USC Football Hosts Crosstown Foe UCLA|
Nov. 24, 2013
No. 23 USC hosts No. 22 UCLA on Thanksgiving weekend in the 83rd renewal of the famous crosstown rivalry. Besides setting claim to year-long city bragging rights, both teams are angling for post-season bowl berths (also at stake are possession of the Victory Bell and points in the Crosstown Gauntlet standings). UCLA has won just twice in the last 14 matchups against USC and Troy's last loss to the Bruins in the Coliseum was in 1997. A Trojan victory would give USC its second 10-win season in the past 3 years (and its 25th overall). Although it is the 22nd time that UCLA enters the game ranked higher than USC, the series outcome is even when both teams come in ranked. It's only the third meeting that Troy sits only one slot below the Bruins in the polls (USC has won both of those). And it is just the ninth night game in the series (it also is USC's ninth night outing of 2013). It's also the final home appearance for USC's seniors. The game, which is approaching a sellout, will be shown live nationally in primetime on ABC-TV. The matchup features players whose fathers and brothers once wore the opponent's colors, as well as coaches and athletic department staff who worked at the "other" school. UCLA head coach Jim Mora's parents even attended USC. Troy is riding a 5-game winning streak (including a dominating win at chilly Colorado on Saturday) and has captured 6 of its past 7 games, all under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who has emerged as a semifinalist for National Coach of the Year. The re-energized Trojans feature a balanced offensive attack that is among the national leaders in red zone scoring and a staunch defense that shows up in just about every NCAA statistical category. QB Cody Kessler, who continues to impress with his steady play (he has hit 73% of his aerials in the past 4 games), has already entered the USC career passing chart. TB Javorius Allen (10 TDs in the last 4 games and a trio of 100-yard rushing performances in 2013) leads USC's ground game, while WRs Nelson Agholor (he doubles as a return threat) and 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee serving as the primary pass targets. USC's defense continues to be highly-ranked nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks, interceptions, turnover margin, red zone defense and third down conversion defense. Prominent Trojan defenders include DE Leonard Williams (a Bednarik semifinalist who has 13 tackles for loss), OLB Devon Kennard (a Lott semifinalist with 8 sacks), S Dion Bailey (11 career interceptions), 2013 team tackle leader LB Hayes Pullard and lockdown CB Josh Shaw. The Trojan special teams have blocked 5 kicks this year, including 1 in each of the last 4 games (FB Soma Vainuku owns 3 knockdowns), and scored on 3 punt returns. UCLA dropped a close home game last weekend to Arizona State that eliminated the Bruins (and the Trojans, for that matter) from a chance to represent the South Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Bruin offense rides the talented arm and legs of QB Brett Hundley, among the nation's best in passing efficiency. More than 2 dozen Bruins have caught passes this year, with WRs Shaquell Evans and Devin Fuller claiming 82 grabs and 12 scores between them. Besides Hundley, UCLA's top runners are RBs Paul Perkins and Jordon James, who run behind a line anchored by 2012 All-Pac-12 first team OT-OG Xavier Su'a-Filo. True freshman sensation Myles Jack has starred on both sides of the ball as he starts at linebacker and has played often lately at running back. OLB Anthony Barr, another 2012 All-Pac-12 first teamer, is a semifinalist for the Lombardi, Bednarik, Butkus and Lott awards. Among his blue-and-gold defensive mates are ILBs Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, plus CB Anthony Jefferson. As part of USC's 125th anniversary of athletics celebration (dating to the first football game in 1888), men's and women's golf, tennis and sailing alumni will be honored on the field during the game.