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UCLA-USC game: brothers in clashing colors

The UCLA-USC line of scrimmage will go right down the middle of the Jones and McDonald families in the annual crosstown battle Saturday night. Two sets of brothers will suit up as Trojan and Bruin, giving sibling rivalry a whole new meaning.

November 25, 2011|By David Wharton
  • UCLA running back Malcolm Jones gains key yards against Oregon State on Nov. 5 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
UCLA running back Malcolm Jones gains key yards against Oregon State on… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The Jones boys should be pardoned if conversation around the house this week got a little heated.

Especially if someone mentioned the fumble.

When USC played UCLA at this time last season, Marshall Jones — a safety for the Trojans — latched on to his kid brother Malcolm — a tailback for the Bruins — and ripped the ball free.

Officials ruled the play dead, no turnover, but that didn't settle the issue.

"I tell everybody I stripped the ball from him," Marshall insists.

To which Malcolm replies: "Yeah, he likes to think that."

The brothers get another shot at each other when their teams meet Saturday night at the Coliseum. They won't be the only family members squaring off.

USC safety T.J. McDonald and his younger brother, UCLA safety Tevin McDonald, will be standing on opposite sidelines with their father, Tim, a former All-American for the Trojans, watching from the stands.

This is something more than the Bruins vying for a spot in the Pac-12 Conference championship game and the 10th-ranked Trojans looking to finish the season with a victory. This is more than a crosstown rivalry.

This is sibling rivalry.

"We're not the only ones who have something invested," Tevin said. "It's our whole families and all our friends."

The McDonald brothers start for their respective teams. Tevin has 41 tackles and three interceptions, T.J. has 57 tackles and two interceptions.

The Joneses are backups, Malcolm at running back with 64 yards and a touchdown, Marshall at strong safety with a start against Colorado this season.

Things weren't supposed to work out like this.

Both sets of brothers played together in high school and hold those times among their best football memories. Tevin recalls that T.J. "was always the most excited person on the field when I made a play."

Continuing the family affair in college would have been nice. USC recruiters — under former Coach Pete Carroll — must have thought they held the upper hand in pursuing the younger siblings.

"It usually works out like that," says Ed Orgeron, USC's recruiting coordinator. "But not always."

UCLA courted Tevin earlier and with greater interest than USC, so his choice was relatively easy. Even father Tim agreed. As for Malcolm, he simply felt more comfortable in Westwood.

Or, as Marshall puts it, "I guess his mind changed and he picked the wrong school."

Most of the time, the crosstown arrangement works well. The brothers speak frequently by phone and are close enough to hang out with each other after games if they want.

The McDonalds meet two or three times a week to watch film of their respective opponents and trade notes. When USC played Stanford a month ago, Tevin — who had already faced the Cardinal — told T.J. what to expect.

"Reading keys," he says. "Like if the offensive guard has tendencies when he's going to pull around on a run play."

Wait a minute. Trojans commingling with Bruins, coming to each other's aid?

"I'm his brother before anything else," T.J. says. "When we're not playing each other."

The situation gets a little trickier for the parents. Angela Jones sewed together the predictable half-and-half jersey. Tim McDonald left the UCLA-Colorado game early last week, sneaking out to the parking lot and cranking up his generator to watch the USC-Oregon game on television.

Earlier this season, he had to choose between home games at the same time. He went to Stanford-USC, where T.J.'s controversial personal foul in the fourth quarter contributed to the Trojans' triple-overtime loss.

Across town, Tevin intercepted three passes in a breakout game against California.

"It would have been nice to do that in front of [my parents]," Tevin says.

Now comes the toughest week.

Parents and friends must be careful to remain neutral — or at least appear that way. The brothers talk to each other, but mention of football is supposed to be off-limits.

The game means a little more to them because of the familial connections. Tevin cannot imagine what it must be like for Malcolm and Marshall, going head-to-head.

"It wouldn't be easy tackling [my brother]," he says. "I'd probably go for the legs."

Then again, he didn't grow up in the Jones household.

Four years older, Marshall gave Malcolm the usual big brother treatment when they were kids. Teasing, name-calling, all that. So for Malcolm, the big game is about settling old scores.

"I'm trying to run him over," he says. "It's a chance to show I'm not the little brother anymore."

Which explains why this week's pregame festivities might have started already. There's a lot at stake.

"We still have that competitive side toward each other," Marshall says. "We'll see who's the better Jones on Saturday."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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