him back for 2021 at all.
The Trojans have yet to name Helton’s replacement, probably because Bohn is trying to hire Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati. That means that the Trojans will be led by Donte Williams. Priority to being promoted to Interim Head Coach, Williams was the team’s defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator.
The change doesn’t appear to have helped much as the Trojans are 3-4 since Helton was fired. While a win over UCLA hasn’t generally been known to result in a Southern Cal head coach keeping his job, a loss to the Bruins has been known to keep them from being hired permanently. I’m looking at you, Ed Orgeron.
So, while it doesn’t look like Williams will keep the job permanently, he probably needs a win this weekend in order to keep his job.
Williams has left Southern Cal’s offensive and defensive coordinators in place since taking over. Graham Harrell is in his third season as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. He was hired in early 2019 after Kliff Kingsbury resigned to field offers from NFL teams, leading to Kingsbury’s eventually hiring by the Arizona Cardinals.
Both Kingsbury and Harrell are Mike Leach disciples as they both ran Leach’s Air Raid offense as Texas Tech quarterbacks. In fact, Harrell was hired by Dana Holgorsen when Holgorsen was hired by Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Harrell was brought on to help teach the offense to the OSU quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, Southern Cal is led by Todd Orlando. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how Orlando was able to land his job with the Trojans. After starting his collegiate coaching career at Penn, he spent more than a decade as an assistant at UConn. Over the past ten years, he’s jumped from FIU to Utah State to Houston to Texas before landing across town and he hasn’t coached at any of those schools for more than two years. That trend looks like it will continue when the new Southern Cal head coach is finally announced.
Kedon Slovis is out for the season. That means Southern Cal will be forced to turn to true freshman Jaxson Dart. Dart is your traditional pocket passer. In the three games he’s played in this season, he’s only run the ball a total of nine times for 48 yards and 18 of those yards came on his longest run of the season.
That would seem to open up Dart to the kind of aggressive pass rush UCLA employed to get to LSU’s quarterback. That could take some pressure off the Bruin secondary. So, the question, as usual, comes down to whether or not Jerry Azzinaro’s defense will step up to the challenge or whether it will make Dart look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. Here, the history isn’t good and, while hope isn’t a strategy, that’s all Bruin fans have when it comes to the UCLA defense.
There, however, is some additional good news for the Bruins. Junior Drake London, the Trojans’ top receiver is out with a broken ankle that he suffered against Arizona. In London’s absence, Southern Cal turned to Tahj Washington and Gary Bryant, Jr. against the Sun Devils. The pair combined for 15 catches for 142 yards in that game. No other receiver had more than two catches, though, the Trojans did spread the ball around to six other guys.
Senior Keontay Ingram is the Trojans’ top running back. In fact, he has twice as many yards on the ground as everyone else on the team. On top of that, Ingram is averaging just over 90 yards per game. So, I’m not expecting Southern Cal to try to beat UCLA on the ground like Utah did.
The Trojans have had two weeks to prepare for today’s game after their game against UC Berkeley that was scheduled for last week was postponed. I’m not sure they will be able to overcome the losses of both Slovis and London even against Jerry Azzinaro’s defense, given that Southern Cal looks to be so one-dimensional offensively.
Defensively, Southern Cal is led by senior linebacker Kana’i Mauga. Mauga leads the team with 64 tackles including 4.5 for a loss.
While Mauga is the team’s top tackler, the guy with the biggest impact this season has been Drake Jackson. Jackson leads the team in both tackles for loss with seven and sacks with five.
Two of the other top defenders for the Trojans are redshirt junior safety Chase Williams, who is second on the team in tackles with 44, and junior inside linebacker Ralen Goforth, who is third in tackles with 41. Goforth is the younger brother of former Bruin Randall Goforth.
According to the Southern Cal depth chart, the Trojans will run a 3-3-5 scheme. They are giving up 163.2 yards per game on the ground and 233.33 through the air. Their rushing yards allowed is lower than what UCLA has been putting up while their average passing yards is a little higher than what the Bruins have been averaging.
The Trojans’ defense appears pretty average. When the Bruins have the ball, the battle will come down to whether or not UCLA can run the ball as effectively against Southern Cal as they have in their other games. For the Bruins to win, they will need to run for about 200 yards and control the line of scrimmage. If Southern Cal shuts down UCLA’s rushing attack, it will be a long day for the Bruins.
After making his first nine field goal attempts this season, sophomore Parker Lewis has missed field goal attempts in each of his last three games. At the same time, he hit a career-long 52-yarder in the Trojans’ game against Arizona State. He has made 19 of 20 PATs this year.
Lewis has been splitting some time with redshirt junior Alex Stadthaus. While Stadthaus has made all four of his field goal attempts and all seven PATs, Lewis will likely see more action today.
However, there is no doubt about who will handle the punting duties this afternoon. That will fall to Ben Griffiths. The redshirt junior from Australia has kicked all 33 of Southern Cal’s punts this season. He is averaging H45.15 yards per punt with eight longer than 50 including his season-long of 71. Griffiths also has 13 punts that were inside the opponents’ 20 to go with 16 fair catches and just five touchbacks.
Gary Bryant, Jr. has been the primary return man for both kickoff and punt returns this season. While he is averaging just 4.5 yards per punt return, he is averaging 22.64 yards per kickoff return. His longest punt return this season went for 21 yards against Stanford while his longest kickoff return this year came against Washington State for 37 yards. His career-long kickoff return came last year against UCLA when he broke one for 56 yards.
While everyone knows that you should throw the records out this afternoon, this looks to be a pretty even matchup between two teams which have had disappointing seasons. Southern Cal will look to move the ball through the air more often while the Bruins will look to pound it on the ground. With each team’s defense susceptible to the offensive attack of the other, today’s game looks likely to be another shoot-out.
Ultimately, the key for this one for UCLA may end up being turnovers. Given the Bruins’ propensity for losing games at the end, the Bruins will need to capitalize on every turnover to try to prevent another late collapse.
Here’s how to watch, listen and follow today’s game:
UCLA Football (6-4, 4-3)
Opponent: Southern Cal Trojans (4-5, 3-4)
Series Record: Southern Cal leads, 49-32-7
When: 1:00 pm PT, Saturday, November 20, 2021
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
TV: FOX with Joe Davis, Brock Huard and Bruce Feldman
Live Stream: FoxSports.com and the Fox Sports app
AM 570/1150 in Los Angeles with Josh Lewin, Matt Stevens and Wayne Cook
Satellite Radio: Sirius Ch. 80 (UCLA Call) & XM Ch. 197 (Southern Cal Call)
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast