QBs take charge when No. 11 UCLA hosts No. 24 USC
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Brett Hundley’s two victories over Southern California are perhaps his proudest accomplishments at UCLA, and the quarterback is determined to leave without a loss to the Bruins’ biggest rivals.
On the opposite sideline, Cody Kessler knows he’ll never be regarded as an elite USC quarterback unless he beats the Bruins, preferably on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Much more than the Victory Bell is at stake when No. 24 USC (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) visits No. 11 UCLA (8-2, 5-2). The Bruins’ hopes for the Pac-12 South title likely depend on a victory over the Trojans, who could boost themselves or Arizona State to the division title.
The annual crosstown showdown makes reputations, divides families and tests friendships – even the connection between the two star quarterbacks at the center of it all.
”When you keep piling up wins, it becomes more resounding as you keep going,” Hundley said. ”To be able to get another one would be … something that would be nice to look back on and walk away with.”
Hundley famously declared that the Bruins ”run L.A. now” after their victory at the Coliseum last season, capping a two-year reversal in a rivalry that had been dominated by USC for most of the new century.
The rivalry isn’t personal between the quarterbacks, however: Kessler and Hundley, who met at a summer camp, have remained in semi-regular contact during their parallel careers on opposite sides of town.
Kessler got sacked six times while losing to UCLA on the Trojans’ hallowed home field last year, his first start in the rivalry. He hopes to give much the same feeling to Hundley, his good friend.
”It wouldn’t be a rivalry if it wasn’t going back and forth,” Kessler said. ”They’ve got us the last couple of years, so that makes it exciting.
”At the end of the day, that’s something you’re looked at as a quarterback: Did you beat UCLA? Did you beat Notre Dame?” Kessler added. ”So yeah, I’d definitely like to get one. But you know, I’m not going to come out and push too hard, try to make too many plays. I’m just going to come out and try to play my game like I have all season.”
Here are some things to watch in the 84th edition of the rivalry game with no nickname:
A SPECIAL NIGHT: In keeping with their revived tradition, both schools will wear their home jerseys at the Rose Bowl. The game is being played at night for just the 10th time. Both teams are also well-rested: UCLA is coming off a bye, while the Trojans had a Thursday game last week.
COACHING CONNECTION: Jim Mora and Steve Sarkisian got close when the former Seahawks coach started hanging out at the University of Washington’s training facilities a few years ago. The experience solidified Mora’s desire to become a college coach. Sarkisian is eager for his head coaching rivalry debut even though the lifelong Trojans supporter has two sisters who went to UCLA. ”You grow up in L.A., you choose a team, and that’s the end of it,” he said.
ONE MAJOR SHAW BACK: Josh Shaw will make his season debut for USC in some capacity, Sarkisian confirmed. The senior defensive back and former team captain missed the first 10 games under suspension after lying about how he sprained both of his ankles. USC’s coaches have compared his return to the acquisition of a major free agent for a playoff run. At minimum, he’ll help the sanctions-depleted Trojans’ depth.
TAILBACK TANGO: While Hundley and Kessler draw most of the attention, the game also features the Pac-12’s two best rushers: USC’s Javorius Allen and UCLA’s Paul Perkins. Both defenses are focused on stopping the run. ”Last year he broke two of my tackles, and I take that very seriously because I don’t like to get tackles broken,” UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks said of Allen. ”He is a great running back. He runs hard.”
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: If the Trojans and Bruins are locked in a close game in the fourth quarter, UCLA hopes it has an advantage. USC has lost two games in the final seconds, and it survived two close victories only on its opponents’ mistakes. Of course, the Bruins would prefer no nail-biters at all. ”Our game plan for any team is … why wait?” UCLA linebacker Myles Jack asked. ”Put them away early if you can. Try and bury them. That’s what we like to do.”