Apart from the long-time rivalry, and the Pac-12 South title at stake, the key matchup to watch as the No. 11 UCLA Bruins (8-2 overall; 5-2 in Pac 12) and the No. 24 USC Trojans (7-3 overall; 6-2 in Pac 12) battle is the two best running backs in the conference.
Separated by a mere 12 rushing yards, USC’s Javorius Allen and UCLA’s Paul Perkins have lit up opposing defenses all season and their performances at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night could likely decide who walks away with the conference title.
Allen, a junior, has racked up 1,184 yards and eight touchdowns, and has recorded at least 101 yards in all but two games this season, though he hasn’t reached the end zone in the last three games. Perkins, a sophomore, is right behind with 1,172 yards and six touchdowns despite rushing 28 fewer times than his counterpart.
As of now, and based off each squad’s defense, Allen will start the matchup with a slight edge over Perkins. The Trojans are second in the Pac-12 versus the run, allowing 135.1 total rushing yards per game, and send out arguably the best defensive lineman in the country in Leonard Williams. UCLA is No. 10 in the conference letting up 162.8 yards.
The Trojans also have sophomore linebacker Su’a Cravens, who leads the team with 14 tackles for losses and has five sacks.
But the Trojans will need both Cravens and Williams to not only contain Perkins, but also quarterback Brett Hundley, who’s torched them the last two seasons. Last year, Hundley went 18-for-27 for 208 yards and rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 UCLA victory. In 2012, Hundley also helped snap a five-game losing streak to USC with 234 passing yards and another two touchdowns on the ground.
“We just have to be smart and know what the situations are in the game, where the chains are, and make sure we don’t let him get out of contain,” Cravens said to the Los Angeles Times.
Perkins, Hundley and the rest of the Bruins recovered from their two-game slide in the middle of the season to rip off four straight victories, including one over then-No. 12 Arizona to keep the Pac-12 South title hopes alive. The Trojans are still very much in the conference race, despite a 24-21 letdown on the road against a very tough Utah defense three weeks ago.
The full weight of the rushing attack isn’t solely on Perkins’ shoulders, with dual-threat Hundley second on the team with 564 rushing yards and first with seven touchdowns.
But it’s not as if Allen has no help from his quarterback, it’s just that Cody Kessler prefers to stick to the air. The junior is tied for third in the conference with 29 touchdowns passes and fourth with 2,919 yards, almost half of which has gone to dynamic receiver Nelson Aghlor.
Start Time: 8 pm ET
TV Channel: ABC
Betting Odds: UCLA -3.5
Over/Under: 61 points
Prediction: UCLA over USC, 28-21