2017 UCLA Preview
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
Concern internally when SC looks ahead to the 2018 season- Some within the program have expressed some serious concern about the Trojans prospects for a strong season next year, especially if Sam Darnold departs for the NFL. Though the Trojans are having success physically beating up the Pac-12, rather strong opinions have been expressed regarding the team’s ability to stand up to the physicality of top teams in other Power 5 conferences. The team was beat up both physically and mentally at a much higher level than any other time this year after games against Texas and Notre Dame. It has been suggested that SC’s strength and conditioning program needs to be revamped and they need to find more recruits that fit the Porter Gustin mold when it comes to toughness.
Both the offensive and defensive lines have good young talent but the concern is whether they have the mentality to be great. We will find out quickly next season if SC has made progress in this area. After a home game with UNLV to start the season, SC plays a brutal four game stretch that includes three road games with teams that will probably be in the top 25 (Stanford, Texas and Arizona) with another one of those ridiculous Friday night games at home with a Washington State team that will be well rested after playing two home games against non-power 5 schools. The Trojans will have a bye and only one set of back-to-back road games but a potential 2-3 start is possible.
Speaking of 2018…expect a few graduate transfers to bolster the roster: Earlier this year I stated that SC will be in the running to land a significant graduate transfer QB provided Sam Darnold goes pro. The wheels have been in motion on this since the summer and it is still expected to happen but an injury to this talent has created some concern. SC will also look to bolster the defensive line with an experienced player like Stevie Tu’ikolovato who transferred from Utah and played a significant role in the 2016 campaign.
Biggie will be back- Cornerback Inman “Biggie” Marshall is expected to play vs. UCLA and will split time with Isiah Langley who has performed well in Biggie’s absence.
Why UCLA could pull off the upset- Rivalry games bring out the best in the underdog, especially when the schools are 13 miles apart and a head coach’s job could be on the line. The Bruins showed some serious fight last week with their victory over Arizona State after falling behind 14-0. A team that had given up on the season and its coach would not have come back to win that game. The Trojans are also consistently inconsistent and unexpected turnovers combined with undisciplined penalties will even out the enormous advantage SC’s offense has against UCLA’s defense. When you combine that with UCLA having one of the best NFL prospects at quarterback in Josh Rosen, who has UCLA ranked 8th nationally in passing offense (333 ypg) and 26th in scoring offense (35.2ppg), UCLA definitely has a chance to make this a season defining victory. Should SC have to pass more in a game of catch-up, UCLA’s only strength defensively is their pass defense which ranks 34th nationally.
Why SC could blow out UCLA- The Bruins have one of the worst defenses the Trojans will face all year ranking dead last in the nation in rush defense (over 300 yards a game!), 123rd in total defense(499 ypg) and 122nd in scoring defense (38.6 ppg). The Trojans have made it their identity to be a run first team and if UCLA cannot step up and stop the run, SC should be able to run for 300+ yards while opening up the passing game for Sam Darnold who is playing his best football of the season right now. The Trojans rank 1st in the Pac-12 in pressuring the quarterback and should be able to make things uncomfortable for Josh Rosen who will be without his top two receiving targets in tight end Caleb Wilson and receiver Darren Andrews who are out with injuries. UCLA has a massive mountain to climb to pull off the upset and if SC doesn’t help them out with turnovers and penalties, SC should pull away rather easily in the second half.
Ronald Jones II is a special athlete having a banner year- Junior Ronald Jones II continues to prove why he will be picked in the first few rounds of the NFL draft. His athleticism is off the charts with USC track coach Caryl Smith Gilbert stating he would be a world class sprinter if he was focused on track. In his only appearance with the track team in 2015, he ran the third leg of the victorious 400-meter relay in the UCLA dual meet in which the quartet clocked 39.89 seconds. He currently ranks 6th in school history with 3,293 yards and is only 430 yards away from finishing #3 on the all-time list. This is extremely impressive in an era where running backs tend to split carries and passing is more prolific. His rare combination of top-end speed and the power to gain yards after contact will be missed next season, even with a talent like Stephen Carr ready to take over. Despite missing the Cal game and being held to just 32 yards on 12 carries at Notre Dame in which SC fell behind early and abandoned the run game, Jones II has already rushed for 1,224 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the last three games, he has averaged 184 yards rushing on 23 carries and could easily run for well over 200 yards this week against the Bruins. Enjoy his last few games as a Trojan!
Geller’s Take- Stephen Carr is ready to roll- Though Ronald Jones will be the featured back and should have a big game against the porous UCLA run defense, it is pivotal that Stephen Carr works his way back into the offense. After suffering an injury in the loss to Washington State earlier in the season, Carr has been sidelined and severely limited. He and the coaches now say he is 100% healthy, and look for one of SC’s most explosive threats to get back into the flow. Carr's pass catching abilities should lead to huge chunks of yardage against the Bruins. This is the last game before the Pac-12 Championship next Friday and this will be Carr’s last opportunity to shake off the rust before the conference championship game in which he will likely play a key role. *Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School and intern for uscfootball.com.
Basketball note- Melton expected to be cleared by conference play- The 10th ranked men’s basketball team, which already appears to be one of the most athletic in school history, could get its best all-around players back by the start of conference play. Multiple sources close to the program have stated that the schools own thorough investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, has yet to find any evidence that directly links Melton or his family to any wrongdoing in the Tony Bland case.
Cam McDonald de-commitment was expected- Long Beach Poly Tight-End Cam McDonald, a heavily recruited four-star athlete, made headlines this week by de-committing from the Trojans. Though this seemed like bad news, especially after losing tight end Cary Angeline early this year, the coaching staff welcomed the news. McDonald’s original commitment to the Trojans caught the staff by surprise and as they have gotten to know him, he never seemed to be the right fit at SC. Plus, the Trojans are really happy with the development of freshman Josh Falo and think they have an outside chance of flipping four star Mustapha Muhammad who has verballed to Michigan. Apparently he had a great unofficial visit with SC but soured on the Trojans after the commitment of McDonald.
Betting Info- SC is currently a 16 point favorite. The over/under is 71.5. SC is 3-0 in their last three against the spread and 4-7 ATS on the year. UCLA is 3-7 ATS and have not covered on the road all season, losing their last four road games by an average of 23 points. The under is 9-2 in the last 11 games between the schools but the score has gone over in seven of the last ten UCLA games and four of SC’s last five games.
*With Rosen’s favorite target, Darren Andrews out with an injury, receiver Jordan Lasley will be Rosen’s top target. Despite missing three games, he has 30 catches on the season for 705 yards and four TD’s. He had seven catches for 162 yards and a TD against Arizona State last week.
*UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is well-respected in the coaching world and will be a head coach sooner rather than later…he will dial up a great offensive game plan for the Bruins.
*SC might finally show off some special teams magic with UCLA’s punt and kick-off return defenses ranking 96th and 111th nationally.
*SC is 7 for 20 on 4th down tries this season, ranking 115th in the nation…maybe it’s time to take a direct snap on 4th and short and not telegraph the dive up the middle out of the shotgun?
*UCLA is just 6-25 on third down in the past two seasons against the Trojans.
Carol Skinner Memorial tid-bit- In the Trojans recent three game win-streak, the Trojans only turned the ball over twice. Before then, SC had turned the ball over at least two times in every game.