A new season for Pac-12 football has begun and there are plenty of storylines for the crosstown rivals UCLA and USC. The UCLA Bruins will face the Texas A&M Aggies on Sunday, September 3 and the USC Trojans will battle the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday, September 2.
The teams are at two contrasting points of development. USC conquered Rose Bowl glory while UCLA is building to improve from the previous season.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora noted how he’s looking deeply into their experiences to learn lessons and benefit from them.
“You’re not in this to do anything but try to have success. And every loss rips your guts out,” said Mora. “The first thing you do is point your finger at yourself. You say, ‘where did I not do a good enough job and how are we going to learn from this?’”
Despite a 1-3 start, USC executed an eight-game winning streak during the season before upsetting the fifth ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in an offensive shootout at Rose Bowl 2017. Yet, USC head coach Clay Helton sees where the Trojans can improve.
“You have guys like Sam Darnold and Cam Smith and Ronald Jones and Deontay Burnett, you have some pieces of the puzzle that are already in place,” Helton said. “But you’ve also got to know the reality. There are holes we’ve got to plug to take care of two tackle positions, a nose tackle position.”
For the Trojans, 14 starters will return. Among the returners are the top passer and rusher of the 2016 squad.
UCLA welcomes back 13 starters, including wide receiver Darren Andrews and linebacker Kenny Young. Young mentioned how the defensive players have been stepping up in practice.
“I think that’s the greatest thing that I have observed from being here,” said Young. “The guys, they want to work more, they want to get better, they want to work on their weaknesses.”
On the defense for UCLA is linemen Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and defensive back Jaleel Wadood. A Thorpe Award watch list candidate, Wadood is ninth in the Pac-12 in tackles. Wadood registered a season-high of 15 tackles against Utah.
Tuioti-Mariner earned 5.0 tackles for loss, making him fourth on the team in that category.
The Trojans tout a trio of junior running backs in Aca’Cedric Ware, Ronald Jones II and Dominic Davis. Jones II gained the most yardage with 1082 yards from 177 carries. Ware had two games where he earned 100 rushing yards. Davis had a 85-yard run against Arizona, this was the longest run by any Trojan since 1996.
“Ronald [has] been awesome, it’s fun to be able to hand the ball off to him and just watch him go to work,” said sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold. “He can just kind of [spring] his way into a hole and then be off 80 yards like that.”
Both teams have young quarterbacks in Darnold and junior Josh Rosen. The Archie Griffin Award-winner Darnold broke a Trojan record with his 31 touchdown passes, and his ability to throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games made USC freshmen history.
Rosen has reached sixth place in the Bruins all-time passing yardage list with 5,583 yards. He also scored three touchdowns and tossed for 350 yards when UCLA defeated BYU.
The Trojans will battle the Bruins at the Coliseum on November 18. The season is packed with exciting match-ups until the rival schools meet. USC will face Notre Dame on October 21 and UCLA will compete against Memphis on September 16.