Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Cross-town rivals collide in a critical Pac-12 Conference showdown, as the 24th-ranked USC Trojans challenge the 11th- ranked UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
These teams have met 84 times previously, with the series dating back to 1929. The Trojans have the upper hand, with a record of 44-30-7, however, UCLA has taken the last two matchups, including a 35-14 decision last season.
USC picked up a big win last Thursday, 38-30, against California. The victory was made that much sweeter when Arizona State was handed a 35-27 setback by Oregon State two days later. The Trojans are now sitting alone atop the Pac-12 South Division standings, with a mark of 6-2 (7-3 overall). They are a half game up on UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State, who are all tied for second place currently.
Obviously, UCLA would like to do something about that, especially since it is hoping to make a return trip to the Pac-12 title tilt. The Bruins have certainly helped their cause recently, with wins in four straight games following back-to-back setbacks at home against Utah and Oregon. UCLA is currently 8-2 overall, with a test against Stanford next weekend all that remains in front of them after this one.
"It's always a fun game when you play your cross-town rival," UCLA coach Jim Mora said, while acknowledging its farther reaching implications. "Its great to have something at stake. I know when I got here that's one of the things that I heard, it'd be great to have this game be a game that really has meaning and consequence in the Pac-12 if not nationally and I think this one does."
Nelson Agholor has been turning heads these last few weeks. The USC receiver got off to a slow start, but he is firing on all cylinders now. He erupted for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions in the win over California. The rest of the team had only 15 combined catches. Agholor is now third in the Pac-12 in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,079), to go along with 10 touchdown grabs. He has posted 200 yards in back-to-back games, and at least 100 in each of the last four. JuJu Smith (42 receptions, 531 yards, five TDs) is the team's next best option.
Cody Kessler has reaped the benefits of getting to throw Agholor's way. The USC signal caller has been excellent under the tutelage of coach Steve Sarkisian, throwing for 2,919 yards and 29 touchdowns, with three interceptions the only smudges on an otherwise fantastic resume'. Kessler has also completed 70.2 percent of his pass attempts. In the win over Cal, he went 31-of-42 for 371 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
While Kessler and Agholor's work have taken over the headlines recently, the Trojans have plenty of firepower in the backfield as well. Javorius Allen has racked up a league-best 1,184 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, and added 383 yards and a score on 32 receptions.
Despite the trio of star players, USC is still just eighth in the Pac-12 in total offense (458 ypg).
The Trojans' defensive effort has them ranked higher in the Pac-12, as they are currently fourth in total defense (396.8 ypg). They did a solid job against a normally-strong California offense, holding the Golden Bears to 384 total yards. Of course, the big headline for the unit is that defensive back Josh Shaw was reinstated on Tuesday, although his role remains unclear.
"I've welcomed Josh Shaw back to the team," Sarkisian said. "I'm now in the process of evaluating how Josh can contribute to the team's success."
The challenge this week comes from the fifth-best offensive team in the conference, as UCLA is producing 498.2 yards per game. The Bruins were a bit off of that pace against Washington, finishing with 476 yards, 302 of which came through the air.
Brett Hundley threw a pair of scoring strikes as part of his 29-of-36 effort, hitting 10 different receiving along the way. He also ran for two touchdowns. although he picked up a total of only 18 yards. Hundley is one of the most versatile quarterbacks in the Pac-12, as evidenced by his .721 completion percentage, 2,547 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, all while being picked off only four times. In addition, he has scampered for 564 yards and a team-high seven scores.
Jordan Payton sees most of Hundley's passes aimed at him, and he has responded by hauling in 58 balls for 839 yards and seven touchdowns, all team-highs. Devin Fuller (45 receptions, 327 yards, TD) is second in receptions, and Eldridge Massington (25 receptions, 354 yards, two TDs) has been productive as well.
Hundley may lead the team in rushing scores, but Paul Perkins is still the leading rusher when it comes to yardage (1,172). He only trails Allen among Pac-12 backs in rushing yards, and his six touchdown runs have been greatly appreciated as well.
UCLA trails USC when it comes to defensive success. The Bruins are sixth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed, giving up an even 410 yards per game. They also have had more trouble keeping opponents off the scoreboard, allowing 27.9 points per game, which ranks eighth.