Welcome back to Bruins Nation’s opponent preview series for the 2019 UCLA Bruins football season! We are taking a look at an upcoming opponent this year, examining their strengths and weaknesses, and making a bold prediction regarding the outcome.
It’s time to take a look at UCLA’s eleventh opponent: the Southern Cal Trojans.
They didn’t fire Clay Helton. Amazing.
Seriously, last year’s Southern Cal team did everything possible to collapse under any and all preseason expectations. They missed a bowl game. They literally went 4-2 to start the year and just had to win two games the rest of the way. They could only get one and that was against Oregon State. They gave up approximately six billion rushing yards to UCLA as the Bruins regained the Victory Bell. UC Berkeley put on a defensive clinic against them. Brian Kelly did his best to try and save Clay Helton’s job by letting the Trojans hang around for an entire game against the playoff-bound Notre Dame Fighting Irish and it somehow worked.
It gets better, though! The Trojans pulled an offseason coup by hiring former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury to be their new offensive coordinator, only to watch him bolt for an NFL coaching gig less than a month later. The Trojans instead settled on Kingsbury knock-off Graham Harrell to try and implement an air-raid offense that they have now decided will fix everything. Never mind that Clancy Pendergast, author of an amazing defense that, again, let UCLA run for about twenty billion yards last year, is still around, even after a lawsuit alleging he was paying students to take classes for the players.
Honestly, I feel like the firing of Lane Kiffin has paralyzed the Trojans to some degree. Once you fire a coach on a tarmac, you can’t get away with doing it for at least a few years, otherwise you develop a reputation. And while Southern Cal would love to pay for their Helton problem to go away so they can go back to awkwardly flirting with Urban Meyer, they also probably need that money for, well, some other stuff.
But, at least, the Mausoleum construction is finally done! Let’s take a look at it.
Truly, Southern Cal put their finest minds on designing this expansion and it’s paid off wonderfully.
Southern Cal put on a dog-and-pony show regarding the quarterback position, but it all ended up where everyone assumed, with Matt Barkley-wannabe JT Daniels retaining his starting spot. Daniels looked the part of a true freshman last year, which makes sense if you pretend he didn’t have one of the best receiving corps in the country to throw to, including a guy he had just spent multiple years throwing to in high school. But maybe I’m being too mean .Let’s instead take a look at his best throw from last year:
It was perfect form. He hit that corner in stride. That’s truly an elite player right here.
But, when you have such an elite quarterback, you want to have some level of rushing attack behind a solid offensive line to keep defenses honest. Southern Cal has neither. The running game utterly collapsed last year including in the Crosstown Rivalry game where UCLA’s anemic run defense held the Trojans to a combined 112 yards rushing. You’d think with the level of talent Southern Cal brings in, they could put together at least a decent running game. And it doesn’t help that the offensive line was already bad last year and, then, lost three starters in the offseason.
But let me be honest for a second and say that the Southern Cal receiver group is, once again, one of the more amazing collections of talent in the country. Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pitmann Jr., and Amon-Ra St. Brown are one of the best trios in the country, and they have talent like Kyle Ford and Bru McCoy waiting in the wings. It’s once again upsetting that Southern Cal can just bring in this level of talent and misuse it so much, but at least with an air raid offense, there is, theoretically, more of a chance for them to impact the game.
Southern Cal has a ton of talent at every level of the defense, and all of that talent consistently underperforms.
I could write that sentence every year and it would still hold true. But the twist this year is that Southern Cal is almost breaking in a brand-new set of players on defense. They return only 43% of their defensive production from last year, which is just abysmal.
The defensive line probably is the most set group of the three, but this is the same group that let Joshua Kelley have himself a day. So, it’s hard to say that it’s a good group. The linebackers are probably the most talented, in part, because John Houston is still here and guys like Palaie Gaoteote IV have to eventually live up to their potential at some point (I mean, that’s how probability works).
The secondary, which was a weak link last year, is reportedly still bad, and the only halfway decent players from last year have left to the NFL. I honestly don’t know what their plan is here beyond hope they can just outscore opponents. Good luck!
This is honestly going to be a tough game. Interim head coach Graham Harrell is going to have his team fired up, as the Crosstown Rivalry is his best opportunity to campaign for the job before Southern Cal abandons him in a pursuit of Urban Meyer before ultimately settling on Jack Del Rio (and that’s only if Jeff Fisher turns them down). The Trojans will come out ready to play, and then the opening kickoff will happen and a repeat of 2018 will occur, except with a better UCLA defense. Joshua Kelley proceed to run for approximately a thousand miles while the Southern Cal student section attempts to scale the new press box in an attempt to remove Lynn Swann as AD by force.
UCLA wins, 38-20.