Last football season was difficult for any fan of the USC Trojans or the UCLA Bruins. After two successful seasons, the Trojan hit a lull and finished with a middling 5-7 overall record. The Bruins struggled as they transitioned to Chip Kelly being at the helm, only securing three wins.
Yet a glimmer of hope came to the Bruins as they defeated the Trojans 34-27 in a lead-changing, low-defense humdinger at the Rose Bowl. Current senior running back Joshua Kelley made a 55-yard touchdown carry to give UCLA the lead in the fourth quarter, one of two he made that afternoon.
Kelley is one of 18 players returning to UCLA this year, along with sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and junior safety Quentin Lake. Another returner is senior wide receiver Theo Howard, who led the team with 51 catches for 677 yards.
“We’ve been under coach Kelly’s system for our second year now,” Kelley said. “We’re starting to get rolling, we have better leadership.”
On the defensive end, UCLA only allowed 199.4 rushing yards per game, with senior linebacker Krys Barnes leading the Bruins with 85 total tackles. Barnes mentioned how junior defensive lineman Olso Odigozwo has taken on a leadership role and initiated training sessions.
“[He] has been able to take them through drills, take them through film study,” Barnes said. “The way he’s been so tenacious about making sure that group does what they have to do for this team has been outstanding.”
The Bruins are a young team led by a sophomore quarterback, but Kelly believes the familiarity the team has from their first season together should help them be successful.
“The kids at the end of the year understood what it took to win,” Kelly said. “It takes focus every single day because every week you’re going to have to play a real formidable opponent, so you’ve got to be able to crank it up each week.”
Across town, USC is going into the season with new additions to their coaching staff, guaranteeing a new offense under new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell.
“It lets guys play fast, faster than maybe they would have been in our last offense,” said senior wideout Michael Pittman Jr. “[Harrell] just told me to be ready to catch a lot of passes.”
Sophomore quarterback JT Daniels is one of six offensive starters returning. Junior Stephen Carr or Vavae Malepeai might be top options for starting running back. New faces will also show up at the tight end position and on the offensive line.
The Trojans look to change their mindset, senior defensive lineman Christian Rector mentioned how last season was a humbling experience.
“We work so hard in the offseason and for it to not pay off at the end of it really takes a lot out of you,” Rector said. “That’s what made this offseason so long and that’s what made us so hungry to get back to where we need to be.”
The Trojans have their pick of linebackers and have promising defensive backs in junior C.J. Pollard and sophomore Isaiah Pola-Moa. Sophomore Greg Johnson could become starting corner this season.
Defensive players have been working on initiating turnovers, limiting third and long opportunities and on first down efficiency.
UCLA have their first home game against San Diego State on September 7 at 1:15 p.m. and USC will host Fresno State on August 31.