USC vs. UCLA matchups: Trojans’ Coliseum win streak in jeopardy against Bruins

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles during a loss against USC in 2019.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles during a loss against USC in 2019. The Bruins are the favorites heading into Saturday’s crosstown rivalry game at the Coliseum.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Whether it’s been on the way to a national championship or the Holiday Bowl, whether it’s been coached by the celebrated Pete Carroll or the reviled Paul Hackett, USC has almost always been able to count on one thing since 1999: beating UCLA at the Coliseum. The Trojans have won 10 of 11 rivalry games at home over that span, the exception coming during a 35-14 loss to the Bruins in 2013. That trend could be jeopardized when USC (4-5 overall, 3-4 Pac-12) faces UCLA (6-4, 4-3) as a 3½-point underdog at 1 p.m. Saturday in a game broadcast by Fox. The Trojans are an underwhelming 2-3 at the Coliseum this season, with each of the losses coming by double digits. Los Angeles Times staff writer Ben Bolch looks at the top matchups and story lines:


Staying power?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly shouts at a referee during a win over Colorado at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 13.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Each team could have a new coach when the teams meet in 2022 at the Rose Bowl.


USC is assured of it after making Donte Williams the placeholder for its next coach upon the firing of Clay Helton in September. Even with his team headed to the school’s first bowl game since 2017, UCLA’s Chip Kelly may need to beat both the Trojans and California to ensure he returns next season.

That means there should be considerably more tension for Kelly, who seeks to quiet the critics who have been calling for his job since back-to-back losses to Oregon and Utah ended the Bruins’ chances of winning the Pac-12 South.

A win over the Trojans would improve Kelly’s record to 2-2 in the rivalry game. A loss and Kelly might be headed for the same fate as predecessors Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel and Jim Mora, each of whom lost to USC in the days before being fired. Something to keep in mind: Kelly’s Bruins have been at their best on the road this season, winning three of four games.


Ready to sling it

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart throws during a win over Arizona on Oct. 30.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Dorian Thompson-Robinson came back in part for this moment.


The senior quarterback who is 0-2 as a starter in the rivalry game despite piling up 731 passing yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions made his longing to beat the Trojans known in a video he released last December, saying he wanted to beat the “everliving s—” out of USC.

A victory over USC would solidify his legacy among Bruins fans who haven’t always been forgiving to the three-year starter who has gutted his way through a variety of injuries.

His counterpart, Jaxson Dart, will be trying to trumpet his arrival as the Trojans’ quarterback of the future with a big showing in his first start. Dart has been both electrifying (see four touchdowns against Washington State) and erratic (see 89 yards, one interception against Arizona State) in his three appearances.


Run for it

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet carries the ball during a win over Louisiana State on Sept. 4.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Often simplicity is what works best.

If UCLA can find early rushing success against a USC run defense that ranks No. 7 in the Pac-12, allowing 163.1 yards per game, there could be no reason to throw more than a handful of passes.


It’s been a winning formula for the Bruins considering they have rushed for at least 200 yards in all six victories and are averaging 204 yards per game this season, No. 22 nationally.

UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet has rushed for 100 yards in five games this season, tied for the most among Pac-12 players this season. The Bruins might be without senior running back Brittain Brown, who was unable to participate in the final portion of practice open to the media Wednesday because of an unspecified injury, but if he can’t go it would just mean more carries for Charbonnet.