LOS ANGELES – Despite back-to-back road wins at Arizona State and Cal and a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings for the the first time this season, Clay Helton’s future as USC head football coach is anything but settled. New Trojan athletic director Mike Bohn, who at his introductory press conference said that “good programs finish strong,” no doubt will be keeping a keen eye on the result of his team’s regular-season finale against crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday afternoon at the L.A. Coliseum.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC LINE: USC -14
A win over the Bruins would be USC’s fifth in its last six games and keep them in contention for a Pac-12 South title if No. 7 Utah should slip in its final two games. With rumors of a possible Urban Meyer or James Franklin hiring swirling around Troy, Bohn told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he was in no hurry to make a decision on Helton’s fate. “Any time you’re part of a significant enterprise in something that so many people are invested in, it’s something we don’t want to race into,” Bohn said. “We’re not on a specific timeline that would do anything to jeopardize momentum or opportunities that exist, regardless of what those are. Revealing any type of timeline or plan at this point would be premature and probably inappropriate.” UCLA, which needs to win its final two games against the Trojans and home against Cal on Nov. 30 to become bowl eligible, comes in off an ugly 49-3 loss at Utah that snapped a three-game winning streak.
ABOUT UCLA (4-6, 4-3 Pac-12)
The Bruins have won four of the last seven meetings with the Trojans including a 34-27 victory last season at the Rose Bowl when Joshua Kelley ran for a series-record 289 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown run with 10:39 left for the go-ahead score. Kelley, who had 78 yards in the loss to the Utes, currently ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing behind Utah’s Zach Moss who holds an average-per-game lead of 106.1 to 104.3, and is trying to become the first Bruin since Paul Perkins in 2014 to lead the league in rushing. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has had an erratic season, especially against teams with strong pass rushes, completing 167-of-279 passes for 2,056 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while safety Stephan Blaylock (67 tackles) and linebacker Krys Barnes (65 tackles, three sacks) lead a defense that is allowing an average of 33.7 points and 442.0 yards per game and has surrendered 48 or more points in four contests.
ABOUT USC (7-4, 6-2)
Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis turned in his third 400-yard passing game of the season in last week’s 41-17 win at Cal, completing 29-of-35 passes for 406 yards, four TDs and no interceptions against a Bears defense that had allowed just nine passing scores all season. Senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had 11 receptions for 180 yards and one TD versus Cal and has caught 24 passes for 326 yards over the last two games to lead one of the nation’s top wide receiving corps that also includes junior Tyler Vaughns (62 catches, 752 yards, 5 TDs) and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown (60 catches, 751 yards, 6 TDs). Senior linebacker John Houston Jr. (team-high 93 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) and senior defensive end Christian Rector (13 career sacks) lead a defense that has been plagued by injuries much of the season but is still allowing an average of 27.1 point per game which ranks sixth in the conference.
1. The two teams, who both will wear their home uniforms, play for year-long possession of the Victory Bell as well as Crosstown Cup points. USC leads the series, 47-32-7, not including wins in 2004 and 2005 that were later vacated due to NCAA penalty, and has won nine of the last 10 meetings at the Coliseum.
2. USC PK Chase McGrath has been almost perfect this season, connecting on 12-of-13 field goals and all 44 of his PATs.
3. UCLA ranks second in the nation in punt returns with a 22.5 average with freshman wide receiver Kyle Phillips, who leads the team in receptions (43), having three returns of 30 or more yards.
PREDICTION: USC 44, UCLA 28
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