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Can UCLA Stop USC and Juju Smith-Schuster? A Preview of the USC Offense

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The UCLA Bruins' defense will have its work cut out for it this Saturday as it tries to stop the Southern Cal offense and star wide receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster.

Juju Smith-Schuster
Juju Smith-Schuster
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Bruins Nations’ preview of the Southern Cal Trogans’ offense.

We all know what is on the line. The PAC 12 South. A chance play for the PAC 12 Championship. The city. Bragging rights. The stakes are high. Let’s not mince words and get to the preview.

Statistics

Total Offense

Southern Cal is #31 in the country in total offense, averaging 461.6 yards per game (YPG). UCLA’s defense ranks #61, giving up an average of 392 YPG. The Bruins can expect to absorb in excess of 400 yards of total offense on game day. They will need to hold the Trogans to field goals instead of touchdowns.

Rushing Offense

Southern Cal ranks #65 in rushing offense, rolling up an average of 171.4 YPG on the ground. UCLA’s rushing defense has had its issues and is ranked #83 in the country, yielding 183.5 YPG. Utah’s Joe Williams, a good back but a back who was in junior college in Brooklyn last season, gashed UCLA last Saturday for 121 yards on 26 carries. Travis Wilson also rushed for over 65 yards. Although Cody Kessler is not a threat to run (he is the epitome of a pocket passer), it is reasonable to conclude that Southern Cal will rush for about their average (or more) with their stable of solid running backs.

Passing Offense

Southern Cal is #23 in the nation in passing (right behind UCLA at #22), averaging 290.3 YPG. On average, UCLA concedes fewer yards through the air, giving up an average of 208.3 yards per game, which is #43 in the nation. Southern Cal’s passing attack is dangerous, very dangerous. Juju Smith-Schuster is #6 in the nation in receiving yards.

Analysis of Statistics

Southern Cal’s rankings are higher on offense than the Bruins’ commensurate statistics on defense in all three categories mentioned above. UCLA, however, is not too far behind in any of statistical categories. I think we can expect Southern Cal to drive the football on UCLA. It will be up to the patchwork defense (only 2 players have started all games on defense for UCLA this season) and Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley to bend and not break.

Hopefully, penalties will not plague the Bruins at the Mausoleum. Or, at a minimum, both teams will suffer equally from penalties. Southern Cal is right there with UCLA in the national rankings regarding penalties, at #109 in penalties per game (UCLA is # 125) and #116 in penalty yards per game (UCLA is #121).

Quarterbacks

Cody Kessler was hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate before the season. Although that did not work out, Kessler has been very solid: 243 of 351, for 2,953 yards, and 25 touchdowns against six interceptions. These numbers are very similar to what Kessler has done since beating out Max Wittek for the job mid-season in 2013. Kessler is the definition of a pocket passer. Do not expect him to try to run the ball except in the most dire situations.

If UCLA is able to recreate 2012 and make Kessler take the "Barr" exam, Southern Cal will call upon Max Browne. Browne, a sophomore, played some against Arkansas and Idaho, and threw one pass in the Arizona State game. He is 8 of 12 for 113 yards this season, and was 3 of 7 for 30 yards in 2014. Browne has no TDS and no INTs in his college career.

Running Backs

Southern Cal has a stable of solid running backs, none of which has been able to dominate carries out of the backfield. The Trogans’ leading rusher is freshman, Ronald Jones, II, who has 122 carries for 827 yards and seven TDs. Right behind him is Justin Davis, a junior, who has 115 carries (seven less than Jones) and 646 yards, with 5 TDs. Tre Madden, a redshirt senior is also heavily involved, with 77 carries, 418 yards, and 5 TDs. Those backs have a combined 17 rushing touchdowns between them and each averages at least 5.4 yards per carry.

Wide Receivers

Southern Cal has one established star at wide receiver as well as a star-in-the-making. Juju Smith-Schuster, a true sophomore out of Long Beach Poly, has put together a spectacular season, hauling in 68 passes for 1,218 yards and ten touchdowns. He is a big playmaker, with 75 yard and 72 yard touchdown catches. He also has size at 6’2" and 215 lbs. I am not sure who will guard Juju, but one can long for Fabian Moreau and/or Myles Jack, right? Ishmael Adams and Nate Meadors might not have the size. John Johnson’s status is unknown. Marcus Rios has the size but he has been prone to pass interference penalties lately. Somebody is going to have to step up big time.

The star-in-the-making is Adoree’ Jackson, also a true sophomore. Jackson, who does a little of everything, has 24 catches for 382 yards and two TDs, one of which went for 83 yards. UCLA heavily recruited Jackson, who chose Southern Cal over the Bruins, Florida, and LSU.

Steven Mitchell, Jr., a redshirt sophomore, and Darreus Rodgers, a junior, also have made contributions in the Trogan passing game. Mitchell has 31 grabs totaling 252 yards, and 4 TDs. Rodgers has 20 catches for 191 yards and 1 TD.

This is Southern Cal’s strength. The UCLA secondary will be tested.

Tight End

Taylor McNamara is expected to start at tight end for Southern Cal. McNamara only has eight receptions for 48 yards on the year, but he has made them count, as three of the eight were for touchdowns. Freshman, Tyler Petite, will see significant time at tight end and, actually, aside from the touchdowns, has better numbers than McNamara: 13 catches for 119 yards and one TD.

Offensive Line

I am literally getting sick to my stomach having to research these Trogans. Going to the Southern Cal official site, checking Southern Cal team stats at NCAA.com, checking Trogan individual stats at various sites. Barf. So we are sticking with the basics with respect to the line. From left to right:

Left Tackle: Redshirt junior, Chad Wheeler

Left Guard: Sophomore, Damien Mama (who was recruited by UCLA but chose The Dark Side)

Center: Redshirt sophomore, Khaliel Rodgers

Right Guard: Sophomore, Viane Talamaivao (he was banged up but has returned to practice)

Right Tackle: Redshirt junior, Zach Banner

As a unit, the line has allowed 30 sacks, something the Bruins might be able to exploit.

There. I need a shower.

Analysis

Southern Cal’s offense has an edge over UCLA’s defense. It will be up to Coach Bradley to bend and not break, and up to Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone to call a game that not only allows UCLA to score with Southern Cal, but also tries to keep the defense rested. UCLA’s defense cannot afford to be on the field for 40 minutes.

Having said that . . . . it’s game week! Throw the records and the stats out the window. It is time to dig deep and make it four straight against the Trogans. "The Battle for L.A.," "The Crosstown Rivalry," whatever you want to call it, the Victory Bell needs to remain BLUE!!!

That is it for the preview of Southern Cal’s offense. Look for BN’s preview of Southern Cal’s defense before you gorge yourself with turkey tomorrow.

Go Bruins!!!