UCLA Football Preview: Southern Cal Passing Game Presents a Challenge for the Bruin Defense
With depth and talent at receiver and a solid quarterback in sophomore Kedon Slovis, the UCLA defense is going to have to up the pass rush to be successful in this 2020 rivalry matchup.
It feels like the season just started, but here we are in Beat ‘$c week. The final scheduled conference game against crosstown rival Southern Cal Trojans will be played this Saturday. Let’s take a look at the Southern Cal offense coming to the Rose Bowl this weekend.
Sophomore Kedon Slovis is the man to watch for and, since he is completing 72% of his passes, there is no doubt the Trojans are good to go at quarterback. His best game of the year was in week one of the Pac-12 delayed season when he went 40 of 55 and racked up 381 yards against Arizona State. However, don’t let his measley 287 yards passing against Washington State from last week fool you. He was 25 of 32 and added five touchdowns in the first half, breaking a school record.
Southern Cal is definitely pass-heavy in their offense and they have the depth and talent at receiver to be successful. The Bruin secondary cannot let their receivers get open into space if they want to have a hope of winning. The swarm tackling we saw from UCLA two weeks ago is more of an indication of what can stop this offense.
Southern Cal played their game on Sunday last week, which allowed a lot of their offensive line to come back together after a 14-day quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols. Their line is full of experience with every starter being an upperclassman. They signed six players to this unit in the offseason, making the o-line a definite priority for this team.
Redshirt junior Brett Neilon will be anchoring at center and on the left we should see redshirt juniors Andrew Vorhees and Alijah Vera-Tucker. After last season, Southern Cal lost both of their starting tackles, but Vera-Tucker has made the transition easier after Austin Jackson departed early for the NFL and Devin Richmond graduated, leaving question marks for this season. Vorhees did not make the start at guard last weekend as he and his backup, redshirt sophomore Liam Douglass, were both out due to COVID protocols. True freshman Courtland Ford got the starting nod and did an exceptional job in Vorhees’s absence.
On the right side, redshirt senior Liam Jimmons will be at guard and redshirt junior Jalen McKenzie will start at tackle. Freshmen Jonah Monheim and Casey Collier also made appearances in this group last weekend during Southern Cal’s decisive win over Washington State.
The Southern Cal run game is actually not much to speak of. Case in point, UCLA has three rushers, including quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, with 250+ yards this season. Demetric Felton is the top team rusher, with 111 attempts and 596 yards. On the other hand, Southern Cal’s top rusher, redshirt senior Vavae Malepeai, only has 35 total rushing attempts and 145 yards for the entire season. When the Trojans keep it on the ground, Malepeai will be Slovis’s first choice for the handoff.
Senior Stephen Carr, redshirt sophomore Markese Stepp, and sophomore Kenan Christon will also be in the mix. Southern Cal has six total rushing touchdowns across four games, with Malepeai, Carr, and Stepp each logging two.
I intentionally saved this group for last since this is where it gets really interesting for this team. It is no secret that the Trojan receiving corps has been absolutely stacked the last several years and 2020 is no exception. Five different receivers have scored touchdowns, with junior Aman-Ra St. Brown topping the list at four. He has 26 receptions for 331 yards and looks to be Slovis’ favorite target. To be clear, all of those touchdowns came during last week’s game against Washington State in the first quarter. He is the only NCAA football player in history to do so besides Duke’s Corey Thomas, who did the same thing back in 1997.
Sophomore Drake London is another favorite target with 20 receptions for 330 yards. He hasn’t had a touchdown since week one against Arizona State. So, he is ripe for a breakout game. Redshirt senior Tyler Vaughns also has two touchdowns and a total of 254 yards this year. So, expect him to be snagging some completions as well. This group is easily one of the best trios in the country.
The strength of the Southern Cal receivers cannot be underestimated. When the offensive line is doing their job and holding back the opposing defense, Slovis has all day to throw and is incredibly successful. That coupled with these top notch receivers, and one can see why the Trojans are undefeated so far this year.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if UCLA could hand Southern Cal their first loss of the season and keep them out of the Pac-12 Championship? The absolute necessity here is the pass rush and solid coverage in the secondary to neutralize Slovis and give the receivers trouble. The showing UCLA had last week against Arizona State was not the best on defense, which seemed to stutter in the beginning and ended up gassed because the offense couldn’t put much together in the second half. If that happens this week, the Bruins could easily see themselves in a two to three touchdown hole very early in the game.
Is UCLA capable of winning? Absolutely. This game is not decided. The same defense that shut down UC Berkeley and Arizona is the defense which needs to show up. The offense that carved up the field the weeks leading up to the nail biter in Tempe is who we need to see. Even though the Bruins lost to Oregon, it was a clear indication of what this team is capable of. All pistons need to be firing on Saturday.