UCLA looks to put ‘final dagger’ into rival USC
Crosstown Los Angeles rivals UCLA and Southern California meet Saturday at USC in the 91st installment of their history-rich series.
The visiting Bruins (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12 Conference) were officially eliminated from the Pac-12 South divisional race with Arizona State and Utah both winning last week, but their 44-20 win over Colorado made the program bowl eligible for the first time in four years.
UCLA can reach another milestone in head coach Chip Kelly’s four-season tenure with a win Saturday. Beating USC would guarantee the Bruins their first winning record since they were 8-5 in 2015.
UCLA comes in looking to end a two-game losing streak to the Trojans, while seeking its first win at USC since 2013.
Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis threw a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in last year’s 43-38 USC win. In the Bruins’ last visit to USC in 2019, Slovis passed for a program record 515 yards in a 52-35 Trojans romp.
USC (4-5, 3-4) experimented with a two-quarterback rotation of Slovis and Jaxson Dart its last two games. Despite an impromptu bye week, the result of COVID-19 tests postponing USC’s trip to Cal scheduled for Nov. 13, Slovis will not be able to return from a lower leg injury.
That leaves Dart to man the position exclusively on Saturday.
“Jaxson is going to be our starter and he’ll have to continue to fight for that until Kedon is back and fully into that competition,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “We’ll move forward now with Miller (Moss) backing him up.”
Dart debuted passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns Sept. 18 at Washington State, but missed more than a month due to a meniscus tear.
He went 12 of 18 with two touchdowns in his return Oct. 30 vs. Arizona, but was just 8 of 17 for 89 yards with an interception Nov. 6 at Arizona State. That was USC’s first full game without standout wide receiver Drake London, who caught two touchdowns against UCLA last season.
“The offense doesn’t change,” Kelly said of preparing for USC with Dart. “The offense is still run by (coordinator) Graham Harrell. It’s still the USC offense. Both Slovis and Dart are talented kids. … We recruited Jaxson. We know what type of player he is.”
Including the quarterback situation, 2021 has been a tumultuous season for USC. Head coach Clay Helton was fired after a Week 2 loss to Stanford.
The Trojans are 3-4 under Williams and at risk of finishing below .500 for the second time in four years. Prior to 2018, USC had not had a losing campaign since 2000.
“They’re up and down throughout this season,” UCLA linebacker and former USC recruiting commit Bo Calvert said. “We’re looking to kind of put the final dagger in them this week.”
UCLA will aim to do so on offense establishing its multifaceted rushing attack. Against Colorado, the Bruins got 99 yards from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and three touchdowns from running back Zach Charbonnet. Running back Brittain Brown had a touchdown to cap a 9.7-yard per carry effort, but has been limited at practice this week.
USC allowed 282 rushing yards at a 6.7-yard per carry average its last time out at Arizona State.
–Field Level Media