Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Los Angeles Coliseum will be the site for a matchup of two ranked cross-town rivals, as the 22nd-ranked ULCA Bruins go up against the 23rd-ranked USC Trojans in a Pac-12 finale.
Unfortunately for both of these teams this contest will not have any impact on the Pac-12 title chase. UCLA allowed Arizona State to wrap up the South Division last weekend as the Bruins were bested, 38-33, at home by the Sun Devils. The loss ended a three-game win streak for UCLA, which is now 8-3 overall and 6-2 in league action. UCLA's absence from the Pac-12 Championship Game breaks a two-year streak in the bout.
"We got ourselves into a hole in the first half and were not able to recover. They fought tooth and nail for that thing, and it was just a little too much to overcome. The loss is bitterly disappointing," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said after the loss to Arizona State. "We were trying to get a shot at that title again, but we came up short. There's no getting around it, it's very disappointing."
It would have taken a lot for USC to secure a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game as it would have needed UCLA to win last week and to then top the Bruins in this game. Even though the Trojans will not battle for the league crown there is no denying that they have been one of the hottest teams in the conference. With a 47-29 victory over Colorado last weekend the Trojans have ripped off five straight wins and improved to 6-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
"We have been capable of it all year long, we just need the guys to buy into the team and really get behind us and I feel like everyone on the team has been doing that," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said about the Trojans resurgence.
Brett Hundley accounted for two touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) to carry the Bruins to a 38-28 victory over the Trojans last season. The win ended a five-game win streak in the series for USC. Even after the loss the Trojans are still in possession of a 44-29-7 record against the Bruins, not including two wins that were negated by NCAA penalty.
Even with Hundley still at the helm the Bruins total effort on offense this season has them near the middle of a conference congested with talented offensive teams. UCLA is ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense (452.9 ypg).
Hundley is nothing if not consistent. This season the sophomore single caller has thrown for 2,637 yards and 22 scores to nine interceptions. He has thrown for at least 250 yards in seven games but has had more than 300 only once. Hundley finished with 253 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-26 passing last week against Arizona State for his fourth straight game with two passing touchdowns. Hundley's consistency is also evident in how efficient he is, completing 67.9 percent of his passes this season. Hundley can also run the ball effectively. He has 507 yards and seven scores on the ground this season.
Last weekend Hundley was without one of his favorite receivers as Devin Fuller (40 receptions, 453 yards , four TDs) was sidelined. Leading receiver Shaquelle Evans (42 receptions, 604 yards, eight TDs) was leaned on more heavily in Fuller's absence as he finished with six receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. The six receptions for Evans tied a season-high. Jordan Payton (31 receptions, 382 yards, TD) is a solid replacement for Fuller.
The Bruins' backfield has been riddled with injuries this season which has led to the emergence of Myles Jack. The converted running back has rushed for 265 yards and six touchdowns in the last three games to account for his entire production this season. Jack had 86 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State, while Paul Perkins (536 yards, four TDs) also contributed with 60 yards and a score.
All-American Anthony Barr (57 tackles, 17.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks) leads the UCLA defense and is coming into this game fresh off his placement among the three finalists for the Bednarik Award. With Barr creating havoc in the backfield the Bruins are still a mediocre defensive team, allowing just under 400 yards of total offense each week.
Even during their winning streak, USC has still failed to be a consistent offensive team. Last weekend against Colorado was a nice step up in production as the Trojans finished with 449 yards of total offense which is more than 50 yards higher than their season average.
Kessler's play from under center is a perfect microcosm of the USC offensive system. Kessler has rarely been impressively productive but he has steadily performed each week, connecting on 65 percent of his pass attempts, for 2.449 yards and 15 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Kessler has connected on at least 65 percent of his passes in five-straight games, including a 19-of-28 showing against Colorado.
Like the Bruins, USC has also had trouble with injuries in the backfield. Javorius Allen (576 yards, 11 TDs) may not be leading the team in rushing but he has been unstoppable of late. His 145-yard, three-touchdown performance against Colorado was his third game with multiple touchdowns and more than 130 yards rushing in the last four outings. Tre Madden (688 yards, three TDs) is leading the team in rushing but has only 17 yards in the last two weeks.
At the beginning of the year odds were that Marqise Lee would enter play in the finale poised to collect a second straight Bednarik Award. Lee (44 receptions, 604 yards, two TDs) has struggled to maintain that form and may not even play in Saturday's contest after he missed the game with Colorado. Instead of Lee, it has been Nelson Agholor (47 receptions, 789 yards, four TDs) who has become the lead receiver.
USC's rise has been built on defense. No team in the Pac-12 has been more successful in terms of yards allowed (336.6 ypg), while the Trojans have also racked up impressive totals in tackles for loss (82) and sacks (32). Leonard Williams (66 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks) anchors the imposing front line for the Trojans.