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UCLA vs. USC: How they match up

Times beat writers Gary Klein and Chris Foster break down the matchups for Saturday's UCLA-USC game.

November 29, 2013|By Gary Klein and Chris Foster
  • USC tailback Javorius Allen gains yards in the Trojans' 19-3 victory over Utah.
USC tailback Javorius Allen gains yards in the Trojans' 19-3 victory… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA vs. USC, the matchups

Beat reporters Gary Klein (USC) and Chris Foster (UCLA) analyze the matchups in Saturday's football game between the city rivals:

USC run game vs. UCLA run defense

Trojans tailback Javorius Allen has scored three touchdowns in three of the last four games. Tre Madden, Ty Isaac and, possibly, Silas Redd and Soma Vainuku also will carry the ball for an offense that has averaged 177 yards rushing behind an improved line.

When UCLA's Myles Jack is on defense with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, it might be difficult to find a better group of linebackers. That hasn't always been enough. Stanford's Tyler Gaffney bludgeoned the Bruins for 171 yards rushing. Oregon's Byron Marshall rolled to 133 yards. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey had 149 yards. The Bruins' defense wore down in those games.

Edge: Klein, USC. Foster, UCLA.

USC passing vs. UCLA secondary

Quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 65% of his passes, 15 for touchdowns, with six interceptions. The third-year sophomore from Bakersfield has not had a pass intercepted in the last three games and he is playing with high confidence.

Receivers Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers are a formidable trio, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton lately has increased the role of tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer and fullbacks Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.

UCLA replaced its entire secondary this season and the group has performed well at times. But the Bruins must get pressure on the quarterback. When UCLA has not made opposing quarterbacks sweat, the secondary has been vulnerable. Cornerback Fabian Moreau is not expected to play, which would be a key loss.

Edge: Klein, USC. Foster, USC.

UCLA run game vs. USC defense

UCLA's rushing attack has been a spit-and-baling-wire operation for two months, since injuries suffered by running backs and offensive linemen depleted depth. Jordon James was college football's fifth-leading rusher when he was injured during the fourth game. Jack, the linebacker-turned-running back, is the wild card. "We'll give him the ball a couple times for sure," Coach Jim Mora said.

USC ranks 18th nationally against the run. Ends Leonard Williams and George Uko and linebackers Devon Kennard and J.R. Tavai clog the line of scrimmage for linebackers Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao.

Edge: Klein, USC. Foster, USC.

UCLA passing vs. USC secondary

Quarterback Brett Hundley has been inconsistent, partly because the Bruins were forced to play three freshmen on the offensive line. He has passed for 22 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. Hundley was sacked nine times by Arizona State last week, but he has not always been sharp even when protected. He has struggled throwing on the run. Still, he retains big-play ability.

USC did not perform well against Arizona State's and Arizona's spread offenses, so the secondary will be tested by Hundley, receiver Shaquelle Evans — and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour are the cornerbacks, Dion Bailey, Su'a Cravens and Demetrius Wright the safeties.

Last season, the Trojans missed tackling Hundley numerous times. The secondary could use an assist from a front that has helped record 33 sacks.

Edge: Klein, UCLA. Foster, UCLA.

Special teams

USC is tied for first nationally with three blocked punts, and tied for fourth nationally with five blocked kicks.

Placekicker Andre Heidari has made 14 of 21 field-goal attempts, including a game-winning 47-yard kick against Stanford two weeks ago at the Coliseum. Punter Kris Albarado has been a quiet weapon for the Trojans, his strategically placed kicks inside the 20 helping USC's defense and offense.

Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns against California.

UCLA has blocked two punts — tied for fifth nationally — and four kicks, which is tied for sixth. But twice this season, the Bruins have been snookered by fake punts. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has made 14 of 20 field-goal attempts. He missed two last week against Arizona State. Ishmael Adams provided a boost last week with 58- and 69- kickoff returns and a 49-yard punt return.

Edge: Klein, USC. Foster, UCLA.

Coaching

UCLA is 15-0 when leading at halftime the last two years. A big reason is adjustments Mora and his staff make for the second half. Last week, the Bruins trailed Arizona State, 35-13 at halftime. They pulled to within 38-33 and had the ball with three minutes left.

Ed Orgeron, USC's interim coach, is a semifinalist for the Maxwell Football Club coach-of-the-year award. Mora said he gave Orgeron his vote for Pac-12 coach of the year.

Orgeron has rallied Trojans players and entrusted assistants with responsibility for personnel decisions. His biggest strategic decision came against Stanford when he went for it on a fourth-and-two play that put USC in position to win the game.

Edge: Klein: USC. Foster: UCLA.

Predictions

Klein: USC 34, UCLA 24.

Foster: USC 31, UCLA 28.

gary.klein@latimes.com

chris.foster@latimes.com

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