Southern Cal-UCLA Preview
The Pac-12 rivalry in Los Angeles has tilted in UCLA's favor since Jim Mora and Brett Hundley joined the Bruins two years ago.
Now it's up to Steve Sarkisian to try to give Southern California the upper hand while star defensive end Leonard Williams is also eager to avoid another loss to his arch-rivals.
These South Division title contenders meet Saturday evening when the 11th-ranked Bruins host the No. 24 Trojans.
UCLA (8-2, 5-2) dropped 12 of 13 in this series before Mora became coach in 2012 - the same year Hundley became the Bruins' quarterback.
The Bruins won 38-28 two years ago and 35-14 in 2013 for their first consecutive victories in this series since taking eight straight from 1991-98.
Now there is more at stake since Southern California (7-3, 6-2) leads the South, with UCLA in a three-way tie for second with No. 13 Arizona State and No. 15 Arizona. The Bruins are ranked ninth in the College Football Playoff rankings while the Trojans are 19th.
"It's always a fun game when you play your crosstown rival and it's great to have something at stake," Mora said. "I think I know when I got here, that's one of the things I heard is it would be great to have this game be a game that has meaning and consequence in the Pac-12 if not nationally and I think this one does so it just adds to it, it adds to what is already an amazing rivalry."
Hundley has thrown for 442 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against USC. He has also carried 29 times for 90 yards and four scores.
"It would mean a lot being able to look back and say I was undefeated versus Southern Cal but at the same time, right now probably isn't the greatest time to focus on that," Hundley said. "I think the focus now is just really focusing on us getting a victory and then I can focus on good things like that."
Sarkisian lost two of three matchups against the Bruins when he coached Washington, and the first-year USC coach is downplaying the significance of this rivalry.
"As a Trojan, you live it every day, this isn't a sometime thing, it's an all the time thing," he said.
It would help if Williams could get some pressure on Hundley, who has been sacked by the Trojans seven times - once by the star defensive end. Williams has a team-high 6.0 sacks this year.
"It's a big rivalry against UCLA like it's always been here at SC and you know, I never beat them since I have been here so it's definitely a big game for me personally so we're going to be working really hard this week to get after the quarterback," Williams said.
UCLA may seek to neutralize Williams by running the ball. The Bruins are second in the conference with 215.8 yards per game on the ground, with Paul Perkins second in the Pac-12 at 117.2.
The running back ranked higher is USC's Javorius Allen, who is averaging 118.4 rushing yards. Allen's streak of six straight games with at least 100 ended when he was held to 60 in a 38-30 win over California on Nov. 13.
USC's Cody Kessler is tied with Oregon's Marcus Mariota for fourth in the country with 29 TD passes. Kessler has thrown for 771 yards and nine touchdowns in his last two games, and 18 scores in his last four.
He had a rough introduction to this rivalry last year, getting sacked six times while being held to 174 yards passing.
Hundley rushed for 80 yards and two TDs in that one, and the Trojans are counting on the return of defensive end J.R. Tavai to help slow down the UCLA star this weekend. Tavai has returned to practice after missing the last two games with a knee injury.
"J.R. has been good, he's looked healthy, he's looked fast and physical," Sarkisian said. "J.R. is a hardball, football player and he brings a real presence to our defense, he brings a real attitude."
UCLA will capture the South by winning its final two games. The Trojans must beat the Bruins and hope that the Sun Devils lose once to win the division.
''It just feels better when you know everything you have to do,'' Hundley said. ''You don't have to worry about anybody else. It's just about winning games and doing what we want to do.''
Hundley hasn't been picked off in three straight games and threw two TD passes and ran for two more in a 30-28 win at Washington on Nov. 8. He leads the nation in completion percentage at 72.1 while Kessler is fouth at 70.2.
USC has reinstated defensive back Josh Shaw, who had been suspended since he lied to school officials about how he sprained his ankles in a preseason fall.