UCLA vs. USC Week 12 storylines to follow

UCLA football (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) is set to kick off its Week 12 game against USC (4-5, 3-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Bruins won their last game against Colorado after losing two straight games to Oregon No.3 and Utah No.23. The Trojans have been led by interim coach Donte Williams since Clay Helton’s sack in September, and they now need to win two of their last three games to play a bowl game.

Heading into the Week 12 game, here are the most urgent questions we want answered before the final whistle.

Another athletics competition in preparation?

The defenses haven’t quite shown the last two times these two teams have played.

In 2019, the two teams totaled 87 points and 1,183 yards when they faced each other. In 2020, they totaled 81 points and 993 yards.

USC leads the Pac-12 in yards per game on Saturday at 441.4 and UCLA is not far behind in fifth place at 429.5. The Bruins and Trojans defenses rank 8th and 9th in the conference in yards allowed per game, both just under the 400 mark.

Just looking at the stats and trends, it really feels like both teams are going to rack up the yards and points in another crosstown shootout. Both offensive and defensive coordinators are returning from last year’s game, and in terms of overall production, not much has changed since then.

Not having Kedon Slovis and Drake London is going to mix things up for the Trojans, but given how UCLA has played pass under their current regime, Jaxson Dart could easily aim for 400 yards and four TDs as he has it. made on his college debut against Washington State in October. Gary Bryant Jr., Tahj Washington and Kyle Ford are still arguably the Pac-12’s best receiving line even without London, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has plenty of experience in the big game throwing at Kyle Philips. , Kazmeir Allen, Chase Cota and Greg Dulcich.

Offensive weapons will be fully on display on Saturday, and they will each have ample opportunity to show off their skills against lackluster defenses.

Can Zach Charbonnet support the load?

Charbonnet is an NFL-level running back, from everything we’ve heard from scouts and sources who have watched him this year.

One thing he hasn’t had to do so far, however, is to be the de facto No. 1 in the UCLA offensive.

Charbonnet had Brittain Brown by his side in the backfield all year, and both physical downhill riders did a great job overall in trading for each other. Running backs coach DeShaun Foster may not have Brown available in his rotation on Saturday as Duke’s former transfer was not in uniform on the training ground as late as Wednesday.

Now Keegan Jones could end up stuffing Brown’s shoes, getting all the litters and holds he would have had if he had been 100%. It would seem like a waste of talent, however – dismissing Charbonnet was easily justifiable when the alternative was a veteran like Brown with a similar racing style and maybe even more strength.

Having Charbonnet and Jones timeshare 50/50 the same way Charbonnet and Brown have all season doesn’t seem like a winning recipe. On paper, it would appear that trotting Charbonnet on the pitch more than he has been doing all season is the best option with Brown.

Even back in the Michigan days, when he was getting good reps and solid production, there was still a high profile alternative for the coaching staff to tour with Charbonnet from time to time. Jones can take a few shots, sure, but Charbonnet will need to be a real three-way throwback and get somewhere close to 90% of the touches instead of the 55% he’s used to.

The last time coach Chip Kelly leaned on a big back to lead the way against the Trojans, things went well. Now is the time to wait and see if Charbonnet has what it takes to rack up 40 races like Joshua Kelley did on his way to a victory in 2018.

Can the Bruins still count on Nicholas Barr-Mira?

Barr-Mira was almost the hero of last year’s UCLA-USC game, netting the basket with one minute left.

But instead of making history, his name was struck from the record books once the Trojans returned the ensuing kickoff into Bruin territory and scored the winning touchdown shortly thereafter.

A year later, the chances of Barr-Mira hitting a last-minute field goal with the game on the line appear to have been significantly reduced.

Barr-Mira only missed one field goal and one extra point in 2020, scoring 6 of 7 in his field trials in seven games. In 10 games in 2021, Barr-Mira has 12 of 18 goals and also missed two extra points.

This season started very similarly to 2020, as Barr-Mira opened the campaign with a perfect 3 of 3 in three games and was 9 of 10 to start his career. Since then, however, the second player in the red jersey is 9 out of 15 and has missed an attempt in six of his last seven games.

Barr-Mira still hasn’t scored a goal over 48 yards at the college level, and his accuracy hasn’t been longer than a chip shot lately. In a game where every point counts, UCLA can’t afford to leave three or six points on the board, even one on an extra point.

Kicking is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and it looks like Barr-Mira is a bit behind at the moment. He has the skills and the boot to hit anything within 50 yards with consistency, but that consistency has been shaken and he’s going to need a real turnaround if the coaching staff is to trust him again on Saturday. evening.

The start of a new era or more of the same?

USC went 5-1 against UCLA with Clay Helton at the helm, whether Kelly or Jim Mora on the opposite sideline.

Kelly beat the Trojans in his first game against them in 2018, but he lost back-to-back City rivalry games. This is an opportunity for Kelly to avoid a 0-3 record against USC in his last three tries, which could also help him avoid being kicked out of town early next week. .

If Kelly, with his back against a wall, needs a win to stay alive and keep his fan base at least lightly invested, can’t beat a Trojan team on a backup coach, a quarterback from backup and a backup receiving body, Bruin fans wouldn’t be blamed for hiding in shame for an extended period of time.

Yes, that notional loss has a good chance of costing Kelly her job and a replacement would be in place shortly thereafter, but this type of loss would persist regardless of who wears the helmet next year. USC isn’t a bottom-of-the-barrel team so it’s not like this is going to be a historic upheaval, it’s just that it can be this program at its worst.

A “resurgent” UCLA team losing their biggest enemy while still waiting for time to begin rebuilding would be the subject of endless mockery in Los Angeles college football circles for at least the next year or so, and probably beyond.

A win for the Bruins may be the thing that keeps Kelly in place a little longer, and maybe he can pull off a season-ending win over Cal and a bowl win soon after. As messy as it would have been along the way, a nine-win campaign would be pretty solid and a good way to step up to fill the void left by the Trojan horse failures.

While Kelly might not recognize the existence of momentum, kicking USC while it’s down still means something, and maybe that victory could be rounded off by the Trojans attacking their search for a trainer.

There is still so much dominoes to fall when it comes to the future landscape of sport in Southern California, but it all starts with what happens on the pitch on Saturday.

Follow Connon on Twitter at @SamConnon
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