USC eyes Pac-12 title game berth in visiting UCLA
Southern California will try to secure a spot in the Pac-12 Conference championship game when the No. 15 Trojans meet the host UCLA Bruins on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
A win will also give the Trojans a 5-0 record for the first time since 2006, when they started 6-0.
USC put itself in position to play for the conference championship in Santa Clara, Calif., by beating visiting Washington State 38-13 on Sunday night.
The game was pushed back two days following a small COVID-19 outbreak on the USC team, a situation that initially forced the Trojans to cancel their game against No. 21 Colorado on Nov. 28.
The schedule adjustment shrank USC’s window to prepare for UCLA, but it hasn’t dimmed the excitement surrounding the crosstown rivalry.
“We’ve got a short week coming up against a really good team that’s hot right now,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “We’ve got a lot to play for, and that’s what you want in December.”
USC has won 16 of the past 21 meetings against UCLA and leads the all-time series 48-32-7.
“This is one of the best rivalries in college football,” Helton said.
The Bruins (3-2) are coming off a 25-18 win at Arizona State on Saturday night, their first win in the month of December since the 2013 Sun Bowl. The victory also lifted UCLA’s record above .500 for the first time since a win on Oct. 21, 2017, had them at 4-3.
UCLA has been particularly strong on defense, holding three of its past four opponents to two touchdowns or fewer.
“I’ve been really proud of how our defense has played all season long,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “We have a bunch of kids over there that play football extremely hard. They do a really good job of rallying to the ball and gang tackling, and we talked about playing hard and playing hard for 60 minutes. You can’t play hard for 58. You have to play hard for 60.”
UCLA benefited last weekend with the return of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was among nine Bruins to miss two games because of COVID-19 concerns.
Thompson-Robinson completed 18 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State. He also rushed for 49 yards and a score.
“We’re taking it day by day and working very hard,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I’m very proud of this team and where we’re headed.”
Thompson-Robinson, a three-year starter, had one of the best games of his college career against USC last season.
He passed for 367 yards and three touchdowns in the 52-35 loss, while also rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown.
He was outperformed by USC quarterback Kedon Slovis, however.
Slovis threw for a school-record 515 yards and four touchdowns.
Slovis is also back this season, and he was sharp against Washington State, completing 25 of 32 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, held out of the end zone over the first three games, caught seven passes for 65 yards and four touchdowns, which tied a school and Pac-12 single-game record.
“There’s a reason that C is on Amon-Ra St. Brown’s chest, because he’s an unselfish player,” Helton said.
–Field Level Media