Saturday’s meeting between UCLA and host No. 23 Southern California marks the 90-year anniversary in the crosstown rivalry.
USC (7-4, 6-2 Pac-12) owns a 47-32-7 advantage in the series, which began in 1929, but UCLA holds a narrow 4-3 edge over the past seven meetings.
UCLA owned a three-game streak from 2012 through 2014, then USC won three in a row. The Bruins claimed the Victory Bell last year in a 34-27 decision that dropped the Trojans below .500 in the month of November for the first time since 2000, and left USC coach Clay Helton fielding questions about his future job status.
Such speculation has not subsided in 2019, as the teams prepare to meet at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Trojans are amid a disappointing season in which it has failed to make a national imprint, and the school last week hired a new athletic director, Mike Bohn, who might want to make a splashy hire. Still, a win Saturday and a Utah loss in one of its final two sends USC to the Pac-12 Championship Game — and that would mark the third under the Helton in five seasons.
USC remains in contention for a Pac-12 title by virtue of winning four of its last five, including a 41-17 blowout of Cal on Saturday. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis completed 29 of 35 passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns in the romp. He has thrown for more than 400 yards in three of the past four games.
“As he grew, I knew our team would grow,” Helton said of Slovis.
Slovis’ top target, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., has 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
“They’re as talented a receiving corps as you’re going to see with Pittman and (Tyler) Vaughns and (Amon-Ra) St. Brown, and Drake London’s done a really nice job as a true freshman,” said UCLA coach Chip Kelly.
Pittman caught seven passes for 106 yards in last year’s loss at UCLA, an outstanding individual performance ultimately overshadowed by Bruins running back Joshua Kelley, who rushed for a rivalry-game record 289 yards with two touchdowns.
After a slow start to 2019 due to a knee injury, Kelley ripped off three straight games with 126 yards rushing or more and seven touchdowns during a recent Bruins winning streak.
UCLA (4-6, 4-3) went into last week with a path to the Pac-12 Championship Game; winning out would have won the South for the Bruins. But a 49-3 loss at No. 7 Utah derailed any hopes of claiming the conference.
UCLA now needs to win its final two — against USC and Cal — to make a bowl game.
The Bruins committed five turnovers at Utah, including a critical Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumble that led to a Utes scoop-and-score. UCLA was driving into Utah territory and could have cut the deficit to four points; the turnover proved a critical swing.
“There’s not one common thread in those turnovers,” Kelly said.
UCLA won the turnover battle, 2-1, in last season’s defeat of USC. A fourth-quarter Darnay Holmes interception set up a crucial UCLA field goal. Holmes recovered a fumble last week at Utah.
This season, UCLA and USC come in with two of the worst turnover margins in the Pac-12. USC is minus-seven on the campaign, and UCLA is minus-eight after its five-turnover showing a week ago.
–Field Level Media