UCLA-Southern Cal Preview
(AP) - UCLA linebackers Kenny Young and Jayon Brown have different perspectives on the rivalry game against Southern California.
Young, who grew up in New Orleans, was only aware of the Trojans' successes under Pete Carroll until the Bruins started recruiting him as a high school junior.
Brown attended local football factory Long Beach Poly, the site of so many fierce recruiting battles between UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) and USC (7-4, 5-3). Brown played with USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback Iman Marshall, but there but won't be talking to either one Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
While their understanding of the rivalry may differ, Young and Brown will be at the crux of No. 22 UCLA's push for a fourth straight win over USC. With it would come not only another year in possession of the Victory Bell, but a place in the Pac-12 title game against No. 13 Stanford.
''I know it's a week like no other,'' Young said. ''There is going to be a lot of intensity, a lot of hype, a lot of emotions going on this week because we are competing for the next phase after this win.''
To reach that next phase against the Cardinal, the UCLA rush defense will have to deliver its best performance against USC. After being gutted early in conference play following injuries to defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack, Brown saw signs of progress in the 17-9 win at then-No. 18 Utah last week.
The Utes rushed for 197 yards on 49 carries, with backup running back Joe Williams accounting for 121 yards in place of injured star Devontae Booker. However, UCLA was able to tighten up and hold Utah without a touchdown for the first time since 2013.
''We're a lot better, a lot better,'' Brown said. ''We struggled a little bit in the first half and got it together in the second half.''
Thanks to Oregon State's offensive ineptitude and Washington State's insistence on passing on almost every play, UCLA now ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per rush. However, five conference opponents have matched or exceeded their rushing average against UCLA, which does not bode well headed into the Coliseum.
USC has reinvented itself as a power running team under interim coach Clay Helton, averaging 40 carries for 165.8 yards in the six games since he replaced Steve Sarkisian. Justin Davis had a career-high 141 yards rushing in last week's 48-28 loss at then-No. 23 Oregon, and explosive freshman Ronald Jones II can score any time he touches the ball.
Helton will want to stick with the run after allowing six sacks to UCLA in each of the last two meetings, staying on schedule to avoid obvious passing situations and giving Smith-Schuster opportunities off play-action.
Smith-Schuster's violent stiff-arm of Utah corner Dominique Hatfield became a viral sensation earlier this season, matching Brown's recollections from high school that the sensational sophomore won't talk trash unless provoked, even in a rivalry game.
''From my experience with JuJu, he doesn't talk initially,'' Brown said. ''If you talk first, he'll say something back. He just plays the game. He is a really good player.''
Brown will be playing for bragging rights around town, an aspect of the rivalry Young did not appreciate until he arrived on campus.
''The whole vibe is different. Everybody is excited. Professors are excited, students are excited. Everybody is so hyped up about the game it just brings that energy to the team that we need to go out with a bang,'' Young said.
Yet Young cautioned the need to keep those emotions in check with a chance to play for the Pac-12 title on the line.
Said Young: ''Our biggest thing is to stay focused and keep moving forward because we are fingertips away from what we worked so hard for.''
While UCLA needs to be at its best against the rush, USC needs to be better defensively overall than it was against the Ducks. The Trojans were ripped for 578 yards and 407 passing, both season highs, and Oregon's Vernon Adams went 20 of 25 with six touchdowns. Royce Freeman rushed for 147 yards on 20 carries.
USC's Cody Kessler went 30 of 41 for 238 yards, two scores and no interceptions, but was sacked five times.
''They were getting pressure on me but at the end of the day, we've got to make our plays,'' Kessler said. ''It's on all of us.''